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(1998) (Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A corrupt Atlantic City cop tries to figure out who assassinated the U.S. Secretary of Defense during a heavyweight boxing match.
Rick Santoro (NICOLAS CAGE) is a flamboyant and corrupt Atlantic City police detective who isn't above taking bribes and has a girlfriend that his wife and child don't know about. Navy Commander Kevin Dunne (GARY SINISE) is a straight-laced Department of Defense staffer who happens to be an old friend of Rick's.

They meet at a heavyweight boxing match where Dunne has pulled rank to provide protection for the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Charles Kirkland (JOEL FABIANI), who has decided to attend the match. When Dunne goes off to investigate a mysterious and seemingly out of place woman, the Secretary is assassinated right next to Santoro, and Dunne manages to kill the assassin.

Immediately sealing the arena, Santoro quickly takes steps to save his friend's career while beginning his investigation of the 14,000 fight fans who are all now witnesses to the crime and possible suspects and accomplices. As Dunne follows his instructions, Santoro tries to sort out the answers from three key witnesses who may know something about the murder.

First, there's Julia Costello (CARLA GUGINO), another mysterious woman who Santoro saw speaking with the Secretary moments before he was shot and then disappeared into the crowd. Heavyweight boxing champion Lincoln Tyler (STAN SHAW), seems to have thrown the fight just as the murder took place. And Santoro wonders about Dunne who coincidently left the area seconds before the man he was supposed to protect was shot.

As Santoro's investigation leads him to believe a conspiracy may be behind the assassination, he must take steps to protect the key witness from those who want to eliminate any loose ends.

If they're fans of anyone in the cast or of stylish director Brian De Palma ("Mission Impossible," "The Untouchables), they probably will.
The reason was not available, but we'd say it was for violence.
  • NICOLAS CAGE plays an initially flamboyant and corrupt cop and adulterer. Smelling a chance to promote himself, he takes over investigation of the assassination, but eventually turns into a good guy.
  • GARY SINISE plays a navy commander whose momentary absence may or may not be responsible for his boss being assassinated. As it turns out, he's not the nice guy that he initially seems to be.
  • CARLA GUGINO plays the mysterious woman who briefly talked to the Secretary before he was shot. Slightly wounded and bereft of her glasses, she spends the rest of the movie trying to save her skin.
  • STAN SHAW plays the heavyweight boxing champion who throws the fight to get out of serious gambling debts.


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    Director Brian De Palma is one of the most stylistic directors working in film today. With an impressive body of work ranging from suspense thrillers such as "Blow Out" and "Body Double" to horror films like "Carrie" and gangster pictures such as "Carlito's Way" and "The Untouchables," De Palma has a unique visual style that's left indelible impressions on the minds of moviegoers worldwide.

    Who will ever forget the shower scene from "Dressed To Kill," the hand from the grave image in "Carrie," the scene from "Mission Impossible" where Tom Cruise hangs from the ceiling in a highly secured room, or the baby carriage on the train station staircase sequence from "The Untouchables?" Despite such memorable moments and many more, this highly acclaimed director has his detractors, however, who accuse him of lifting scenes and his overall style from other directors and films.

    There's that baby carriage scene from "The Untouchables" that resembles a similar scene from the classic Russian film, "Battleship Potemkin," and many thought "Body Double" was a rip off of Hitchcock's "Rear Window." The accusations go on, but no matter what you think of him, there's no denying that De Palma knows how to grab the audience's attention and not let go.

    All of which brings us to his latest film, "Snake Eyes," a murder mystery partially told in flashback from the individual viewpoints of several key witnesses. Although not a great film for reasons I'll disclose in a moment, the film does have some imaginatively shot scenes. First, there's an early, nonstop sequence that lasts fifteen to twenty minutes and contains no edits.

    Similar to the one from "The Player" and Hitchcock's "Rope," the scene is an amazing thing to behold, not only for the technical aspects, but also because it effectively and simultaneously introduces a great deal of exposition Considering the logistics and timing that had to be perfect to pull off such a feat, De Palma and his longtime cinematographer, Stephen Burum ("Mission Impossible," "The Untouchables"), deserve kudos for their effort, as does actor Nicolas Cage for being able to deliver his lines amidst the technical choreography.

    Then there's Burum's overhead shot that slowly travels above a cross-section of a hotel floor where we peer into room after room as if looking down onto a maze filled with laboratory rats. An interesting observational technique, the shot eventually gets us to our focal point of action in a way that's much more visually interesting than simply going down the hotel hallway. Beyond those scenes and many more, De Palma has also infused the picture with his standard split screen shots where he shows us several important scenes simultaneously unfolding before our eyes.

    Such material is fun and interesting to watch and that -- and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto's score - - are highly reminiscent of classic thrillers from half a century ago. Nevertheless, such moments can't stand alone and need a decent movie to support them. While the film isn't horrible by any means, the sum of its parts is definitely lesser than them standing alone. Although the film's premise is initially quite intriguing, it takes a wrong turn by letting the cat out of the bag -- so to speak -- way too soon, and suffers from other inadequacies that diffuse its overall effect.

    Playing out somewhat like De Palma's highly underrated thriller, "Blow Out" (with John Travolta in his first stardom phase), this film features another political assassination where one character attempts to unravel the truth via audio/visual aides and a key witness he must protect. Although clearly not as clever or effective as that film (that used incomplete audio and later film footage of the murder quite well), this film still manages to immediately grab our attention.

    Since it's designed as a mystery where we and the main character don't know who the ringleader is, the fun for the audience is trying to figure out that answer. Especially after setting up the plot to show us different viewpoints of the crime, De Palma and screenwriter David Koepp ("Jurassic Park," "Mission Impossible") provide a big let down by prematurely letting us know the villain's identity.

    While that does give the audience superior position above the protagonist and thus ensures some suspenseful moments when the hero doesn't realize he's with the bad guy, it completely wrecks the mystery element. Thus, the film starts off in one genre (murder mystery) and ends up in another (suspense thriller).

    Although those two are obviously interrelated, the film also suffers from an overall lack of genuine suspense, or more importantly, urgency. While individual scenes often excel at either or both of those elements, the film as a whole surprisingly never feels that exciting and eventually comes off more like watching two rats square off in that laboratory maze.

    One never gets the feeling that Santoro is facing any sort of immediate deadline to solve the mystery and the film ultimately suffers from that temporal deficiency. Beyond that, the whole element of having 14,000 people holed up in the arena never amounts to much of anything, let alone the claustrophobic, near riot element it should have created.

    All of that, when added to the premature unveiling of the villain's identity, never allows the picture to gain any momentum and race toward a hopefully surprising ending. It's interesting and certainly easy to watch, but it's not as good as I wished and thought it could have been. A tacked on, rushed (as in a series of temporally distant scenes edited closely together), and completely unnecessary denouement only further weakens the film's impact.

    The performances are decent, but not outstanding. I've always enjoyed the work of Nicolas Cage ("City of Angels" and an Academy Award winner for "Leaving Las Vegas"), but his character here goes through an odd transformation midway through the picture. Initially he's a wildly flamboyant and corrupt guy, something of a mixture of Cage's characters from "Face/Off" and more vividly, "Kiss of Death."

    Of course that makes him fun to watch, and Cage can easily pull off such characteristics. Interestingly though, about halfway into the movie he suddenly transforms into a morally correct and subdued "just the facts, ma'am" kind of character. While it's possible his earlier behavior was simply being excited about the fight and we understand the need to make him the hero by the story's end, the transformation is peculiar, but gradual enough that some may not be bothered by it. Even so, Cage is as fun to watch as ever.

