Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Puerto Vallarta Squeeze": An interesting CIA-related adventure

Puerto Vallarta Squeeze” at first glance looks like another stereotyped adventure thriller set in Latin America, but it turns out to be quite interesting, for me at least.  The 2004 film is directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman and is based on the 1990 novel by Robert James Waller, supposedly based on a word-of-mouth tale from his wife (so maybe reality-based), with the subtitle “The Run for El Norte”.  It’s a bit like a Cormac McCarthy story and movie, played straight out as a thriller – but it could have been done in Hitchcock or Coen Brothers style and made funny.  The film gets its title from a resort town on Mexico’s Pacific, a long way from any border.

Really, the movie tells two interlocking stories.  Danny (Craig Wasson) is a former American journalist with a local girl friend Maria (Giovanna Zacarias).  They witness a street murder, which seems to be a complicated hit with international ramifications.  Pretty soon, they are accosted by Clayton Price (a sinewy, scarred Scott Glenn) and practically compelled to let him hitch a ride with him to the Rio Grande, that on a map would be many hundreds of miles away.  The movie tells us about Price through his dreams, particularly of accidents and grotesque crimes happening on circus high wires.  Slowly, the movie fills in a puzzle of his background, a former Marine badly let down behind lines in Vietnam, who has become a mercenary, perhaps on the underground payroll of the CIA, perhaps looking for cartel drug dealers.  There are misadventures, like an accident where the car goes over a bank and stays upright and landing on a road below.  In one town, Price encounters some thugs and sets the chest of one of them on fire after throwing lighter fluid on his T-shirt and igniting it.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of bodily “attack” before in the movies.  They encounter the poverty of village life, including animal trading opportunists.  Price is upset by a man who keeps a beautiful serval in a cage and wants to pay the man to let it go free (anticipating Richard Parker in “Pi”).

The other story concerns another veteran CIA agent Walter McGrane (Harvey Keitel), who is training a young covert military intelligence officer Neil (Jonathan Brandis) to track down Price for him.  Apparently the US government (either Clinton or Bush) wants to get rid of Price to cover something up.  Neil, slender and clean-cut, is quite attractive, and there are some hints that he might be gay.  It’s not clear whether he is still formally in the Armed Forces.  (Did he leave the uniform and join a civilian service because of DADT?)  Throw into the brew the element of corrupt local Mexican police, and you have the ingredients for a showdown and a surprise ending (and relationship).

In my own novel manuscript (“Angel’s Brother”), there is a fortyish CIA agent, masquerading as a history teacher and leading a conventional family life in Dallas, paired up with a gay college student about to graduate with an ROTC commission (maybe), but recruited by the intelligence services for unusual abilities to solve unusual problems (a bizarre epidemic with elements of alien or extraterrestrial origin).  With all the military background, in my own book, there is little use of guns – no battles and very little actual violence (the one attack is actually a way to deliver intelligence). 

  
The film was produced by Art in Motion and released on DVD in 2006 by New Line.  But I seem to recall a short theatrical release then (maybe early in the year), maybe at the Courthouse here in Arlington.  But I missed it then, and watched the Netflix DVD.  This is a long film, listed as 118 minutes.  But the DVD ran up to about 123 minutes before reverting back to minute 114 to start the end credits, so I’ve never seen that done before. Vikki Carr sings a very familiar number (disco?) in the end credits. 

The film recalls other movies, like "Sorcerer" and even "The Mexican".  


Picture: Mine, north of San Diego, along Pacific Coast, 2012. 

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