You might think that based on the cast list alone, Hal Ashby’s 8 Million Ways to Die is something of a hidden gem.
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 uneventful? 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 no doubt introduced by Stone and misused by
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 is a mess with ideals that are never followed through.