For a stretch there in the 80’s, Miami Vice was THE show to watch. I even had a Miami Vice poster in my room for a while. It’s success led to a string of other shows and movies with similar themes. Warm locales, drug dealers, unshaven cops…you get the picture. Today’s film is one that falls into that category. From 1986, it’s the final film from director Hal Ashby, “8 Million Ways to Die.”
The film focuses on Matt Scudder (Jeff Bridges) an alcoholic ex-cop who ends up losing his job, wife, home, etc after shooting a man during a booze-fueled drug bust. But, Scudder is now on the mend and attending AA meetings. One night after the meeting, a woman hands him a strange note which invites him to a private gambling club in the home of Chance Walker (Randy Brooks). When he arrives at the party, Scudder is greeted by Sunny (Alexandra Paul), a beautiful high-class prostitute who acts like she knows him. While at the party, he also meets Tony Montana wannabe Angel Moldonado (Andy Garcia) and his particular call-girl obsession, Sarah (Rosanna Arquette).
Even though he’s not exactly sure what’s going on, Scudder follows Sunny around for the evening and eventually the two end up back and his place. She explains to him that she needs his help to get out of Chance’s harem of call-girls. Scudder agrees and goes to talk to Chance, but Chance explains that he is not a pimp…the girls do what they want. Scudder also talks with Sarah, who hints that Angel is really the one Sunny is afraid of. And with good reason, it turns out, as Sunny ends up kidnapped and splattered beneath an overpass the next day.
The incident throws Scudder back into his old drunken ways. Once he sobers up, he sets out to find out what happened. When he spots a jewel that Sunny wore in a ring belonging to Angel, he figures out who was responsible. Heck, Angel pretty much boasts about it, so it’s not too hard to figure out!
Scudder soon brings Sarah back to his place, convinced she may suffer a similar fate. He then begins to investigate Angel’s drug operation, realizing that stereotypical 80’s slimeball is using grocery stores, owned by Chance, to move the drugs. Scudder and Chance then team up to take down Angel…but at what danger to Sarah?
“8 Million Ways to Die” was the final film directed by Hal Ashby. He died of cancer in 1988. The film also features a screenplay co-written by Oliver Stone, right at the point where his directing career was taking off with the likes of “Platoon” and “Wall Street.” I admit, Stone’s involvement gives me mixed feelings. He is a filmmaker who often impresses me, and just as often makes me shake my head in disgust. Just like in a number of other Stone penned films, there a moments where the script is really weak. The final confrontation between Bridges and Garcia is an especially woeful moment. The exchange goes approximately like this:
“Cut her loose, Angel!”
“I’m in control here, baby!”
“Come on man, cut her loose!”
“Put the f****n sh** down!”
“Cut her loose!”
“F****n drop the sh**, baby!”
(Repeat ad nauseum)
The script really needed some help, and apparently, even an uncredited stab by Robert Towne didn’t do the job. Still, the cast does a pretty solid job despite the flaws in the material. This sort of character suits 80’s era Jeff Bridges very well. Although Andy Garcia’s performance is sort of pseudo-Scarface (which was also penned by Stone), he’s still fun to watch. Rosanna Arquette, though, seems a bit out of place. She actually comes across as quite annoying and her performance leaves the viewer wondering why Scudder would even bother trying to rescue her.
On the other hand, I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed Alexandra Paul. Of course, she is best known for her many years on Baywatch, which isn’t exactly Inside the Actor’s Studio type stuff. She manages to give her performance a tone that is both sweetly innocent and extremely sexy. Though, I have to admit, I felt a bit sorry for her having to deliver one of the script’s most juvenile moments where she stands naked in a doorway, silhouetted, commenting about how her pubic hair looks as it glows in the light from the street lamps outside. Seriously Oliver?
In the end, there’s really not much to move “8 Million Ways to Die” beyond the ranks of the average 80’s drug dealer crime story. The actors, for the most part, turn in some solid performances, but in the course of delivering a less than stellar script.