Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jeff Bridges, Rosanna Arquette, Alexandra Paul, Randy Brooks, Andy Garcia, Tommy Lister
Written by: Oliver Stone, R. Lance Hill, based on a novel by Lawrence Block
Directed by: Hal Ashby
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 115
Date: 04/25/1986

8 Million Ways to Die (1986)

1 Star (out of 4)

Rude All Over the Street

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Every time I interview a filmmaker and their personal inspirations come up, Hal Ashby is mentioned. But it's unlikely that any filmmakers were ever inspired by Ashby's final theatrical film, 8 Million Ways to Die (1986), a disaster on all counts. It's one of those movies with talent oozing out of every direction, and yet no one seems to have had the vaguest idea as to how to make it work. Oliver Stone helped to adapt a novel by Lawrence Block; fortunately for Stone, that same year, he was to release his own Salvador (still his best film, in my opinion), and his Oscar-winning Platoon. Jeff Bridges stars as Block's alcoholic detective Matthew Scudder, and the beautiful Rosanna Arquette plays a high-priced call girl, while Andy Garcia has an early role as — I think — a drug dealer, Angel Maldonado.

The story has something to do with another call girl (former Baywatch babe Alexandra Paul) getting killed, and Scudder eventually figuring out that Angel did it. Randy Brooks and Tommy Lister co-star as, I think, a couple of criminals who set aside their differences to team up with Scudder to get Angel. If the plot doesn't make any sense, then none of the individual scenes make sense either. They all play as if they were improvised, but none of the actors had any idea what the goal of each scene was; they just yell at each other for a while and then someone leaves. Action scenes are chaotic and nonsensical. One scene, which takes place on a slow-moving funicular, might have worked with some tense music, but it has been left weirdly quiet, with only the slow clanking of the gears and cables providing atmosphere for the shootout.

The most interesting parts are Angel's Gaudi-designed house (he mentions the name "Gaudi" about ten times, just in case nobody gets it), and the scene in which Arquette vomits in Bridges' lap. Kino Lorber released this stinker on Blu-ray with, unexpectedly, a bunch of bonuses. I didn't listen to the entire commentary track by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, but it seems like they spend most of the time talking about Ashby's genius without ever mentioning this particular film. There are new interviews with actors Arquette, Garcia, and Paul, and writer Block. We also get trailers for several other Kino Lorber releases, many of them Jeff Bridges films. Matthew Scudder did not return to cinemas until 2014, when Liam Neeson played him in A Walk Among the Tombstones.

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