This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Snake Eyes.”
The Movie: “Snake Eyes” (1998)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, John Heard
Director: Brian De Palma
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A cop who witnesses a murder during a boxing match must uncover the plot behind the killing, with help from a friend who’s a naval intelligence agent.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 40 percent
Brown: We have been doing these JOE-DOWNs since January and we are just NOW getting to a Nicolas Cage movie. Frankly, shame on us for taking this long.
For our initial look into the Cage-man, we are going with “Snake Eyes,” which is a movie that actually had some promise. This was shortly after Cage had won the Academy Award for “Leaving Las Vegas.” Brian De Palma is a well-regarded director from “Blow Out,” “Scarface” and “The Untouchables,” and Gary Sinise wasn’t far removed from “Forrest Gump.”
What we got… what did we get, Froemming?
Froemming: We got a film with Nic Cage doing his best Bill Murray impersonation for the first half of it. Like you said, there was a lot of promise here, and it is filmed and edited in a fairly clever way with the use of flashbacks and so forth.
But man, Nic Cage’s hamminess really surprised me. He was was at 11 when everyone was at a 4.
Brown: Well, I say he wasn’t far removed from “Leaving Las Vegas” and yes, it was four movies between that and “Snake Eyes.” In that span, we had “The Rock,” “Con Air,” “Face/Off” and “City of Angels.” Somewhere between “Con Air” and “Face/Off,” Nic Cage truly lost his mind. I blame the removal of hair plugs between the two movies.
But at this point, never, NEVER say that Nic Cage’s hamminess surprised you. If he’s not porking it up, that’s when you should be shocked.
Froemming: I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way. This scene from “Community” sums up a lot of how I view Cage.
Brown: Yep… that sums up Cage very, very well.
Well, it’s about time we jump in, and this movie gets going quickly as Rick Santoro (Cage) walks into an Atlantic City arena for a heavyweight championship fight. And speaking of “Community,” we see Greendale alum Luis Guzman running away from Rick and the cop busts balls about being behind the scenes. And setting things up, we see that Rick Santoro is definitely a scumbag.
Froemming: We sure do. We hear about how he takes bribes, skirts the law, has a mistress and is friends with Gary Sinise, all very troubling things. And he sees the bookie leaving the room of the world champ Lincoln Tyler (Stan Shaw). Raising suspicions that the fight just might be fixed.
Brown: What confused me is this: Has Nic Cage ever actually been to a sporting event? We see him in a rather clever tracking shot walk to his ringside seat, thanks to his best friend Kevin Dunne (Sinise), who is a Marine running security for the Defense Secretary Charles Kirkland. And the whole time, Santoro is saying absurd things to the boxers and cheering in a way that he’s clearly acting. It’s so painfully awkward.
Froemming: Not going to lie, when I first heard Cage say “everyone loves Rick Santoro,” I thought he said Rick Santorum, which I chuckled at a little. But yeah, he is very loud, bug-eyed and obnoxious at the event. Almost as if he were on some sort of illicit substance…
Brown: Why are we beating around the bush? Rick Santoro is acting like he’s on cocaine. Between the fact he’s a crooked cop, he’s got a gold cell phone and he’s dressed like “Miami Vice” meets Col. Mustard. He’s definitely had some nose candy.
But amid all this, there’s a lot of strange things going on, which leads to the Defense Secretary getting assassinated.
Froemming: This is actually filmed very well, because it shows us the chaos of what happened, and it keeps getting broken down through flashbacks and others’ perspectives. There is a woman in a red dress that Dunne goes after, and a woman in white who is next to the Defense Secretary when he gets shot. And the woman in white seems to be able to wander around the whole place caked in blood without one cop asking her a question.
Brown: Right?! After an important political figure gets killed in front of a pay-per-view crowd, they lock down the arena. But no one in security thinks to apprehend the woman who looks like she just took a shower at the Bates’ Motel?
With the Defense Secretary dead, it’s time for Rick to work. And during the commotion, he saw Tyler look up in panic after being “knocked out.” So, he’s off to solve this caper.
Froemming: He also is telling Dunne to not ruin his career by admitting he screwed up. You know, when he chased after the woman in red, I thought Dunne is not really good at his job.
Then Rick heads up to Tyler’s suite, in search of answers. He does seem more interested in the fight being fixed than the assassination though. Probably because he lost five grand out of the mess. He is an ace cop.
