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SUBWAY RIDERS (1981).

Despite its creative casting, this underground feature from writer-director Amos Poe (the 1976 CBGB documentary THE BLANK GENERATION, ALPHABET CITY) had limited success when first released -- premiering at Carnegie Hall Cinema and briefly playing (nearly-)midnight shows at the long-defunct Bleecker Street Cinema -- before disappearing into the void. Taking a step back from his early 'punk' aesthetic, this dreamy multi-character drama is also colossally idiotic at times, and despite my relatively high tolerance for this type of old-school indie indulgence, even I became irritated. Amos Poe tackles the lead role of Anthony (after John Lurie pulled out, a day before production started), a creepy, wimpy writer-saxophonist, who's currently working on a screenplay about a street musician who guns down pedestrians. But corpses also begin to turn up on the streets of NYC, mirroring Anthony's script, and in one of his earliest screen roles, future-Hagrid Robbie Coltrane plays hard-boiled cop Fritz Langley, who's on the case and frustrated with both his job and home life. It's no small wonder, what with Susan Tyrell (looking as dyke-ish as possible with greased-back short hair and Divine-esque eyebrows) playing his smack-addict wife Eleanor, and it's fun to watch these two bickering and taking cheap shots at each other.In tepid subplots, Anthony meets various people and incorporates versions of them into his disjointed screenplay, including sexy neighbor Penelope (John Waters-vet Cookie Mueller), who's being driven nuts by Anthony's crappy late-night music. There's also a stranger named Claire (Charlene Kaleina), who's forced into giving Anthony a ride when he suddenly jumps into her car -- and later begins to stalk him. If you couldn't already guess, none of this makes much logical sense, and it's difficult to know what's real, or what's in the vivid imagination of this drunk sociopath. FYI, the title seems to refer to Coltrane's long-overdue observation that public transit is the killer's getaway method. Doughy Poe has all the charisma of a braindead puppy, scenes run on endlessly, and 114 minutes is too long to spend with such self-absorbed, dead-end characters. Plus, did we really need to see Coltrane's bare fat ass? Even when Poe finally attempts some excitement, with Coltrane chasing the killer, you'll be more confused than amused. In fact, the film only lifts off when Tyrell is on-screen, and she nails this showy, unsubtle role of a shrill, rich, junkie bitch who shoots heroin under her tongue while lounging in her fur coat. Johanna Heer's photography is expressive but overly-dark, with extreme lighting design and seedy NYC locales aplenty, while the soundtrack includes Robert Fripp, Ivan Kral and The Lounge Lizards (with Lurie showing up briefly, in dramatized portions from Anthony's script, playing jazz sax).

© 2004 by Steven Puchalski.