    Gary Sinise ("Apollo 13" and an Oscar nominee for "Forrest Gump") is good in his role, and while he doesn't play a likeable character, he certainly does a fine enough job portraying him. Carla Gugino ("Michael," "The War At Home") delivers a competent take as a nervous witness on the run, but her character isn't developed enough to allow her to do much with the part. The rest of the performances are okay, but nothing that will leave much of an impression on audiences.

    Overall, the film is good, but not great. My biggest complaints focus on the film's overall lack of any feeling of urgency, the premature unveiling of the villain's identity, and the fact that the conspiracy -- once fully explained -- is rather run of the mill and doesn't offer many exciting elements that we haven't seen in scores of similarly based government murder stories.

    Most important, however, is that for a murder mystery to really be effective, we need to believe that any number of characters may be the perpetrator and that twists and turns and characters double crossing each other will permeate the film, but little of that's to be found here.

    In my opinion, De Palma has nearly always delivered high quality, extremely engrossing, and superior stylized films, most of which I've personally enjoyed. While he's again succeeded at delivering another visually engrossing and easy to watch film, it's unfortunate that equal attention wasn't applied to the plot to make it just as exciting. Decent, but not as good as it could -- and should -- have been, we give "Snake Eyes" a 6 out of 10.

    Violence and profanity highlight what most parents and others may find most objectionable with the film. Several people are shot and killed during the movie, while others are roughed up, often with bloody results. Profanity is heavy with 1 use of the "f" word, along with 20+ such uses of the "s" word and an assortment of others. While no outright nudity occurs, we do see quite a bit of ample cleavage in various scenes, and a man briefly, but mistakenly believes he's going to receive oral sex in another.

    Viewers will likely have different responses regarding how suspenseful the movie is, while others may have problems with the film's "hero" being a corrupt, adulterous cop (although most of those characteristics are described more than actually witnessed). If you or someone else in your home wishes to see this movie, you may want to take a closer look at the content should any particular category make you question the film's appropriateness.