Brown: He’s also obsessed with Tyler. They apparently went to the same high school (Go Sea Devils!) and Rick can’t let go of this. He’s like Uncle Rico in “Napoleon Dynamite,” relishing in his high-school days. Hell, Rick is wearing his class ring and he’s 35. Not only is he crooked, he’s definitely a loser.
But so is Tyler, who is deep in gambling debt and threw the fight. And it bugged me that, OK, he didn’t actually get knocked out, but wouldn’t a medical professional be all over Tyler if he had supposedly been knocked out instead of, you know, drinking with his posse at the bar?
Froemming: That was very odd, but I’ll chalk that up to the chaos from the assassination. And Nic Cage goes full Nic Cage as he is interrogating Tyler. Right down to making very weird noises with his mouth that cannot be described as words. Here are some of the finer moments of Cage being insane in this film.
Brown: My favorite is Cage standing up randomly during the fight and yelling “I am the KING.”
Then, we get Dunne’s version of what happened, where he chased the red head into a corridor. Turns out, the red head was the girl that told Tyler to throw the fight. And during Dunne chasing her down, he is enjoying a look at her… ahem, assets. And just to his right, a sniper is shooting the Defense Secretary. And the whole time, I just kept thinking that Gary Sinise is too good an actor for this film.
Froemming: Again, this film had promise. This scene in particular, because while it is a flashback, it is not a truthful flashback. We are seeing what Dunne wants us to see, which isn’t what really happened.
Brown: Because we find out (after he talks to Rick and walks into a hallway with a red light. Real subtle, folks) that Dunne is behind the whole scheme. And this is like 45 minutes into the movie so I have to ask your thought on this: Too early to reveal this?
Froemming: I thought it was at first, because that felt like a reveal that should’ve been saved for the end. But, it did provide for some suspenseful moments when Dunne and Santoro are both tracking the woman in white (again, she is covered in blood and sporting all white, and somehow manages to sneak into the hotel). Her name is Julia Costello, something that I’m pretty sure wasn’t mentioned until the last third of this movie.
Brown: I thought her name was Velma. I mean, during the assassination, she loses her glasses and someone steps on them. And she, for all intents and purposes, is legally blind the rest of this movie. So much so that, while trying to hide from security, she disguises herself as a hooker and picks up a man who is one part scientist from “Jurassic Park” and the lead singer of Blues Traveler.
Froemming: I got more of a creepy Jared from Subway and singer from Blues Traveler vibe from him. Yeah, she picks up this sleazy d-bag and wants to hide in his room from the authorities, especially Dunne, whom she knows a secret about.
Brown: So now we get this race between Rick and Dunne (besides the race Nic Cage and Gary Sinise are having to see whose widow’s peak goes highest) to get to Julia. And I will say, there is a good deal of tension in this scene. Even though Dunne should have EASILY won this manhunt but, you know, movie magic!
Froemming: Hey, Dunne gets to kill the pervert Julia tried to hide out with. Also, this hotel seems to have state-of-the-art security, yet people are getting shot and killed all over the place.
Brown: Well, what security force is going to slow down Kevin Dunne, who is a rent-store T-1000? Although, Sinise can play that role. “Terminator 2” did it better, though.
Froemming: Just to back up a little. Dunne had this all planned out, and the woman in red and the guy who gives Tyler his “mark” to take the fall during the fight, both work for him. And he just straight up kills them as they were about to get away. Now that I think of it, this movie is a lot like an episode of “Scooby-Doo.” Incompetent bad guy, blind girl and a nosey druggy who is foiling all the bad guy’s plans.
Brown: Then we find out why Julia is involved in this whole ordeal as she talks with Rick in a stairwell. She is an analyst for Powell Aircrafts, with is making the AirGuard missile defense system. The test for the AirGuard was perfect, but “These tests are never perfect” (eye roll). She deduces that the results were faked and she wanted to tip off the Defense Secretary about it (which is shown to us in a patented De Palma split-screen shot). But, someone doesn’t like this and plans to have the Defense Secretary and Julia killed by a well-known Arab terrorist. And the man behind the assassination plot is Kevin Dunne. Rick Santoro is… not happy about this. And things get Cagey. … That pun was terrible.
Froemming: When she tells Santoro about Dunne, it was like watching every emotion ever within a three-minute scene from Cage. He doesn’t want to believe his friend could be crooked, despite the fact he and all his friends are dirty cops.
Brown: Rick starts screaming at her about it as part of his denial and just to get him off her back, Julia starts doubting her own story. And I’ll tell you what, if Nic Cage was screaming at me, I’d admit to anything. It’s akin to waterboarding.
