8MM (review)

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Sex Kills

After finally enduring 8MM, I’m even madder at the treatment Eyes Wide Shut received at the hands of the MPAA, the ratings board. Detractors and admirers alike agree that the many sex acts depicted in EWS are meant to be boring and not in the least bit erotic — as indeed none of them are — and yet the producers were required to add strategically placed digital figures in the now-infamous orgy sequence in order to secure an R rating rather than a dooming NC-17 (many newspapers refuse to run ads for NC-17 movies, and Blockbuster will not carry videos with that rating, severely limiting marketing and potential profits). But 8MM, with its numerous violent murders of naked women in pornographic situations, designed to titillate even though the movie pretends otherwise, is rated R.

So, according to the MPAA, it is far preferable to slash a woman to death onscreen than it is to have tedious missionary-position sex with her. Children may view the former if accompanied by an adult, but under no circumstances may they view the latter.

What is wrong with our priorities?
Would it surprise you that Joel Schumacher, who directed this dreck (and was also responsible for one of the worst movies ever made, Batman and Robin), is now working on a project — or so says the Internet Movie Database — called The Church of Dead Girls? How much you wanna bet that flick gets an R, too?

Written by Andrew Kevin Walker, who also wrote the far superior Seven, 8MM is the story of Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage: City of Angels, Snake Eyes), a private investigator with a storybook family life. He has a wonderful wife, Amy (the totally wasted Catherine Keener: Out of Sight), and a baby daughter he calls Cinderella. He cooks, he gets up during sex (all under the covers, please — this is a decent R-rated family film) to calm the crying baby, he rakes leaves on the weekend. He has an Edenic life in the ‘burbs.

But all that will change — the music swells ominously to let us know — when Tom is hired by Mrs. Christian (Myra Carter), a charming old lady who has made a disturbing discovery. The widow of a recently dead philanthropist, she found what looks to be a snuff film in her husband’s safe and wants reassurance that it is not real. Tom assures her that snuff films are mere urban legend, that the girl apparently being killed onscreen is more than likely just fine and dandy. But he agrees to look into it. Mrs. Christian’s smarmy attorney, Longdale (Anthony Heald: The Silence of the Lambs), hovers dangerously nearby during her meeting with Tom, so you know he’s involved somehow. Schumacher doesn’t even bother with suspense here.

No: the only genuine wondering and waiting the audience must do in 8MM revolves around the found snuff film itself. We watch Tom watching the film — the streetwise Cage is horribly miscast, as becomes obvious as he unconvincingly cringes at what he’s watching. Schumacher shows us only teasing snippets, but surely we’ll get to see more, right? Will she be naked? Can’t wait to find out.

Tom descends into the pornography underground in search of the filmmakers, and finds a convenient guide in Max California (Joaquin Phoenix: Clay Pigeons, Return to Paradise), who claims not to be into all this stuff yet seems to know all the biggest, sickest perverts and all their secret hangouts. Max seems almost sad that this world of hidden marketplaces and furtive buyers and sellers is disappearing — it’s all going online — but in the meantime, Schumacher is happy to have this excuse to show lots of tits and some glimpses of porn and shots of the backs of raincoat-clad guys obviously jerking off to this crap. Tom must investigate snuff — it’s the case, after all, just doing his job — so we also get to see footage of lots of girls being killed. But snuff is fake, so it’s cool, it’s okay, no need to get upset.

Look at Tom, the family man! See how affected he is by all this terrible, terrible stuff? See how awful porn is? Just so we get the idea, Schumacher will show us some more. And just when you think it can’t possibly get any more sordid… Surprise! Tom finally confronts the makers of the found film, and things get really nasty.

If Schumacher wants to make some porn, fine — First Amendment and all that. He can do whatever the hell he likes. But he can’t pretend to make a statement against porn with a piece of voyeuristic and pornographic crap like 8MM. He’s not fooling anybody.

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