Wednesday, August 7, 2013

FI: Pulp

UK, 1972
Written and Directed by Mike Hodges

Mike Hodges's first feature, the gritty Michael Caine revenge picture Get Carter, is a strong, impressionistic, tightly-wound thriller, now widely considered a classic. In that light, his next film, 1972's Pulp, seems a strange choice for a follow-up. A tongue-in-cheek detective parody, Pulp also stars Caine as Mickey King, a writer of trashy gangster stories under a range of baudy pseudonyms. One day, King receives a rich offer to ghostwrite an autobiography for a mysterious celebrity, and undertakes a journey to Malta to meet with his subject. Along the way, he gets embroiled in a complicated plot of murder and sex that wouldn't feel out of place in one of his pulp tales.

Caine is, as ever, an enjoyable screen presence, and Mickey Rooney does well in his brief turn as King's benefactor, a retired has-been actor with mob ties. But, as winning as those two are, there's just no getting around the film's curious lack of drive. Hodges struggles to meld Pulp's comic and serious elements into a cohesive whole. Caine's narration is a bit too on-the-nose and arch, an apt demonstration of King's lousy writing, but this quality makes it an ineffective storytelling crutch for Hodges to lean on as often as he does. The film also suffers from extreme pacing problems; the central mystery King needs to solve doesn't kick in until over an hour into Pulp's ninety-five-minute running time. It's easy to read even these flaws as further meta-commentary about King's lack of authorial chops, but the whole affair is too frightfully dull and inconsequential for the gag to come off. By the time Pulp reaches its abrupt, unsatisfying conclusion, you'll likely be left wondering just what the point was. Not funny enough to be a comedy and far too slight to be a thriller, Pulp loses itself in the middle ground and never recovers.

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