Carp Fear

Caught cooks up psychological bouillabaisse

A homeless man stumbles into a New York fish market and asks for a glass of water. The owner's wife gives it to him, and then, with a strange, sudden urgency, invites him home for dinner. Over her husband's mild objections, by the end of the evening she's offered him a job and a place to stay--the bedroom once occupied by the couple's son. Though perplexed, the young man accepts.

Since the drifter, Nick (Arie Verveen), is so sweet and handsome, the wife, Betty (Maria Conchita Alonso), so lovely and frustrated, and the husband (Edward James Olmos) so hardworking, honest and salt-of-the-earth that his name is Joe, the initial course of Caught's plot shouldn't be hard to guess.

But once the obvious--Betty and Nick become intense lovers--has been established, the film starts to take some interesting turns. The setup suggests film noir, especially The Postman Always Rings Twice, and when Joe outrages Betty by turning down a big developer's offer to buy the store, we wonder if she might not have a little project in mind for Nick. But refreshingly, that isn't where Caught is headed--these people aren't perfect, but they have a basic humanity.

Joe and Betty's son Danny (Steven Schub), who has flown the nest to pursue a standup-comedy career in L.A., had no talent for the fish trade. Under Joe's tutelage, Nick shows a flair for filleting, and to Joe, he soon becomes the son he didn't have. For Betty, Nick's more a replacement for the son she did have.

When Danny comes home, virtually walking in on Nick and Betty in flagrante delicto, he quickly gets what's going on--that Nick's skill as a "shad boner" has usurped Danny's favorite-son status with both parents. And worse, when Danny's wife (Bitty Schram) and baby son meet Nick, they take to him, as well.

Pretty soon Danny is all sinister, gleaming-eyed malevolence toward Nick, and we realize that he's the source of conflict in the story. We also realize that Caught isn't some simple noir triangle; it's a troubling Oedipal tangle.

The script, which Edward Pomerantz adapted rather freely from his 1973 novel Into It, isn't psychologically didactic, so the actors can keep us guessing, in a good way, about the characters. Although the long-underrated Alonso is very touching as Betty and the smoldery newcomer Verveen is fine as the hapless, well-intentioned Nick, the most enigmatic and intriguing character, for a change, is the cuckolded husband.

Joe has a bum ticker, and there's little to suggest that he and Betty have more between them conjugally than comfort and mild fondness. Does a guy like this--he's shown to be intelligent and thoughtful--allow his wife to bring a handsome younger man into the house if he doesn't, at some level, expect to be relieved of certain of his husbandly duties?

Neither Pomerantz nor the director--that unsung, blessedly unpretentious journeyman Robert M. Young (The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez)--answers the question. Nor does Olmos, who plays this potential dud of a role with crafty energy and a wonderful barking, scoffing laugh. But the complexity is there, under the surface of the performance, and it sets the tone for the rest of Caught, giving a tension and a humane gravity to a film that, with all its fish imagery, might otherwise be a European sex comedy.

Directed by Robert M. Young; with Edward James Olmos, Maria Conchita Alonso, Arie Verveen, Steven Schub and Bitty Schram.

Unrated.

 
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