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8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE
DVD. Second Sight.

8 Million Ways to DieThere are people who believe that the 1980s – specically the second half of that decade - was a period of great film making. The technical term for these people is ‘morons’. But even the most deluded Eighties apologist might struggle to hail 8 Million Ways to Die as a classic.

Directed by Hal Ashby at the end of his career, when substance abuse had long-since robbed him of the talent that made him one of the 1970’s most acclaimed directors (and believe me, it’s all too obvious in this film), this is the story of LA cop Matt Scudder (Jeff Bridges), who rapidly sinks into alcoholism and loses his job, family and self-respect – apparently after shooting a drug dealer. While recovering, he meets hooker Sunny (Alexandra Paul) who is in fear of her life. When she winds up dead, Scudder falls off the wagon, but then decides to find out who killed her and bring him to justice. This involves lots of testosterone-driven face-offs with coke dealer Andy Garcia and an unlikely relationship with another whore, Rosanna Arquette, mixed with very little actual story and even less action as the film slowly grinds to a lacklustre ending.

8 Million Ways to DieOriginally written by Oliver Stone (who apparently, and understandably, tried to have his name removed), rewritten by Robert Towne – under a pseudonym – and apparently improvised by much of the cast after Ashby threw out the screenplay, this feels like a long-winded episode of Miami Vice, with a definite sense of style over substance. Every ghastly Eighties cliché is here – the godawful soundtrack that even in 1986 must’ve seemed ridiculously bombastic makes Jan Hammer seem classy and understated, while the pastel fashions, rolled-up jacket sleeves, mullets, designer stubble and Bridges’ gruesome Eighties ‘tasche all look particularly dated. The coke-driven action (and yes, you can take that any way you wish) is indulgent, plodding and sloppy, while the dramatic finale, where everyone is shouting every line at the same time, must be like what pitch meetings for films like this were like back in the day, with a combination of guys trying to see who has the biggest dick before screaming hysterically as a pile of cocaine is wasted. Notably, the only two women in the film who get more than a minute of screen time are both prostitutes who are murdered, threatened, or slapped around (something the film thinks is so normal, apparently, that one scene has Garcia calmly watching as his girlfriend Arquette is manhandled into a cable car and assaulted by Bridges without finding anything untoward in it).

8 Million Ways to Die bombed theatrically and crept out unnoticed on VHS, where it gathered dust in video stores, undisturbed even by the less-than-discerning action film fans of the time. It’s hard to see the DVD breaking that pattern, unless some viewers can find an unintentional camp appeal in the film – an unlikely event.

Like Scudder, you might find yourself reaching for a stiff drink if you have the misfortune of sitting through this dreadful effort.

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOW (UK)

 

 

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