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Case Number 03478

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Sony // 1996 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rankins (Retired) // November 4th, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

The tragic tale of three men, one woman, and a whole bunch of fish.

Opening Statement

"He's a new man since you've been here."
"I'm just a helper."
"No…you're more than that."

Facts of the Case

Submitted for your approval, the players in our little tableau:

• Joe (Edward James Olmos, forever sobersided Lt. Castillo on Miami Vice) has everything he wants in life: an attractive wife—Betty (Maria Conchita Alonso, forever Robin Williams' chatty Italian girlfriend in Moscow on the Hudson); a business he loves—a fish market in Jersey City, where Joe is the acknowledged master of the filet knife; and a standing offer from a big-city developer to sell the fish market for close to seven figures—not that Joe wants to sell, mind you, but it's nice to know the money's on the table.
• Betty, on the other hand, has none of the things she wants, which mostly have to do with having a lot of money, having a lot of sex, and not having a fish market.
• Joe and Betty have a son, Danny (Steven Schub, The Thirteenth Floor), who's living in L.A. struggling to make it as a stand-up comic. The videos of himself Danny sends home to his parents lead us to believe that (a) Danny's never going to make it as a comedian, except maybe as the opening act at a masochists' recovery group, and (b) Danny may have been dropped on his head on the fish market floor as an infant.
• Into Joe and Betty's life stumbles Nick (Arie Verveen, The Thin Red Line), a homeless immigrant from Ireland who winds up helping Joe around the old fish market, and turns out to be a pretty handy fellow with a scaler and a sea bass. Among other things.

Part of this tale of woe you can foresee from the get-go: shiftless Nick and restless Betty wind up dancing the libido lambada in the bedroom closet when Joe's not looking. The other part is harder to see coming: what happens when son Danny the Psycho Comic returns home with his wife (Bitty Schram, TV's Monk) and infant child, and almost immediately susses out what's going on between Mom and the hired help.

Sophocles would be proud.

The Evidence

Taken strictly on the basis of the above synopsis, Caught sounds a little like a bad episode of Love, American Style. (Not to say that there were good episodes of Love, American Style. But I digress.) It is far from that.

For one thing, Caught is not a comedy, despite the fact that one of the characters is allegedly a comedian, and that, on occasion, some rather funny things occur (none of which involve the comedian). For another, this is one of those rare films that spends a fair amount of setup persuading the audience that it is going in one predictable direction, then suddenly, like a hairpin curve on a high-velocity roller coaster, whipsaws in another direction entirely.

The whipsaw revolves around the character of Danny, played with an eerily authentic sociopathic edge by an actor named Steven Schub. Mr. Schub's list of credits, as enumerated on the Internet Movie Database, would not appear to reflect that the startling tour de force performance he contributed to this film did much to rocket-launch his subsequent career. Perhaps this was a one-time rabbit from his hat, I don't know. But I know this: I see a lot of movies, and I can't remember the last time an actor so thoroughly unnerved me as Schub does here. If this guy isn't really one step from the bughouse cell next to Hannibal Lecter, he should receive a retroactive Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Film buffs often debate how one can separate praise for an actor playing a noxious character from praise for the character itself. Steven Schub's work in Caught is a worthy addition to your next conversation in that vein.

Indeed, the film can't work at all without pitch-perfect performances for all four of the principal actors, but longtime indie director Robert M. Young (Dominick and Eugene, Triumph of the Spirit) gets exactly what he needs here. Ironically, the actor Young knows best—Edward James Olmos, who had appeared in seven films directed by Young before making Caught the eighth—is given the least-juicy material with which to work, though Olmos is warmly tragic as the good-hearted fishmonger who can't see the forest for the tuna. Maria Conchita Alonso (who worked with Young and Olmos previously in Roosters) turns up the heat as the affection-starved wife whose maternal feelings toward her newfound surrogate son boil up into something far more dangerous. Arie Verveen, another actor whose impressive work here belies the fact that he hasn't been handed many potentially star-making roles since, is also effective as the furtive and duplicitous Nick. But it's Steven Schub viewers will walk away from Caught having nightmares about.

The screenplay by Edward Pomerantz, adapted from his novel entitled Into It, seamlessly blends its two disparate elements—erotic melodrama and electric psychodrama—into a satisfying whole. The one unfortunate element is the short shrift given to the character of Joe, who either is wearing one-way horse blinders, or is the most foolishly trusting individual on the planet not to see that his new assistant is boning more than just the shad. That Joe is so easily duped makes him unsympathetic when we should be rooting for him.

But this one cavil aside, Pomerantz and director Young have crafted a remarkable experiment in familial relationships gone awry, and one that is—for those willing to go along on this slow-building but intense ride—worthy of checking out. Viewers who pick up Caught looking for the steamy, sweaty romp implied by the tawdry cover art will definitely get their money's worth, but may be stunned to see what else is delivered in this little sardine can.

A studio that belches out catalog titles like a trencherman after a speed-eating contest, Columbia TriStar shows minimal love for Caught with this barebones DVD offering under the Sony Pictures Classics label. The transfer itself is rather peculiar-letterboxed ever so slightly (to about 1.60:1), but not, apparently, anamorphic. Unless one looks very closely and spots the almost imperceptibly narrow bands at the top and bottom of the screen, one would suppose the picture was full frame. (I did, in fact, think this the first time I watched the film, and had so written in my notes. I tumbled to the truth only when I noticed, on second pass, the different framing between the copyright warning—which is fullscreen—and the actual film, which isn't quite.) I'm not certain how the film was actually shot, but my best guess is that it was filmed full-frame like a television movie, then letterboxed to afford it a more theatrical appearance. Given the minimal budget on which the movie was made, the picture looks reasonably clear (if a mite washed out), but there's a noticeable level of minor print damage throughout the film, and an abundance of the old Columbia standby, edge enhancement. The audio is straight Dolby Digital stereo and thoroughly unremarkable, perfectly functional for this dialogue-heavy drama.

The only extras in the mix are three bonus trailers, for the films Beautiful Thing, Living in Oblivion, and sex, lies, and videotape. The trailer for the featured motion picture is not included.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I haven't read Edward Pomerantz's novel, but according to the available research, the lead characters in the book on which Caught is based are not Latino. Nice to see awesome actors like Olmos and Alonso getting meaty roles that have nothing to do with their ethnicity. Every now and again, Hollywood gets it right.

Closing Statement

Not exactly what you'd anticipate from the softcore keep case art. An engrossing little morality play balancing adultery against Oedipal intrigue, with an emotionally wrenching third act. Won't be everyone's kettle of fish, but worth a spin for fans of serious, somber drama with heavy psychological overtones.

The Verdict

Catch and release. We're adjourned.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 79
Audio: 78
Extras: 5
Acting: 94
Story: 91
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Bonus Trailers


• IMDb

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