The internet is an amazing repository of everything. I was “googling myself” for some strange reason the other week and found this article I wrote for The Varsity when I was attending the University of Toronto many years ago. I had no memory of writing this review or even watching the movie, although I had to tidy up the page breaks etc. and gradually some memories resurfaced. Anyway, here is my “long lost” movie review.
By TED PARKINSON
The opening sequence of 8 Million Ways to Die is shot from a helicopter traveling over a vast network of freeways. Jeff Bridges mumbles, in a voiceover, “Ya don’t know where it’s comin’ from … strangers are killin’ each other.” This is a fairly good explanation of this movie which often needs explaining. Bridges plays an alcoholic ex-cop who gets involved with drug dealers, prostitutes and. naturally enough, murder. He is contacted by “Sunny” — a call-girl who wants to leave the business — through a cryptic encounter with another A. A. member. So he goes to this mansion where there are a lot of prostitutes and cocaine, and where people are betting on closed- circuit boxing matches: vice seems to prevail.
It takes Jeff Bridges (playing “Scudder”) half the movie to figure out finally “where it’s coming from,” and by this point Sunny has been killed and Scudder has missed a horse riding date with his daughter by going on a binge which lands him in a detox centre. Bridges spends much of the movie looking in rough shape as he battles his alcoholism and Sunny’s killers. He is well cast as the angst-ridden — though amiable — hero pitted against the evil foreign drug dealers.
8 Million Ways to Die is often interesting, particularly when we never know what’s going on. At key moments we feel that there are 8 million ways one could die and this brings out the best existential film-noir elements of the movie. But other moments last too long. The love interest between Scudder and Sarah (another prostitute played with unflagging courage by Rosanna Arquette) is not believable: it consists of a few embarrassingly long scenes where they exchange the smallest of talk and the most furtive of glances. However, there ait many superb episodes: at an A. A. meeting the camera pans through the members nervously smoking cigarettes and folding bits of paper. We feel that one addiction has been replaced by others — man is a creature doomed to his vices. Also, having Angel (the evil cocaine dealer) buy Salvador Dali’s house where he delivers a lecture to Scudder on how everything was built at a 45-degree angle “because that was the perfect way to observe nature — which is truth” is marvellous irony.
Perhaps the movie’s erratic nature can be blamed on the fact that the director, Hal Ashby, was fired just before completion. The final editing -may have been done by someone else, with less skill and craft. 8 Million Ways to Die is a flawed but interesting movie. It could have been better but it’s definitely worth seeing as a diversion with moments of delicious insight.