Elevate Difference

Modus Operandi

My younger sisters and I used to tune into Lifetime to laugh at the formulaic (read: bad) movies that were regularly broadcast on that network. While I was watching Modus Operandi, a “comical homage to low budget exploitation-style films of the 1970’s,” I kept wishing my sisters were there with me. We would have been rolling in the aisles.

I found the plot to be difficult to follow so I going to quote directly from the synopsis that I received at the screening:

“Two briefcases with mysterious contents are stolen from Presidential candidate Squire Parks (Michael Sottile)... [W]arring…subterranean organizations will stop at nothing to gain possession of the sensitive material… The CIA calls on Black Ops agent Stanley Cashay (Randy Russell) who has been in a semi-comatose twilight since the murder of his wife. Cashay is offered the identity of his wife’s killer in exchange for locating and returning the cases.”

“Agent Cashay uses the dangerous weapons at his command…to unleash a bizarre assortment of operatives… [including] Casey Thunderbird (Barry Poltermann) and exotic Tokyo-based special agent Black Licorice (Nikki Johnson)…When Cashay is finally in possession of the [briefcases], the contents shock even him...”

Modus Operandi has the look of a home movie shot by a precocious eleven-year-old. The film, which was shot in Milwaukee on Super 8, features bad special effects, sparse and stilted dialogue, and acting that suggests that many of the players were reading off cue cards. And, while the movie was supposed to be funny, I still found myself wondering if at least some of the sequences were unintentionally funny.

This would have been fine if a precocious eleven-year-old had written and directed the movie. Unfortunately, this movie was put together by an adult who had four years to refine his product.

This film offended many of my feminist sensibilities as well. The filmmaker shamelessly objectifies the female players, featuring enough T& A to fill an entire year’s worth of Hustler pictorials. Many of these half-naked women were also carrying weapons and committing acts of violence. And the contents of the case indicate that Squire enjoys making snuff films. However, this intertwining of sex and violence didn’t make me squirm nearly as much as the blatant fetishization of lesbians and women of color.

However, with its so-bad-it’s-good charm, Modus Operandi is surprisingly engrossing. The score, which alternated between mournful violins and 70’s style funk, wasn’t half bad, either. I also (perhaps hypocritically) appreciate the fact that none of the “actresses” were surgically enhanced super-skinny models. Every single one of the women had realistic bodies; the fact that none of the (many) black women featured were light-skinned Halle Berry lookalikes indicates a healthy disrespect for the Eurocentric beauty standard on Latina’s part.

Modus Operandi could very well become the twenty-first century’s answer to Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space and Latina does fulfill his goal to “create an intense and unique cinematic experience that lingers with the movie-goer long after he or she has left the theater.” However, I would recommend that anyone interested in this film wait until it hits a festival close to home or becomes available on DVD.

Written by: Ebony Edwards-Ellis, September 10th 2010