Snake Eyes

When director Brian De Palma is on the money, he’s one of our greatest directors. Whether he’s pumping out pseudo-Hitchcock like “Carrie,” “Dressed to Kill” and “Obsession” or popular popcorn fare like “The Untouchables” and “Mission: Impossible,” De Palma knows how to tell a story.

Writer David Koepp is one of Hollywood’s hottest players, churning out such hits as “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” “Mission: Impossible” and “The Paper.”

Actor Nicolas Cage parlayed an Academy Award for “Leaving Las Vegas” into a lucrative action- packed career that includes “The Rock,” “Con Air,” and “Face/Off.”

Gary Sinise’s high-profile career includes his Oscar-nominated performance in “Forrest Gump,” plus winning roles in “Apollo 13,” and “Ransom.”

So how could one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, one of it’s most prolific screen writers, and two highly respected actors deliver such a piece of donkey doo as “Snake Eyes.” That’s the question that kept bugging me after sitting through this painfully numbing experience. How could so much add up to so little?

The film’s biggest enemy is the coming attractions trailer that literally gives away the entire film. Even worse, the two-minute trailer is a much better movie, if you can call it that. At least the coming attractions manage to make the plot crackle. In the film, it just burns out.

“Snake Eyes” is supposed to be a mystery-suspense-thriller that is neither suspenseful nor thrilling, and the only mystery is why the film bites more than Mike Tyson in a boxing ring.

The action centers around the assassination of the Secretary of Defense at a crowded heavyweight boxing match in Atlantic City. Nicolas Cage stars as police detective Rick Santoro, a flamboyant, corrupt cop who never does anything unless there’s something in it for him.

In a dazzling extended hand-held camera shot that seems to go on forever, we follow Santoro as he makes the rounds at the arena, eventually catching up with all of the players who will be pivotal to the plot. At first, Cage’s Santoro is obnoxious and boorish, way over the top. When he finally focuses and gets down to business after the assassination, he’s much more interesting.

Gary Sinise starts off promising enough as Santoro’s best friend from childhood, now a Navy Commander charged with the security of the Secretary of Defense. Decked out in full military blues with a head of jet black hair that looks more like a piece than the real thing, Sinise tries to be a commanding presence.

Like a well-oiled machine, the plot mechanics click into place, leaving little room for any real suspense or surprises. Koepp’s screenplay (from a story co-written by De Palma) strives to be a modern day “Roshomon,” but that’s like comparing apples and wolverines. Like “Roshomon,” the plot unfolds through the eyes of several witnesses, who each tell their own version of what happened.

Eventually Santoro manages to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, but he’s way behind the audience. When the Secretary of Defense is shot, Santoro seals off the arena so he can look for witnesses among the 14,000 spectators. It’s during this time that the film asks a lot of the audience.

We’re supposed to believe one incredible coincidence after another, and as if that weren’t bad enough, the filmmaker’s continually insult our intelligence with moments so absurd they defy logic.

Carla Gugino co-stars as a mystery woman who gets injured during the assassination, and finds herself on the run from the police and the killers. Their search for her is almost comical. She’s drenched in blood, and yet none of the other spectators notice or offer help.

She then steals a souvenir T-shirt and washes up in the ladies room without being disturbed once. Excuse me? An empty lady’s room at a sports arena with over 14,000 people waiting outside? Right, like that will ever happen.

It doesn’t take long before the bad guys play their hand and show their faces, forcing the film to become one long, tedious cat-and-mouse chase. There’s even one scene where a pulverized Santoro literally drags himself to save the damsel-in-distress that just goes on forever, much like the rest of the film.

Which brings me back to the original question. How can so many talented people get together and make one of the summer’s worst movies? Was it for the money? Was rent due? The film is a wasted showcase for Stephen H. Burum’s remarkable cinematography, Bill Pankow’s gee-whiz editing, and Anne Pritchard’s warm and inviting production design. All are excellent.

De Palma has been down the conspiracy theory yellow brick road before with “Blow Out,” a suspense-thriller that contained both. “Snake Eyes” is an empty experience.



Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, John Heard, Carla Gugino, Stan Shaw, Kevin Dunn, Michael Rispoli in a film directed by Brian De Palma. 99 Min. Rated R.


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