Froemming: Like Shirley says in “Community,” if she starred in 70 movies over 30 years, talking in random volumes in each one, she might accidently win an Academy Award as well.
Brown: And he’s screaming about doing something he doesn’t want to do. What, his job? Before he started yelling, I had put down in my notes during this stairwell scene: I think Cage is coming down. I was quite wrong about that once the yelling started.
Meanwhile, we see Dunne talking to the head of Powell Aircrafts, and the owner of the casino/hotel/arena: Gilbert Powell (played by John Heard). And he’s lamenting because he won’t be more rich and the plan isn’t going quite as planned because of super cop Rick Santoro.
Froemming: Yup, Rick Santoro, who is offered a bribe by Dunne, but because he has a dream of one day being mayor of Atlantic City (how we haven’t mentioned that at this point is surprising), simply cannot be that crooked.
Brown: I think if you’re that corrupt, you can only get as far as Treasurer in Atlantic City, if “Boardwalk Empire” has taught me anything.
Rick finally discovers that Dunne was the man behind the plot when he checks the eye in the sky camera. And there, Dunne tries to get Rick to walk away. But for the first time in his police career, Rick is actually following the book on this. And for his troubles, Tyler, who Dunne talked into being some muscle for him, beats the hell out of Rick.
Froemming: Meanwhile, Rick has hidden Julia because she is being hunted down. After Rick gets his beat down from Dunne and the gang, he crawls to find her, beaten and bloodied. And Dunne is following him. And once they are close, we get the first of TWO titular lines in this film, this one from Dunne. “You got snake eyes, Rick!”
Brown: I don’t get Rick’s logic for why he won’t reveal Julia’s location. The reason is because despite all his corruption, he’s never killed anyone. Look, with all the crimes people have committed because he looked the other way and/or took a bribe… It’s New Jersey, someone is wearing cement shoes because of that.
One part I do like is after Rick takes his ass kicking, Dunne asks him one more time if he’ll tell her where the girl is. A bloodied Cage spits on Dunne’s uniform and ribbons and gets decked for his troubles. Seeing Sinise’s murderous silent rage was quite impressive.
Froemming: Now comes the moment that really ruined things for me. Up to this point, everything seemed so calculated and precise. But here, as Dunne is demanding Julia to come out of hiding, the whole scene banks on the likelihood that when he randomly shoots into the wall at her, he will hit the security pad, freeing Julia to the oncoming authorities. Which, of course, he does. That was just a lazy way to end things.
Brown: What can I say about Dunne in this ending? He’s got snake eyes!
But something I really enjoy about this ending is that as Ricky is being lauded for his efforts in breaking the conspiracy, his previous corruption does come back to haunt him. And in there, they mention Rick’s dealings with cocaine. That explains the first hour of this film.
Froemming: I’m glad they ended it like that. Rick is not a good guy, he just happened to accidently do something good. At the end, he is indicted and his family has left him. Julia visits him and kisses him. She must be brain-blind as well, because Rick is a garbage person.
Brown: Oh God, this bugged me. You want to date a guy who just admitted to cheating on his wife, who was a dirty cop and will be “upstate” for 12-to-18 months? Yeah, good luck with that, Julia.
But that wasn’t the most bizarre thing about this ending. That would go to the ending credits. As Rick and Julia walk away from the pier, you see this lingering shot of construction workers rebuilding the Atlantic City Arena. And they play Meredith Brooks’ “Sin City,” where she’s singing about Las Vegas… in a movie taking place in Atlantic City. Nevermind the geographical nonsense of this whole sequence, then we see a big ruby embedded in one of the pillars. The same ruby the red head had in the beginning. We now know her fate. Oh wait, we already witnessed her fate when Dunne KILLED her and the “mark” guy in the audience when it was revealed Dunne was the bad guy.
Lazy. Just a lazy ending.
Froemming: I think we both have snake eyes here, let’s move on to recommendations.
Would You Recommend?:
Brown: I’m having trouble on if I’d recommend this. So, I’ll put it this way: If you want to see a few wacky Cage-isms in what I would call a watchable movie, then sure, check out “Snake Eyes.” If you’re someone who is easily frustrated with a movie with wasted potential, stay away. It all just depends on your expectations.
Froemming: This is an ambitious film in the way it is directed, filmed and edited. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. Cage being Cage is entertaining — for a while — but man, that ending is so disappointing. I would have a hard time telling people to check this movie out. So no, I wouldn’t recommend.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: