Saturday 5 February 2022

Movie Review: 8 Million Ways To Die (1986)

A moody crime drama, 8 Million Ways To Die features plenty of fiery characters but the flimsy plot lacks both depth and logic. 

In Los Angeles, narcotics detective Matt Scudder (Jeff Bridges) is involved in yet another shooting. His life disintegrates into the bottle, and he loses his job, house, and family. He eventually joins Alcoholics Anonymous and sobers up. Six months later he is contacted by high-class prostitute Sunny (Alexandra Paul). She works out of the home-based casino run by suave gangster Chance (Randy Brooks), but now seeks protection because she fears Chance wants to harm her.

Matt is unable to help Sunny in time: she is killed and he reverts back to drinking. Chance claims to be uninvolved in the murder, so Matt turns his attention to combustible drug lord Angel Maldonado (Andy Garcia), who frequents the casino and is most enamoured by Sarah (Rosanna Arquette), one of the other prostitutes. Matt teams up with Sarah and tries to lure Angel into a trap, but violence awaits.

Despite ample star power and a glitzy visual style, director Hal Ashby is unable to salvage a troubled production. The script was cobbled together from uncoordinated contributions by the trio of Oliver Stone, R. Lance Hill and an uncredited Robert Towne, collectively botching the adaptation of Lawrence Block's book. Gangsters, drugs, alcoholism, gambling, money laundering, and prostitution are lined up and left exposed in a remarkable display of disassociated filmmaking.

8 Million Ways To Die lands as a limp salute to a noir world where all the men are deeply flawed or knowingly corrupt and all the women are cynical or vacuous sex workers. The collection of ideas never gels into anything more than rivals hissing at each other at close quarters, interrupted by prostitutes undressing in attempts to manipulate or survive.

The writing gaps were apparently papered over by plenty of improvisation, and in several scenes it's apparent Jeff Bridges and Andy Garcia are desperately trading made-up lines just to fill in the blanks. Unsurprisingly, Ashby was fired after principal photography.

The few positives include a sun-drenched, too-hot aesthetic, and a couple of beautiful sets representing Chance's casino and Angel's Gaudi-inspired residence (known as the O'Neill House). The climactic showdown at a massive but empty warehouse is an out-of-control but fun collision of pointed guns and agitated profanities hurled in all directions to obscure the lack of substance. 

Bridges and Garcia almost make up for the dross with sheer screen presence, but both Rosanna Arquette and Alexandra Paul flounder in thoughtlessly sketched-in roles. 8 Million Ways To Die is a great title, but unfortunately also a demonstration of demise by dissonance.

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