h1

Wait, why did I watch this again? “8 Million Ways to Die”

April 16, 2013

 posterI’m not sure why I watched this movie, but hey, why does anyone do anything, right? Yeah, humanity is just one big unknowable riddle, but then, that’s also what makes us so amazing. We are unlike anything else in creation in our capacity for self-determination, and its forays into unpredictability. That having been said, there’s really no good reason to watch 8 Million Ways to Die. Maybe I was bored. I know wasn’t drunk. Whatever, I watched it. Wanna hear about it? Oh yes you do…

Okay, so 8 Million (yeah, I know: you write out numerals below two digits, hey I didn’t title the movie) is the first—and, to the best of my knowledge, last—big-screen adaptation of Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder series. In Block’s books, Scudder is an ex-NYPD cop and recovering alcoholic who pulled the pin after he accidentally killed a kid with a stray bullet. The movie transplants him to LA (because the two cities are pretty much the same, right?), and proceeds to give us his backstory—which is changed a little.

So, this Scudder (Jeff Bridges) is an LA Sheriff Deputy who kills a suspect in what looks like a justified shooting (the suspect attacked two cops with a baseball bat and was clubbing one of them on the ground), but he’d had a few swigs from a flask, and, well, that’s a no-no—even for the LASD, even in 1986—and he gets thrown out.

Grooming standards for deputies were different in the '80s.

Grooming standards for deputies were different in the ’80s.

Well, Scudder is on the long fall, but then he gets approached in an incredibly labyrinthine manner and ends up at a swanky party thrown by an ex-con Scudder busted named Chance. There, he meets a couple high-class escorts; one named Sunny (a pre-Baywatch, often-naked Alexandra Paul), and a wilier one named Sarah (Rosanna Arquette, not nearly naked enough), as well as a slicker-than-snot drug dealer named Angel (a young Andy Garcia).

Sunny, as it turns out, is who he is there for, and she goes home with him, does some blow, tries to seduce him, and then when she straighten out, asks him for help going independent from Chance. Which doesn’t make much sense at this or any other point in the movie.

Oh, yeah, this movie is slow as hell. Uh…spoiler?

Well, Scudder helps Sunny, but Chance is all like, “WTF, man? I’m not a pimp.” And Scudder just sorta shrugs, ”Hey, I can’t tell where this story is going, either.” Except, see, this is a good time to point out that Director Hal Ashby basically threw out the dialogue from Oliver Stone’s script and encouraged the actors to just improvise, so the exchange goes more like this: “WHAT THE FUCK MAN! I AIN’T NO PIMP! I AIN’T NO PIMP! YOU LISTENING MAN! AW MAN, YOU COME UP HERE AND GET ALL UP IN MY FACE…” “Dude, I hear you, but the chick asked me, and she was naked…” “I AIN’T NO PIMP! I AIN’T NO PIMP! I AIN’T NO PIMP!” For about five solid minutes.

"See all those words? Just ignore them."

“See all those words? Just ignore them.”

Okay, so Scudder takes Sunny to the airport, but she’s snatched along the way and killed more or less in front of him.

Scudder falls off the wagon and hits rock-bottom, but after checking out of detox, he pulls himself together and goes after Sunny’s killer. Who, he discovers in short order, is Angel. The rest of the movie is a tense three-way (not the cool kind) dance between Scudder, Chance, and Angel. Seems Angel—who is a major-league drug kingpin—wants to buy into Chance’s nightclubs to launder his money.

No, they don't actually kiss...

No, they don’t actually kiss…

So, 8 Million…takes about 70  minutes to do what could have been wrapped up in ten, as Scudder discovers that Angel has been smuggling his coke through Chance’s grocery stores. They hijack a big shipment and hold it for ransom, which forces a big confrontation between he and Angel and Chance, with Scudder threatening to torch Angel’s drugs, and Angel threatening to blow Sarah away (she’s become important to Scudder—just…don’t ask).  And we get, like ten minutes of:

Angel: “AAAARRGH!!! YOU BURNED A KILO OF COKE! I’LL KILL YOU, SCUDDER! YOU’RE DEAD! YOU’RE A DEAD MAN! YOU’RE DEAD!

Chance: “IMMA KILL YOU! YEAH, I’MMA KILL YOU, PUSSY! IMMA KILL YOU!

Scudder: “JUST CALM DOWN! JUST CALM DOWN, OKAY? YOU WANT ME TO BURN ANOTHER KEY? I”LL BURN A NOTHER KEY! LET HE GO! YOU JUST LET HER GO! I’LL BURN ANOTHER KEY! WHOA, THERE, JUST CALM DOWN!”

Angel: “AAAARRGH!!! I’LL KILL YOU, SCUDDER! I’LL KILL HER! YOU WANT ME TO BLOW HER AWAY! I’LL KILL YOU TOO, CHANCE! AAAAAH, MY DRUGS! MY BEAUTIFUL DRUGS!”

Sarah: “EEEK! I’VE GOT A SHOTGUN TAPED TO MY HEAD!”

No shit. Ten minutes.

Effing finally, Scudder’s LASD buddies rappel in and blow away all the nameless flunkies. Angel kills Chance, and Angel manages to get away, because the Sheriff Department forgot to put any guys outside the warehouse.

One scene just has these guys eating Sno-Cones.

One scene just has these guys eating Sno-Cones.

But, then Angel attacks Scudder and Sarah at Chance’s house and Scudder blow him away, and—thank Jesus—the movie finally ends, with Chance in AA and dating Sarah. Because the best romantic partner to have when you’re a struggling alcoholic is a hard-drinking prostitute.

8 Million Ways to Die wants to be a gritty, urban thriller in the mold of To Live and Die in LA or the movie the studios wanted Stick to be. Problem is, director Hal Ashby made his (considerable) bones during the loosey-goosey maverick days of the 1970s with Harold and Maude, Shampoo, and Coming Home. Tightness of narrative was not a hallmark of those types of movies, but that meandering pace doesn’t suit a noir film, which needs a plot constructed like a Swiss watch, or at least a cold portrait of the uncaring world these characters must navigate.

Goddammit, more Sno-Cones?

Goddammit, more Sno-Cones?

Ashby, however, wants to make a character/recovery piece. His decision to let his actors improvise leads to endless scenes in which the characters barely make sense, let alone communicate. Consequently, the movie just drags.

The actors are all game. Bridges is affable enough, and Arquette plays Sarah’s flintiness and her vulnerability like a pro. In his first major role, Garcia shows off his live-wire  acting chops, but with no one guiding or shaping the scenes, they all just become tedious at best. At worst, well, we get the end of the warehouse sting, in which Scudder’s buddy just watches Angel run off with a shrug.

Anyway, that’s 8 Million Ways to Die. I don’t know why I watched this. People are weird.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: