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Snake Eyes

Review: 'Snake Eyes' is not a sure bet

Web posted on: Friday, August 07, 1998 9:50:08 AM

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- Brian De Palma is a brilliant yet inconsistent director. Through the years he has often paid homage to his favorite director, Alfred Hitchcock. "Carrie," "Dressed To Kill" and "Blow Out" are some of his better-known efforts. He's also made some clunkers -- "The Bonfire Of The Vanities" and "Raising Cain" come to mind.

Now, in "Snake Eyes" he's given a nod to famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, as he takes one compelling event and then retells the story again and again through the eyes of the principle characters.

This new film teams him with Academy Award-winner Nicolas Cage and critically acclaimed actor Gary Sinise. The title "Snake Eyes" is based on a gambling term (two single dots turning up on a set of dice) and the action in this mystery/thriller is set in a casino during a heavyweight boxing match in Atlantic City.

Paul's Pix: "Snake Eyes"
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Clip - "Shut down the arena:"
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Entire trailer:
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Riveting camerawork

The first 20 minutes of "Snake Eyes" are riveting, with De Palma's handheld camera following Cage through a continuous shot as his character, a sleazy Atlantic City cop on the take, jives, steals, flirts, and lies his way into a heavyweight boxing match and then hooks up with his childhood friend, a Naval officer assigned to the Department of Defense, played by Gary Sinise.

Then the secretary of defense, who is watching the boxing match, is assassinated and 14,000 fans become suspects and witnesses. A mysterious redheaded woman, a guy yelling "bring on the pain," and a woman covered in blood, played extremely well by Carla Gugino, are seen again and again as we revisit the murder over and over from various viewpoints, including the vantage points of Cage's, Sinise's and Gugino's characters.

The event is also replayed through the eyes of the heavy-weight boxing champion, played very effectively by Stan Shaw, who you may remember from "Rising Sun" or "Fried Green Tomatoes." Of course, all their stories differ and as the saying goes, "the plot thickens."

Thriller milked to the max

De Palma milks this cat-and-mouse thriller to the max with his intense (but at times a little too obviously "look at me") camerawork and inventive editing. While hardly unique, his use of flashbacks and his point-of-view use of his camera as the character's eyes and ears are both very effective.

But whatever chills and thrills are achieved in this cinematic effort are found in his direction, not the screenplay. The bad guy, and the basic bones of his diabolical scheme, are revealed way too early and the rest of the film is spent waiting for the characters in the film to catch up to what the audience already knows.

De Palma, Cage gambling on thriller 'Snake Eyes'

The most jarring thing for me was the fact that Cage's first manic half-hour on screen, which is wonderful, is completely out-of-sync with the rest of his performance. He's either a total screwup or a cunning detective. Please pick one. In addition, the plot line regarding his aspirations of becoming the mayor of Atlantic City is both unnecessary and stupid.

And don't get me started on the ending. Without giving anything away, let's put it this way: After the killer is busted, leave the theater, pick up your car, and get a head-start out of the parking garage. The last five to 10 minutes are completely stupid and add nothing to the film.

Things could have been worse. De Palma and screenwriter Daivd Koepp were also responsible for the film "Mission Impossible." Yes, I know it was a hit. But after the opening credits that film went into the toilet and it made no sense what-so-ever. At least this baby has a comprehensible plot. Overall, with all the talent involved, "Snake Eyes" should have been a much better film.

"Snake Eyes" opens nationwide August 7. It's rated "R" with a running time of 99 minutes.

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