Deliberately outrageous buddy study takes male bonding to Freudian extremes, giving topliner Keith Carradine his best role in years as a tough drifter with a troubling attachment to David Keith’s wobbly family man. Smart script and nimble perfs leaven some of the darkness, but quietly disturbing “Cahoots” will need careful handling to reach the right aud — roughly that of Neil La Bute’s earlier odes to rude-boy behavior.
“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” is the mantra of beer-hoisting Matt (Carradine), who’s been roughnecking in Alaska when he gets a hankering to catch up with his childhood pal, Harley (Keith), now a struggling L.A. architect with a blonde trophy wife called Fox (Janet Gunn). Matt’s unannounced arrival turns more than their suburban split-level upside down; for Harley, it’s a siren call to the self-destructive days of his youth.
Pic plays like a much butcher “Chuck & Buck,” with an even more maladjusted — if frighteningly confident — outsider threatening to uproot one of life’s potential winners. Here, the homoerotic element is both more submerged and more blatant, with the men’s history together only vaguely drawn (Matt says they “busted lotsa hymens together”) and their heavier issues pushed to the foreground.
Most of the underlining comes courtesy of the casually womanizing Matt, who far prefers hookers to other women (like his sensible ex-wife, played affectingly by Wendie Malick), and from an elegant mobster (Czech great Jan Triska), who hankers after the lanky troublemaker in the worst way — for everyone involved.
Matt’s sexual humiliation at gunpoint sets a series of revenge blows in motion, leading to an apocalyptic ending worthy of Alan Parker at his most overwrought. Which is too bad, really, because first-time helmer-scripter Dirk Benedict — who, as a ’70s tube thesp, had his own buddy problems on “The A-Team” and “Battlestar Gallactica” — makes a lot of clever moves in the pic’s first two-thirds before the crime-time stakes get so high that many viewers will forget what the subtler fuss was about.
Still, Benedict largely succeeds in his attempt to provoke with the picture, which was originally conceived as a riff on “Butch Cassidy” more than two decades ago. Un-PC aspects, which are many, are mitigated somewhat — or weakened, according to taste — by writer-director’s proclivity for giving female characters thoughtful and sometimes wise things to say.
Vid-to-film transfer is roughly adequate (better than “Chuck & Buck’s,” in fact), and the ably handled cast is uniformly good, held together by Carradine’s palpable joy at playing such a gloriously unchecked id-on-long-legs.
Pic is also aided by a haunting piano score, which alternates with some well-chosen oldies, as well as a new closing tune by Carradine.