Caught (Robert M. Young)

Rating: *** (out of ****)

Every now and again, an otherwise unremarkable film -- one that just seems to be chugging along in a predictable, if pleasant, way -- is unexpectedly invigorated by the appearance of a relatively unknown actor in a startling, revelatory performance. The last time I saw this happen was in Steven Soderbergh's The Underneath, in which Joe Chrest turned up out of nowhere near the end of the picture to provide the tension and intensity that had been sorely lacking prior to his entrance; it happens again in Caught, which is a fairly routine variation on The Postman Always Rings Twice until newcomer Steven Schub sends it veering in another, much more interesting direction. The familiar plot -- middle-aged married couple take in young drifter out of pity; drifter and woman get it on; oblivious husband treats drifter like the son he never had -- is already well underway when Danny, the son the couple did in fact have, returns to New Jersey after a long and fruitless attempt to find work in L.A as a comic and actor. The events that follow are frequently implausible and occasionally ridiculous, but Schub's performance as Danny is unforgettable. Always "on"; responding to every perceived threat with bitter, caustic, unfunny jokes; and visibly seething with self-loathing and misdirected rage, Danny is the most memorably loathsome and pitiful screen character since Rupert Pupkin (what is it about failed stand-ups?), and the energy he provides rescues Caught from the mediocrity to which it had seemed to aspire. On the flip side, another newcomer, Arie Verveen, plays the drifter, and it's his vague, mumbling, woefully uncharismatic work that nearly sinks the picture; after a while I found his imitation of Jason Patric imitating James Dean imitating Brando so irritating that I was half-inclined to root for Danny, who's supposed to be the bad guy. The old pros in the cast tip the scale in the right direction, fortunately; Edward James Olmos is typically assured and engaging as the husband, and Maria Conchita Alonso, as the wife, only falters when she's required to express her love'n'lust for Verveen...understandable, since he's about as appealing as a damp, moldy carpet. Veteran independent director Robert M. Young (Dominick and Eugene, Triumph of the Spirit) does his usual competent, low-key job.