Sasha Grey, nudity, and Danny Trejo: Modus Operandi's three chief selling points. Problem is, they're all ploys. Grey, now officially an "ex-porn star" because she's on Entourage, generously "presents" the picture, meaning only that she allowed the distributor to slap her name above the title in advertisements. The nudity is plentiful, gratuitous but good-natured, though there is the mildly depressing feeling that it's piled on so liberally only because that's how anonymous little movies like this get noticed. Trejo, who is having a bit of a moment right now with a starring role in Machete and subsequent press rounds, was indeed a big score for Modus Operandi, but he is only onscreen for about ten minutes.
What one can make of the story involves a CIA agent (Randy Russell) with a recently murdered wife, who is spirited out of an alcoholic haze and assigned to intercept two stolen briefcases that contain damning footage of a presidential candidate (a very good Michael Sottile) engaged in snuff s&m. During his mission, he encounters numerous underground kingpins like Trejo's Director Holiday and Dallas Deacon (Mark Borchardt, he of Coven and American Movie).
The Milwaukee native Frankie Latina’s movie is actually just a more ambitious version of the kind of video goof-off half of your friends made in high school. Having shot, over the course of four years, on Super 8 with dubbed audio, Latina is forced to sell his technical limitations as advantages. The incoherent plot, clumsy acting, and corny editing become a "campy homage" to American and Italian exploitation movies from the 60s and 70s, though it's unclear that the intention was not in fact to make a legit international spy thriller. There are admirable flashes of ingenuity. An ice pond, probably shot in Wisconsin, becomes Siberia, because that's what it says onscreen. There are inventive killings, like a playing card used as a throwing star and dynamite jammed into a gouged eye socket. But the laughs, though there are several, are all provoked by the same reaction: "haha that was so bad!"
Opens September 10 at IFC Center