#1. Joe Spinell, brilliant NYC character actor (THE GODFATHER, MANIAC, TAXI DRIVER, THE SEVEN-UPS, NIGHTHAWKS, VIGILANTE) appearing as a closeted, homophobic cop. He's only present for a handful of scenes, but he imbues his character with equal measures of sleaze, torment, and a surprising pathos.
Joe and his sleazy pathos (in the passenger seat).
#2. Ed O'Neill (known chiefly for his sitcom work on MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN and MODERN FAMILY, though occasionally as a David Mamet stock player) as a plain-talkin' detective.
He's pictured here to the right of real-life cop-turned-actor Randy Jurgensen, who's looking sorta like a poor man's Warren Oates.
He doesn't have too much to do here, but he brings a straightforward, simple-minded focus to his character, running down dead-end leads for his boss, an utterly beleaguered NYPD Captain (GOODFELLAS' Paul Sorvino).
#3. Hey, look, it's Powers Boothe (EXTREME PREJUDICE, DEADWOOD, SOUTHERN COMFORT, RED DAWN, SIN CITY)! Now here's where it starts to get really special.
As the "Hankie Salesman," he briefly explains the code system of the of colored pick-up bandanas to undercover cop Al Pacino. While describing which hankies in which pockets denote blowjobs, hustling, golden showers, et al., he plays the character as a mix of affectionately annoyed and mildly disinterested. Pacino says he'll go home and "think about it." "I'm sure you'll make the right choice," says Powers, still bored.
One of the main supporting characters, Ted (Don Scardino, who plays him as a lovable Bohemian like from TALES OF THE CITY), has a boyfriend who's a mildly (?) abusive dancer who's always on tour. He's spoken of occasionally throughout the film. We finally get a glimpse of the dancer near the end, and it's none other than James Remar, wearing short-shorts and waving a butcher knife around. This was especially amusing to me because, though we never see his character dance in CRUISING, I believe this may have inspired his role in 1987's RENT-A-COP, where he plays a murderous and sweaty dancin' machine.
In closing, CRUISING is a well-made psychological thriller (Friedkin has always been a consummate craftsman who rarely draws attention to his technique) with some brilliant performances and featuring a very specific time and place. It fits nicely in his "cops on the edge" oeuvre, alongside TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. and THE FRENCH CONNECTION.