A week after Robert Rodriguez’s Machete brought the grindhouse to the multiplex, a far better exploitation derivation slithers out from the sticky-floored theater from whence it came. A handmade, endearingly disreputable valentine to no-budget, maximum-impact cinema, Modus Operandi is seriously seedy and truly inspired. Sprung from the mixtape mind and masturbatory id of Milwaukee-based underground aesthete Frankie Latina, it anchors machine-gunned references and meticulous sight gags in home-schooled filmmaking virtuosity.
Unlike Rodriguez’s immigration satire, Latina’s film doesn’t mean a damn thing. But his four-years-in-the-making, Super 8 passion project works remarkably well as a stand-alone art object, with each scattershot homage lovingly conceived by its director-collector.
The plot involves some nonsense about a C.I.A. agent named Stanley Cashay (Randy Russell), a dour, hilariously unphotogenic widower who’s hired to intercept two mysterious black suitcases in exchange for the name and location of his wife’s murderer. Along the way, he consorts with affable coke-snorting don Casey Thunderbird (Barry Poltermann), Pam Grier paean Black Licorice (Nicole Johnson), and a rainbow assortment of mute American Apparel–clad vixens unburdening their breasts with medium cool. Latina’s taste for nostalgia runs surprisingly broad, spilling past 1970s midnight movies and into Russ Meyer stiletto stompers, cheapy ’80s horror, French New Wave neo-noir, Richard Kern kink, camcorder porn, and beyond. By the time a white-suited Danny Trejo sanctifies proceedings with a corkscrew-to-the-eyeball denouement, the film has exhausted some of its randomized energy, but the kinesis is still considerable and the film always a kick.