Cruising is a 1980 psychological thriller film directed by William Friedkin and starring Al Pacino. The film is loosely based on the novel of the same name, by New York Times reporter Gerald Walker, about a serial killer targeting gay men, in particular those associated with the S&M scene.
Poorly reviewed by critics, Cruising was a modest financial success, though the filming and promotion were dogged by gay rights protesters. The title is a play on words with a dual meaning, as "cruising" can describe police officers on patrol and also cruising for sex.
In New York City during the middle of a hot summer, body parts of men are showing up in the Hudson River. The police suspect it to be the work of a serial killer who is picking up homosexual men at West Village bars like the Eagle's Nest, the Ramrod, and the Cock Pit, then taking them to cheap rooming houses or motels, tying them up and stabbing them to death.
Officer Steve Burns (Al Pacino), who resembles the victims, is sent deep undercover into the urban world of gay S&M and leather bars in the Meatpacking District in order to track down the killer. He rents an apartment in the area and befriends a neighbor, Ted Bailey (Don Scardino) a struggling young gay playwright. Burns's undercover work takes a toll on his relationship with his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen), due to both his refusal to tell her the details of his current assignment and Burns building a close friendship with Ted, who himself is having relationship issues with his jealous and overbearing dancer boyfriend Gregory (James Remar).
Burns mistakenly compels the police to interrogate a waiter, Skip Lee (Jay Acovone), who is intimidated and beaten to coerce a confession before police discover Skip's fingerprints don't match the killer's. Burns is disturbed by this police brutality, and comes to believe that the police are motivated by homophobia. Outraged, and exhausted by his undercover assignment, he almost quits his job. However, Burns is convinced by his boss (Paul Sorvino) to continue with the investigation.
Following a new lead, Burns investigates Columbia University students who studied with one of the previous victims, a college professor. At the film's conclusion, Burns thinks that he has found the serial killer, a gay music student who attacks him with a knife in Morningside Park. Burns brings the man into custody, but shortly afterward Ted's mutilated body is found. The police dismiss the murder as a lover's quarrel turned violent and put out an arrest warrant for Gregory, whom Ted had earlier described to Steve as controlling and possessive.
With the police under the impression that the murders have been solved, Burns moves back in with Nancy. In an ambiguous finale, Burns begins shaving his beard in the bathroom while Nancy secretly inspects clothes that he left on a chair: a leather peaked cap, aviator frames, and a leather jacket that all look very similar to the outfit the killer wore. Burns, meanwhile, wipes off his shaving cream and looks directly at the camera.
- Al Pacino – Steve Burns
- Paul Sorvino – Captain Edelson
- Karen Allen – Nancy Gates
- Richard Cox – Stuart Richards
- Don Scardino – Ted Bailey
- Joe Spinell – Patrolman DiSimone
- Jay Acovone – Skip Lee
- Randy Jurgensen – Det. Lefransky
- Barton Heyman – Dr. Rifkin
- Gene Davis – DaVinci
- Arnaldo Santana – Loren Lukas
- Larry Atlas – Eric Rossman
- Allan Miller – Chief of Detectives
- Sonny Grosso – Detective Blasio
- Ed O'Neill – Detective Schreiber (as Edward O'Neil)
- Michael Aronin – Detective Davis
- James Remar – Gregory
- William Russ – Paul Gaines
- Mike Starr – Patrolman Desher
- Steve Inwood – Martino
- Keith Prentice – Joey
- Leland Starnes – Jack Richards
- Robert Pope – DaVinci's friend
- Leo Burmester – Water Sport
- Bruce Levine – Dancer
- Charles Dunlap – Three Card Monte
- Powers Boothe – Hankie salesman
- James Sutorius – Jack (voice)
- Richard Jamieson – Spotter
- Jimmie Ray Weeks – Seller (as James Ray Weeks)
- David Winnie Hayes – Bouncer
- Carmine Stippo – Bartender
- James Hayden – Cockpit Coke man
- Todd Winters – Tugboat Mate