Released in 1998 ▪ Review posted March 17, 2014
“I’m thinkin’ maybe I’d like to try me some of that cocaine.”
If you set out to make a movie from a terrible script and direct it in a way that frees the actors from the obligations of being authentic or making strong character choices, what you end up with is Lost in Translation. Please ignore any counterargument to this assertion. That movie sucks.
If, however, you set out to make a movie from a terrible script and direct it in a way that frees the actors from the obligations of being authentic but you have one of the actors make a weirdly distinct character choice, what you end up with is Brian De Palma’s Snake Eyes. The actor is Nicolas Cage, and the character choice is “I’m on cocaine.” This movie sucks too.
In Snake Eyes, a coked-out Cage runs around screaming and attempting to solve an extremely obvious mystery. It’s like an episode of Murder, She Wrote, but produced for Showtime and cast with Andy Dick as Jessica Fletcher. It’s not good and Nic isn’t good in it.
I know you’re wondering how a movie in which Nic Cage’s motivation for every scene is “imagine you did a massive amount of cocaine” isn’t entertaining, at least a little bit. It is in that sense. But it means nothing compared to his performance in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a movie we frequently refer to on Cage Match (the review is coming soon). In BL:PoCNO, Nic plays a corrupt cop under the effects of many different substances, in a much grittier and more realistic world. It’s captivating. It makes Snake Eyes look like what you would get if a ninth grader made an Atlantic City thriller.
Though Cage’s performance here is entertaining in a backwards way, it isn’t good. But it kept me engaged, and distracted me somewhat from the fact that Gary Sinise was phoning it in, and that the plot is a pastiche of nonsense.
It’s fine that the story deviates from the classic three-act pattern used by most films. Often that’s refreshing. But if De Palma is trying to make a whodunit-style mystery, then why, why, why would he deviate from the traditional structure and reveal who did it at the end of the first act? You’d think it would be better to hold off until the end of the second or final act, so that the mastermind’s subsequent downfall/triumph can serve as the climax.
The reveal probably happened too early because the ending of the movie was originally going to be completely different. A massive tidal wave would tear through the Atlantic City casino, metaphorically absolving everyone of their sins, and enabling a dramatic escape for Nic and the femme fatale, Carla Gugino, who apparently never ages.
Naturally, De Palma cut this entire sequence out of the movie, so the plot unravels at the end of act one and goes nowhere. People talk about drowning incidents that you never see. The whole movie, which even opens with a reporter standing outside in a rain slicker talking about an imminent hurricane, is set up to end with a storm surge that never happens. The film’s climax is Nic screaming with a mouthful of blood.
Snake Eyes is schlock. It’s dingus. It’s a bad, bad movie that even gonzo Nic can’t save. Watch the first twelve minutes, where De Palma cribs from Hitchcock’s Rope, using cheap camera tricks to make it look like an amazingly long single-take tracking shot (the zoom out from a television screen is my least favorite). Looking back on it, Mission: Impossible, The Untouchables, and Carrie weren’t that good either, and whatever thrills they elicited were pretty cheap. Even Scarface was mostly free of direction. Who lets Pacino talk like this for an entire movie? Insanity.
What I’m saying is: Brian De Palma is a bad director.
Objectively looking at his oeuvre: This is the best thing he ever directed.
- How was the movie?
- How was Nic Cage’s acting?
- Bad. Not good-bad, just over the line into bad-bad
- Did his performance make the movie worse?