  • Tyler has a drink and Santoro pours himself a drink.
  • People drink at a pre-boxing party, where others may be doing drugs (perhaps snorting cocaine), but they're off in the distance and we couldn't clearly see what they were doing.
  • We briefly see two guys carrying a keg down a hotel hallway.
  • We briefly see a roomful of guys having a wild party in a hotel room and spraying beer all over the place.
  • Santoro nabs a two-bit hood and we see that the guy's hands are bloody, as is some money Santoro later holds.
  • The Secretary is bloody after being shot (seen "live" and in flashback), as are Santoro and Julia who have blood spray on them (she's covered more than him), and emergency technicians' hands are bloody as they work on the wounded man.
  • Tyler's head has some bloody scrapes and cuts during a boxing match.
  • We see the dead assassin whose head is a little bloody.
  • The villain shoots two accomplices dead, one of which is consequently bloody.
  • One of the villain's accomplices has blood on the front of his suit.
  • Santoro's face is very bloody (and later quite swollen) after being repeatedly punched by a boxer following the villain's orders, and he spits blood onto the villain.
  • As a body is about to be put into some poured concrete, we see a bloody hand.
  • We briefly see a bloody exit wound as a person commits suicide.
  • Obviously the killer and all of the accomplices have extreme cases of both, especially when the main mastermind continues or threatens to kill others. Also, the mastermind offers Santoro a bribe for the location of a witness and to keep quiet about everything.
  • Santoro is a corrupt cop who's usually on the take, and who has a girlfriend that his wife doesn't know about.
  • Santoro sets out to cover for Dunne and tells him only to admit what he did right and leave out the rest.
  • A pay per view TV reporter bribes Santoro to allow him to be the "inside" reporter on the story.
  • Tyler agrees to take a fall during the boxing match to wipe out some severe gambling debts (and thus partially agree to the villains' plans).
  • We briefly see a roomful of guys having a wild party in a hotel room and spraying beer all over the place.
  • A married man (who later pulls his wedding band from his pocket) takes Julia to his hotel room thinking they're going to have sex.
  • The scene involving the assassination and the ensuing panic is suspenseful (and we see it from several viewpoints in flashback).
  • Both Santoro and the villain make their way toward and after Julia in a prolonged sequence.
  • The villain holds a gun on Santoro, threatening to shoot him. When Santoro won't talk, the villain has a boxer repeatedly punch him in the face and gut.
  • The entire ending where the villain closes in on Santoro and finding a key witness is somewhat suspenseful.
  • Rifles/Handguns: Used to kill, wound, or threaten people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "Nob Job" (or "knob job" for oral sex), "Boner" (for erection), "Screw it up," "Up yours," "What's up your ass?" "Idiot," "Bitch" (what a boxer calls another), "Sack of sh*t," "Screw up," "Punk ass," "Nutcase," " Screwed up," "Bitchin'," "Sucks" and "Shut up."
  • A TV reporter gives "the finger" to the camera.
  • A person is suddenly shot.
  • The movie is filled with a moderate amount of old-fashioned sounding, dramatically suspenseful music.
  • None.
  • At least 1 "f" word (with another possible one said with "what the...."), 21 "s" words, 1 slang term for breasts (the "t" word), 14 hells, 6 asses (2 used with "hole"), 2 damns, 2 S.O.B.'s, and 11 uses of "G-damn," 4 uses each of "For Christ's sakes," "Jesus," "and "Jesus Christ," 2 each of "God" and "Oh my God," and 1 use each of "Oh God" and "For God's sakes" as exclamations.
  • Several women show differing amounts of cleavage (sometimes a lot) throughout the film. At one point, the camera (representing Dunne's point of view) focuses on a woman's ample cleavage.
  • Santoro tells Dunne that he "can't have sex with the same woman for twenty years. It's not natural." Dunne then adds that his wife likes to talk during sex and then adds the "rim shot" that she called him on the phone while doing so.
  • We see the quite buxom Julia in separate scenes wearing a low-cut bra and thus showing lots of cleavage (while trying to wash blood from her shirt in separate bathrooms).
  • Referring to a buxom woman who sidetracked Dunne, Santoro says, "That was the plan. To give you a boner. And you got one."
  • We hear a woman ask a man in a casino, "So you want to come back to my room and have a little fun together?"
  • Needing to hide, Julia asks a stranger to go back to his room and on their way there he has his hand on her butt. Back in his hotel room, he thinks they are there to have sex, and we she sits in a chair in front of him, he says "Okay" and starts to undo his zipper (thinking she's about to perform oral sex on him), but nothing happens.
  • As the camera pans across the top of several hotel rooms, we see a woman lying on the floor in her bra and underwear and then a clothed man getting down between her legs and kissing her stomach (or doing something similar).
  • Santoro smokes at least seven times during the film.
  • Tyler smokes a cigar, while other minor or miscellaneous characters also smoke.
  • None.
  • That the "hero," Santoro, is a crooked, corrupt guy who takes bribes and participates in an adulterous affair (ie. Not the best role model for a hero).
  • The conflict of doing what's right versus being true to your friends (a point brought up in the movie).
  • Santoro pushes a two-bit hood around (and against a fence) before kneeing (or kicking) the guy in the crotch.
  • An assassin shoots the Secretary in the neck, mortally wounding him, and another bullet grazes Julia on her arm. In turn, Dunne shoots the assassin dead. We see both scenes several times from different angles and viewpoints.
  • Santoro punches a photographer trying to get shots of the wounded Secretary.
  • Tyler punches a hole in a wall while getting ready for the boxing match.
  • We see some punches and a head butt thrown during the boxing match.
  • The villain shoots two accomplices dead.
  • The villain holds a gun on Santoro, threatening to shoot him. When he doesn't, the villain has a boxer repeatedly punch him in the face and gut, messing him up quite badly. The villain then punches Santoro.
  • The villain shoots into the room where the witness is hiding.
  • A person shoots and kills themselves (a shot to the chest).

  • Reviewed August 4, 1998

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