Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Crappy Nic Cage Movies that Aren't Actually Crappy #3: "Snake Eyes"

AKA That movie with actor Kevin Dunn and a character named Kevin Dunne but not played by Kevin Dunn.

This is it (for a week). I’m done with Nicolas Cage. Snake Eyes marks the end of my Cage trilogy of movies most critics/people hate that I liked enough to buy. I think I’m going to lose some people with this one, mainly because of the Roger Ebert connection. With Knowing and 8MM, Ebert was on my side, praising the films even more than I do. But with Snake Eyes, I lost him. He hated this movie, mainly because Brian De Palma made it. It’s not that he disliked De Palma, quite the opposite. It’s that De Palma is so talented that such a misfire is doubly disappointing because of the missed opportunity (oddly enough, at 40%, it’s the best reviewed of the trilogy on Rotten Tomatoes). I would argue that De Palma did just fine with this film.

Sure, Snake Eyes will never be brought up with Blow Out, Scarface, Carrie, or The Untouchables (among many others), but I don’t think it’s the black mark on his career that many would have you believe (that would be Mission to Mars [although on second thought, was that as bad as I remember...nope, not going there]). It’s still a compelling conspiracy thriller with plenty of the trademark De Palma style. Plus, Cage gets to sleaze it up, which is always fun. Oh, and apparently a character was based on Donald Trump, so there’s a whole new way to look at this film.

As always, SPOILERS throughout.

The Gimmick

The most memorable aspect of Snake Eyes is that it takes place over the course of one night (nearly in real time) and replays multiple scenes from different perspectives with trademark De Palma camerawork and split screens.

I’m a fan of De Palma’s work, so it’s always interesting to see his style at play, but what works more for me with this film is the single night aspect. I’m not sure why, but stories that are contained within a single day or night interest me. Usually, you see a character change over the course of days, months, or even years. But in a movie like this the change occurs in a single night. Cage is put through a lot as he begins the night trying to help his buddy, the obviously evil Gary Sinise. He starts to take his job as a detective seriously, which unfortunately leads him to realize he’s been betrayed by his obviously evil buddy. And Cage goes from corrupt scumbag cop to decent man. Unrealistic? Yeah, but what a night!

The different perspectives put this one over the top, though. I don’t see how anyone can watch this and not at least appreciate the planning and skill that it took to film this. Not only do the same scenes need to be filmed from different angles, but De Palma also makes most of them long takes, adding to the complexity. I think if you ignore the story (which some will no doubt encourage you to do anyway) and look at this film on a technical level, it’s quite an accomplishment, gimmick or not. That’s enough to make this film worth watching. But there’s so much more.

Sleazy Cage - The Trilogy of Terrible Father Cage

When I went down the rabbit hole of Cage as a husband/father in 8MM, it occurred to me that this trilogy had a common theme: Nicolas Cage is a terrible father and/or husband. In Knowing, we can’t be sure what kind of husband he was before his wife died, but he has definitely checked out as a dad. You can’t be doing too hot as a parent if it’s a good thing that your kid is abducted by aliens at the end. In 8MM, he’s ridiculously absent. His wife is home with a baby, and he takes a months-long porno job as soon as he gets home from a weeks-long job. Chasing down snuff films is not a job for a family man. (By the way, I also own The Family Man, but I don’t know if I’ll ever write about it.) And in Snake Eyes, Cage is cheating on his wife and seems generally annoyed with his son. In fact, the longest conversation he has with his wife is about pizza toppings. It’s not weird for a character in these extreme situations to lose focus on family, but it is odd that it’s not focused on a bit more. At least he appears to have realized his faults at the end of the films, though he gets the promise of a date with Carla Gugino at the end of Snake Eyes, so that’s an odd bit of comeuppance for being a scumbag.
"So I'm Kevin Dunn, but you're playing Kevin Dunne?" "I think so, Gary." "No, you're Gary, I'm Kevin Dunn!" "I'm Kevin Dunne, you're...does your character have a name?" "No, I mean in real life, you're Gary Sinise." "No...we are all Kevin Dunne now..."

Kevin Dunn and Kevin Dunne

I’ve always been a weirdo about actors and knowing their roles. I always checked the credits at the end of movies as a kid to see the names of the actors (I loved it when movies showed a picture of the cast with their name at the end, like in Coming to America). When IMDb became a thing I was in Heaven.

So the first time I watched Snake Eyes, I noticed Kevin Dunn, a character actor I’ve always found amusing. No big deal, Kevin Dunn is in a lot of movies. But then Gary Sinise shows up as...Kevin Dunne. It threw me off at first. So Kevin Dunn is in this movie, and there’s also a character named Kevin Dunne, but Kevin Dunn isn’t playing Kevin Dunne. Huh?

I’m sure it’s one of those weird coincidences, but why didn’t they change the character’s name when they realized what was going on? You can imagine the confusion on the set. According to the trivia section of IMDb, this coincidence led to Kevin Dunn getting Gary Sinise’s hotel room, which was apparently nicer than the one Dunn was meant to have. If that’s true, it’s hilarious. Also, why isn’t Dunn getting put up in decent hotel rooms? He needs good rest as much as Sinise!

"My missile shaped hotel and casino is going to be the biggest, most tremendous, classiest missile-themed establishment ever made!"

Is this a prophetic analysis of the Trump-Russia scandal?

I’m not being too serious with this one, but I did read in the IMDb trivia section that John Heard’s character, Gilbert Powell, was based on Donald Trump. I don’t think it’s a stretch since the character owns a casino and hotel, but in the film he’s also an arms manufacturer with close ties to the Secretary of Defense. The who conspiracy of the movie is that he has the Secretary killed so his faulty missile defense system can be approved, making him enough to money to...build a hotel and casino in the shape of a missile. Yeah, this is based on Trump.

In all seriousness, this is much more fascinating now than it would have been in 1998, when the film was released. So you have Powell, who is manipulating politicians and international diplomacy for his own financial gain...hmm. And once Cage starts digging around, Powell spends the rest of the movie terrified at the idea of an investigation. Here are some elements and lines that fit this theory:

There’s the metaphorical, and literal, storm brewing the entire film, threatening to destroy everything, much like the Russia investigation might destroy the Presidency.

The Secretary of Defense says, “Bert Powell is out of his mind.” This is reminiscent to a number of reports of cabinet members saying similar things about Trump.

Powell at one point yells, “No humiliation, no scandal, no prison!” This could be a Trump tweet.

Someone says there could be “all sorts of indictments.”

It’s a loose connection, sure, but I still think it’s good enough to look into. Of course, the screenwriter had no idea what would eventually happen with Trump. This is just a great example of what can happen when you rewatch a random old movie you own.

Is it crappy?

Nope. As I stated above, this will never be listed among De Palma's best, but that doesn't make it a bad movie. Maybe everyone has the same issue Ebert had: they know De Palma could do better. But that isn't fair. You can't compare every film a director makes to their best work. If you did that, then every director would only have one good film, and everything else is a missed opportunity. That said, I didn't find this to be a missed opportunity. Perhaps the story and characters had flaws, but not enough for me to write this film off. I think De Palma made an entertaining, stylized thriller with his typical impressive camerawork.

Favorite Cage Moments

Cage is pretty cartoonish throughout jumping around and yelling, which is honestly a bit annoying, but when he gets serious he becomes bearable.

If you hated his character, you do get to see him get the shit beat out of him later, which is nice.

He still wears his high school class ring. Awesome.

It’s commented on, but his clothing is ridiculous. He looks like a homeless lounge singer.

Random Thoughts

The storm’s biggest impact was cut? Apparently there’s massive flooding and everything, but De Palma didn’t think it worked, so he scrapped it. There’s evidence in the final film, when Cage mentions, near the end, about being “back in the tunnel, under water.” That’s kind of crazy that such an expensive sequence was shot, and it’s not even included on the DVD.

Carla Gugino is Velma from Scooby Doo for most of this movie.

I wish Stan Shaw was playing the same boxer he played in Harlem Nights.

“There I am just minding my business, writing a letter to my lovely wife…”

The Secretary of Defense tells someone to bring him evidence of a faulty missile defense program at a fight? Or was that Gugino’s idea? I can’t remember. Either way, it’s a very dumb place to share that information.

Not exactly sure how Sinise gets the Palestinian to do his bidding…

Will Smith was courted for Sinise’s role. Makes no sense. Only four years difference with Cage, but in 1998, Cage looks ten years older, at least.

Is it really called Snake Eyes because of Sinise’s (and, later, Cage’s) line and the casino setting? Weak. It seems like the title should have more to do with a conspiracy or an assassination or even boxing. But I can't think of a good one, either.

The end credits reveal is odd, showing the jewelry the redhead was wearing in the column.

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