Snake Eyes (review)

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Murder in Instant Replay

I remember seeing the trailer for Snake Eyes in the theater last year and feeling as if it gave the whole movie away. So I was delighted to find the theatrical trailer right there on the Snake Eyes DVD — I could watch it again before the movie and check my suspicions against the actual film. So I did.

The trailer appeared just as revealing as I recalled, and sure enough, he who appears to be the bad guy in the trailer turns out to be the bad guy in the film. Kinda killed any semblance of suspense, which is about all that might have saved Snake Eyes in the end. On the other hand, one can merely watch the trailer and save about 96 minutes of one’s life. A few more movies like Snake Eyes and accompanying trailer, and a new DVD player can pay for itself in time saved.
The U.S. secretary of defense, Charles Kirkland (Joel Fabiani), is in attendance at a championship boxing match at an Atlantic City casino. His head of security, naval officer Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise, from Forrest Gump, who looks really sharp in that yummy uniform), invites his old friend Rick Santoro (Con Air‘s Nicolas Cage), a local homicide detective, to share their ringside seats. The fight has barely started when shots ring out — Kirkland is badly wounded, near to death. Dunne guns down the shooter — apparently a Middle Eastern terrorist — but the officer was slacking off at the time of the shooting and, mortified by his dereliction of duty, is about to turn himself in. His old buddy Santoro comes to his defense, however, pulling rank on the state gaming police on the premises, offering an alibi for Dunne, and racing to unravel the conspiracy behind the shooter so he can hand a neat package over to the FBI, due to arrive shortly.

Snake Eyes is all flash that dazzles through the film’s first half, enough so that you don’t realize there’s nothing of substance supporting it until director Brian DePalma can no longer sustain it. The first ten minutes are all action: We follow Santoro around the boxing arena as he chatters nonstop on his cell phone to his wife and girlfriend, beats up a drug dealer for betting money, hustles his bookie, has a close encounter with one of the boxers, and finally ends up in the arena to watch the fight and get splattered with blood when Kirkland is shot. And then we witness much of that action over and over again from different points of view. The match was being broadcast on pay-per-view — Santoro gleans important clues from the tapes from the multiple-angle cameras covering the arena. Security cameras peppered about the arena and casino offer more insight and more replays of those significant minutes leading up to the assassination attempt as well as allowing Santoro to find his suspects among the masses in the locked-down arena. And as Santoro interviews key players — one of the boxers, his friend Dunne, the mysterious woman who spoke to Kirkland just before the shooting — for their take on events, we jump back and get new understandings of scenes we’ve previously witnessed, as, for example, we get to see what was going on behind a door that earlier had gotten slammed in Santoro’s face.

It’s a fairly compelling way to tell a story, and it’s done with lots of showy camerawork, like long sequences that are either uncut or have their cuts cleverly disguised. Technically, it’s pretty cool — even if this kind of thing has been done before and better (see Goodfellas) — but Snake Eyes soon runs out of this little bit of steam and devolves into a mess. Already meager characterizations get thrown out the window, forcing a good actor like Sinise to fumble around, and DePalma’s style, suddenly untidy, no longer distracts us from the fact that Cage is substituting shouting for acting. Cornball claps of thunder punctuating dramatic moments and the flaunting of obvious metaphors like bloodied money abruptly stand out like the film-school tricks they are.

The end result is that the audience ends up feeling as used and abused as Santoro — we’ve been invited for a fun night out, but it’s just a cruel ruse by someone who only pretends to care about us.

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