Put together director Hal Ashby ("Shampoo") with two of today's hottest up-and-coming actors, Jeff Bridges and Rosanna Arquette; add screenwriter Oliver Stone ("Midnight Express"), composer James Newton Howard ("48 Hrs.") and cinematographer Steven Burum ("Beverly Hills Cop") and you get . . .
"8 Million Ways to Die"?
The movie is one of those can't-miss projects that, uh, misses. Scudder (Bridges) is a cop. He drinks. That makes him an ex-cop. Sarah (Arquette) is a prostitute. She drinks. Drinking's the least of her problems. Scudder meets Sarah through Sunny (Alexandra Paul), another hooker who Scudder's supposed to protect, for a fee. When Sunny ends up dead, Scudder and Sarah team up to foil the killer, a slithery Count Drugula named Angel Maldonado (Andy Garcia).
"8 Million Ways to Die" constantly interrupts its narrative to delve (although not too deeply) into Scudder and Sarah's drug problem -- it makes "48 Hrs." into "The Days of Wine and Roses." Ashby has Bridges black out into embarrassingly archaic dream sequences (flashbacks and "haunting" voice-overs); he wakes up and lurches around with a huge scab on his head and five days of beard (he is, you see, "hung over"). By the end Bridges conquers his addiction, and, walking on the beach, fades off into the sun-and-salt hygienicism of it all.
Bridges fares badly as an AA poster child, slightly better with his gruff-and-grizzled, Hawaiian-shirted Nick Nolte imitation. But there's absolutely nothing between him and Arquette; then again, there's absolutely nothing between Arquette and Arquette.
Screenwriter Stone (who cowrote with David Lee Henry) provides some yucks (particularly some of his trademark crudity, which is peculiarly enjoyable if only because it's so Stoney (nothing you'd want to read about over breakfast, though). But the script is littered with cliche's (the guys in the suits harassing the "real" cops, "there's a death penalty -- for innocents," and so forth). Mostly, Stone's merely reprising, in a tired way, the "Scarface" script he wrote for Brian De Palma.
Carried over from "Scarface" is the constant hollering and the piled obscenities, neither of which Ashby, who began his career as an editor, seems to take any interest in trimming. Altogether, this is about the most listlessly paced thriller you could imagine: Ashby's penchant for letting his actors improvise just results in endless dithering; and the image is weirdly flat -- the movie's shot almost entirely in profile. Actually, there aren't just 8 million ways to die -- now we know there are 8 million and 1.
8 Million Ways to Die, opening today at area theaters, is rated R and contains nudity, sexual situations, copious profanity and graphic violence.