8 Million Ways To Die Review: 1 Down…

8 Million Ways To Die: On General Release From Monday 12th September

You might think that based on the cast list alone, Hal Ashby’s 8 Million Ways to Die is something of a hidden gem. Jeff Bridges takes on leading man duties, having been nominated for an Oscar two years before in Starman. Andy Garcia plays the villain after having made an impression on the small screen and Rosanna Arquette stars as the hooker with a heart after receiving positives reviews from her appearance in After Hours. You might think it’s a winning combination. How wrong can you be?

Based (loosely) on the novels of Lawrence Block, the film follows Detective Matt Scudder (Bridges) who spirals into alcoholism after killing a drug dealer when a bust goes sour. After losing his job and his family in a lengthy montage, Scudder winds up making friends with needy hooker, Sunny. Her reasons for needling her way into his life are soon revealed when she’s murdered by a mystery assailant while in Scudder’s care. Unable to cope with another death on his hands, Scudder resolves to catch Sunny’s killer with the help of her friend Sarah (Arquette).

This is a simplified explanation of the sprawling mess that is the script for this movie. Originally written by Oliver Stone, the script was rewritten then thrown out with much of the final film being improvised. Unfortunately for the audience, this meant two minute scenes ramble on for seven with the actors desperately trying to keep things on track. The improvisations aren’t necessarily bad it’s just that they’re allowed to go on for so long that the actors begin to lose a sense of urgency and even their own characters. Despite the gritty content, there’s almost no drama in this movie – how can a film with hookers, drugs, corruption and Jeff Bridges be so damn boring? I’ve seen more tension in a rubber band. With no structure to the scenes, the actors buckle under the weight of the story. Edgier elements like full frontal nudity and copious swear words still don’t manage to bring a shred of reality to the film; elements I’d wager were introduced by Stone and misused by Ashby.

Jeff Bridges gives a performance which would be perfect for an actual Oliver Stone movie but is sadly lost in Ashby’s direction. Andy Garcia is the clear winner in a game of spot-the-bad-guy and miraculously manages to show no trace of the subtlety and gravitas he would go on to portray in Godfather 3 four years later. Rosanna Arquette’s portrayal of helpful prostitute Sarah is just plain boring. There’s nothing remotely special or intriguing about her character, she’s merely temporarily filling a hole (!) in Scudder’s life where family and friends used to be. But of course being a hooker in a 80s movie, she is inevitably used as a pawn in the men’s incredibly tedious game of cat and mouse. 8 Million Ways to Die is a dull, meandering mess proving that hiring capable actors does not a good movie make.

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