Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Bridges’

After finding myself considerably more than pleased with writer/director Scott Frank’s 2014 adaptation of modern noir master Lawrence Block’s gritty PI drama A Walk Among The Tombstones, I decided, in spite (or maybe because?) of its 0% Rotten Tomatoes score, to track down the only other cinematic take on Block’s work (and, more specifically, on his legendary protagonist, former-cop-turned-unlicensed-gumshoe Matt Scudder), 1986’s 8 Million Ways To Die. As things turned out, I had to go the Blu-ray route with this one since it’s not available for streaming anywhere so far as I can tell, but hey, things could have been worse — the Kino Lorber Blu (and,I presume, DVD, although I didn’t actually check to see if it’s available in that format) is actually a semi-recent release, dating back to October of 2017, and if I’d been determined to track this flick down before that, I may have been forced to rely on, say, the kind of seedy underworld connections that Scudder himself has to depend on from time to time.

Speaking of Scudder, this earlier celluloid incarnation is brought to life by Jeff Bridges, who’s certainly rock solid in the title role, bobbing and weaving between every sort of psychological polarity possible as he takes on what first appears to be a fairly open-and-shut case of a prostitute named Sunny (played by Alexandra Paul) who wants to get out from under the clutches of her pimp, Chance (Randy Brooks), only to suddenly find himself in the midst of  a murder investigation when she turns up dead and he ends up saddled with a self-appointed “partner” in the form of another hooker, Sarah (Rosanna Arquette), whose reasons for putting herself in the middle of such an obviously dangerous situation are as complex and elusive as everything else about this feisty potential femme fatale. All signs point to Chance being the killer right out of the gate, of course, but Scudder is soon glad for the extra help he’s got when it turns out that the actual culprit might very well be coolly sociopathic drug boss Angel Maldonado, played with understated-but-no-doubt-thick menace by Andy Garcia.

Oh, and did I mention that Scudder is barely six months sober, and that the more stressful this case gets, the better the bottle starts looking to him?

Hal Ashby may seem an interesting choice to direct an ostensible hard-boiled thriller like this, given that he’s best known for cult-favorite comedies like Harold And Maude and Being There, but he captures the seedy L.A. underworld of the early-to-mid 1980s with a considerable amount of sleek style and “street-level”authenticity that, fair enough, isn’t gonna make anybody forget about To Live And Die In L.A., much less Vice Squad, anytime too soon, but will certainly do in a pinch — and he undoubtedly gets a series of terrific performances from each and every one of his principal players. This, then, is the point at which you are more or less obligated to wonder this film died at the box office so quickly, has such a lousy reputation (as well as that 0% RT score), and was even unavailable for home viewing, apart from its initial VHS release, until about nine months ago.

My theory? It’s all down to one serious mess of a screenplay.

Oliver Stone made the first pass at it and is, the film historians tell me, the guy responsible for transposing the action from its original printed-page setting of New York to the West Coast, but when his treatment failed to make the studio happy, R. Lance Hall was brought in for another go at things — only to find his version largely re-written by an uncredited Robert Towne. Ashby, however, fundamentally dissatisfied with even this third script, encouraged his actors to simply improvise when and where it suited both them and him, and as a result, we end up with a movie that has a very consistent look and feel that’s constantly undermined by its scattershot, near-pathologically inconsistent tone. A movie that knows what it wants to appear to be, but little to no idea of what it actually is.

In his introduction to the recent, and highly faithful, graphic novel adaptation of his book by writer/artist John K. Snyder III (which retains the original title of Eight Million Ways To Die — no numeric shorthand here! — and is well worth checking out), author Block makes his disdain for this film pretty clear (even while singling out Bridges and Garcia for deserved praise), and I can certainly see why he wouldn’t care too much for it but, unlike most critics, I can’t bring myself to see it as a total loss. The acting is too strong, and the directing too assured, for that. It’s not great, mind you, and maybe not even especially good, but it’s easy enough to see that there was something that probably could have been pretty special hidden underneath all those re-writes (official and otherwise) — and that seems to be the view taken by Bridges in the full-length commentary track included on the disc, as well as in the various on-camera interviews with Arquette, Paul, Garcia, and Block himself that, along with a stills gallery, round out Kino Lorber’s fairly comprehensive extras package.

All told, then, 8 Million Ways To Die is far from the unmitigated disaster that it is, largely, remembered as — to the extent that it’s remembered at all. It’s probably of interest only to the curious, granted, but if you number yourself among that crowd, what the hell — it’s worth at least a rental, although probably no more than that.

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The first (and only, since I already wasted nearly two hours of my life on this flick and don’t intend to give it the satisfaction of sucking up much more than that)  thing we need to talk about when discussing director Robert “guess I should have done Red 2 after all” Schwentke’s abominable R.I.P.D.  (based, apparently, on a Dark Horse comic that, thankfully, I’ve never read) is the potential for two lawsuits its release on a viewing public that can only be saying to itself “Dear God, I know we’re stupid, but what could we have possibly done to deserve this?” has ushered in — one against the studio that put it out, Universal, for blatant plagiarism of intellectual property, the other against yours truly for saddling this review with the most heavy-handed and overly-obvious headline one can possibly imagine. Let’s take both in order, shall we?

First off, Barry Sonnenfeld and anyone and everyone associated with the venerable Men In Black blockbuster franchise should be calling up every lawyer they know and seeing if there’s grounds for suing the fuck out of the “brains” behind this film, since it’s basically a big-budget, but decidedly low-rent, MIB 4. Okay, sure, we’ve got ghostly undead spectres hiding in our midst rather than aliens, but whatever. Jeff Bridges is essentially playing Tommy Lee Jones plus a beard while Ryan Reynolds is on board as a melanin-free Will Smith. Everything else is the same — young hotshot teams with older crotchety partner to blast the bad guys only they can see with special guns that will kill their targets in plain view for all to see — except, of course, people can’t  see what’s going due to the advanced technology of said weapons. Throw in a nominal semi-romantic interest in the form of Mary-Louise Parker and have Kevin Bacon on hand to be — well, Kevin Bacon — and maybe you can fool a few of the more thick-skulled dunderheads out there for a few minutes, but even they’re bound to catch on to what’s happening here before too long. In short, this movie doesn’t even attempt to disguise what a blatant rip-off of a better idea it is because that would take more effort and originality than anyone was willing to bring to the proceedings.

As to the second potential claim to legal action, that’s a bit dicier since, while my headline is admittedly lame and bereft of anything resembling cleverness, there’s no law against being lame and/or cleverless (is that a word?), and besides, it’s still nowhere near as bereft of originality or intelligence as is R.I.P.D. itself. Therefore, I think, I’m off the hook. I deserve your scorn and derision, sure,  but no jail time.

Still, maybe some kind of penalty is in order for your lazy host here. You could always choose to go see R.I.P.D. just to spite me, I suppose. But the only person you’d be punishing is yourself.