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'Snake Eyes': A Bad Bet

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, Aug. 7, 1998

  Movie Critic

Snake Eyes Nicolas Cage is over the top but under control as the Atlantic City police officer in "Snake Eyes." (Paramount)

Brian De Palma
Nicolas Cage;
Carla Cugino;
Gary Sinise;
John Heard;
Stan Shaw
Running Time:
1 hour, 38 minutes
For language and violence
Nicolas Cage, who sported wings as a somber seraphim in this spring's "City of Angels," returns to more devilish pursuits in Brian De Palma's "Snake Eyes." A glittery but dunderheaded murder mystery set in Atlantic City's Trump Taj Mahal, the movie gives both of these high-rollers a chance to strut and preen.

Cage, swaggering like a pimp and spitting out quips with maniacal glee, plays to the rafters. As an unrepentant cop on the take, Cage's Rick Santoro finds himself in a quagmire of false leads and untruths when a limelight-loving politico is plugged on his turf.

Corruption, conspiracy and just plain paranoia are among the movie's many themes, which can be said of just about any film De Palma ever made. But it most resembles the director's "Blow Out," which similarly deconstructs the events that lead up to a fictional shooting from multiple points of view.

The technique was pioneered in "Rashomon" by Akira Kurosawa, one of the many directors who have influenced De Palma's narrative style. He's virtually lifted a couple of Hitchcock's movies and Antonioni's "Blowup," and since Coppola's "The Conversation" was a source for "Blow Out," hail, hail, the gang's all here.

Like that 1981 thriller, this yarn centers on a politically motivated killing and the protagonist's attempt to determine whodunit by reviewing recorded evidence. Here, the high-profile murder, which takes place during a championship fight, is caught by several of the arena's cameras. In addition to the tapes, Santoro makes use of the casino's extensive surveillance system and manpower to track down a pair of eyewitnesses to the shooting of the secretary of defense who are hiding somewhere in the building. Unfortunately, the humans are undermined by the technology of storytelling with which De Palma remains obsessed.

Basically De Palma blows his wad on a continuous, 20-minute opening that takes in everything from the hurricane gusting outside the gambling establishment to the crime scene unfolding within.

After this dazzling demonstration of the filmmaker's virtuosity, Cage is the only show in town. In a shiny suit and a Don Ho shirt, he makes the most of the fast-talking, cheerfully unrepentant Santoro. He feels entitled to the bribes he collects from the hookers, hustlers and other lowlifes who work the casinos. A man of many vices, Santoro must redeem his virtues while investigating the shooting.

His antics entertain, but they aren't enough to keep audiences interested in his sketchy character and the prosaic, implausible plot by De Palma and screenwriter David Koepp ("Jurassic Park").

Among those witnessing the event are Santoro's best friend (Gary Sinise), a dour naval officer in charge of the secretary's security; a mercurial heavyweight champ (Stan Shaw); a buxom redhead at ringside; and a stunning whistleblower (Carla Gugino) who works for a defense contractor.

Sinise's character is sidetracked by the redhead – and who wouldn't be? – when the shooting occurs, so Santoro tries to cover up his friend's lapse of duty. Gugino plays a rocket scientist who sends word of a conspiracy to the secretary by e-mail. Duh.

Sinise, Shaw and Gugino are surprisingly good considering all are obliged to play characters who do not exist in nature. As the motivations ascribed to their actions become ever more illogical, "Snake Eyes" seems the perfect title for this crapshoot.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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