Caught (1996) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The first fifteen minutes of this film give the impression that Caught will be a remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, updated to the present day and relocated in North Jersey.

A young homeless man wanders into an urban fish market to escape a police dragnet. The owner of the shop and his wife (Edward Olmos and Maria Alonso) end up taking the man into their lives. The owner brings the drifter into the business, and the drifter responds so enthusiastically and gratefully that the owner soon begins thinking of him as a son. They even give the man the bedroom once occupied by their biological son, who is in L.A. trying to break into showbiz. The wife has something else in mind, however. Her attitude toward the handsome stranger is decidedly unmaternal. She wants him. She's still young and sexy. Her husband is older, has lost his sex drive, and always smells of fish.

Then a developer comes along and offers a million dollars for the fish store.

I know what you're thinking, but you're wrong. I was thinking the same thing. This movie does not end up in James M Cain territory. The triangle between the three protagonists is not simply a set-up for a twisty noir thriller. The wife and the drifter do not plan to kill the husband while simultaneously planning to double-cross each other. Nothing even similar to that. It ends up closer to Tennessee Williams, with a hint of Sophocles thrown in as well. There are no murder plans or scams of any type. All three of them are good people, and behave like real people, not like movie characters. In fact, it is not a thriller at all, but a tragedy. The young stranger does eventually succumb to temptation and starts an affair with the wife. He really desires her and cares for her. But he regrets the relationship greatly, because the owner has become a surrogate father for him in every way, and they too love each other.

Through the first half of the movie, the film is actually quite joyous. The wife is sexually satisfied. The owner has a surrogate son who brings him pleasure and is a great help at work. The old boy is so happy that he even gets some sex drive back. The wife still loves him, and seems to respond with fair enthusiasm when he gets back in the game. All three characters seem happier than they were before, and they are ecstatic when the developer makes them a great offer for their property. They agree to sell their store, and the owner plans to retire to Florida and run some fishing boats, with the assistance of his live-in first mate.

The problem is that the first mate knows this can't go on forever. He genuinely loves both of them and wonders what to do. He should have just walked away and let them live their lives, and maybe he would actually have done that if the wandering showbiz son hadn't shown up on their doorstep with his young wife and infant son. The real son quickly becomes jealous of the surrogate son living in his old bedroom. The real son is also able to size up the dynamic of the stranger's relationship with his mother, and is equally jealous because the stranger has achieved a bond with his father, although the real father and son are virtually strangers. The owner and his wife remain dependent on the stranger. The biological son's wife and baby become dependent on the stranger for reasons which must remain unrevealed here. The stranger knows that the situation must end in ugliness, but he doesn't feel that he can leave.

Like the fish he handles every day, he is "caught".

This movie is surprisingly intelligent and authentic. For 75% of the film, it takes a situation that Hollywood would normally mishandle, and deals with it the way real people would try to deal with being caught in the same trap.

If I have any criticism of the film, it is that the biological son was just too evil and scheming. He was acting the part of Iago, catching everyone's ear, telling people the truths they would least like to hear, and making up lies when the truth proved insufficiently inflammatory. The author wrote this part without complexity. This man is a druggie, a liar, a thief, a wife-beater, a bad performer who is constantly performing, a man with insufficient respect for his father and Oedipal lust for his mother. Reinforcing the one-dimensional nature of the character, the actor chose to play this part very broadly, adhering closely to the Iago formula, making him so vile and slimy that he makes one's skin crawl.

Frankly, I would rather have seen the original three characters play out their lives without the son's interference. I really liked the way the tension was building between them, and I wanted to see it resolved the way it would have been resolved with three good and genuine people, people who care about one another, placed in a difficult situation.


Maria Alonso shows her breasts in a sex scene, and also in a bath scene as seen in a distorting mirror.

DVD info from Amazon

Not a very good DVD. It is a widescreen print, of sorts, but it's letterboxed, not anamorphic, has some noise, and the aspect ratio is a curious 1.6:1. There are no important features.

I guess it isn't much of a criticism to say what I was hoping for, but I liked the naturalism and compassion that the script was developing, and I thought that the too-too-evil son spoiled that dynamic and turned the film too much toward larger-than-life Shakespearian tragedy. I didn't want it larger than life. I was happy when it was exactly the same size as life.

I still liked the film, but I might have loved it if it had stayed true to its beginning.

The Critics Vote

  • General USA consensus: three stars. I wasn't the only one who was impressed with this "small" movie. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4.

The People Vote ...

  • Virtually nothing at the box office. Arthouse distribution, $315,000 gross.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C or C+ for sure, and I would have been ready to argue for a B- before the creepy, over-the-top son started to lead the film into noir territory. Before that point, the script was perfect, the actors were believable, and the tension was growing stronger and stronger in every scene. As it is, I think you'll enjoy it if you'd like to see how Tennessee Williams might have done things if he lived in Jersey City instead of the South.

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