8 Million Ways to Die (1986)
On first glance and going purely off its synopsis, there appeared to be a lot going for 8 Million Ways to Die. Jeff Bridges as a washed up drunk of a cop who loses it all but gets a chance at redemption once he is immersed into a seedy LA underworld of drug deals, vice girls and excess. It could have been a prototype Lethal Weapon style action film with its strong and charismatic lead and no-holds barred violence. In other words a staple 80’s guilty pleasure that what it lacks in originality, it makes up for with witty dialogue and overblown action. Unfortunately the end result turns out more like an extra cheesy episode of Miami Vice guest starring Andy Garcia doing his best Scarface impression.
The original screenplay was written by Oliver Stone and based upon the ‘Matthew Scudder’ detective stories written by Lawrence Block. Little of Stone’s work actually made it into the film however as director Hal Ashby (he of Harold and Maude fame) pretty much re-wrote the whole thing on the hoof and tossing the script out the window, encouraged his cast to improvise large chunks of the movie. Naturally, Stone tried to get his name taken off the final film but to no avail.
Jeff Bridges plays Matthew Scudder, a LA narcotics cop who turns to the bottle after a botched arrest sees him shoot a suspect in front of their family. Scudder soon starts heading down a slippery slope which sees him lose his home, his family and finally his job. A few months later after an AA meeting, he is approached by an escort called Sunny who wants his help to escape the clutches of a cocksure young drug dealer called Angel (Garcia). After grudgingly agreeing to help Sunny, Scudder enters a sleazy society of pimps and gangsters, cue plenty of drugs and luminous snappy suits. Unfortunately he fails to protect Sunny and soon turns to the bottle once again. Plagued with guilt and determined to avenge Sunny’s death, Scudder turns his attention to protecting another escort who is a personal favourite of Angel’s called Sarah.
Bridges is charismatic and likeable as ever but even he struggles to turn this shallow actioner into something vaguely enjoyable. The director would appear to have purchased the big book of action movie clichés and inserted them at random into the predictable plot. Cocaine, scantily clad ladies, a boozed up hero racked with guilt and inner demons all set to a generic synth/electric guitar soundtrack. Obviously what I’ve described there could be a whole host of movies from the 1980’s, but to get away with such gratuitous attempts at titillation, a film needs either an original story or at the very least a snappy script packed with zingers. 8 Million Ways to Die unfortunately has neither.
There is also a slightly confusing message that one can take from this film, namely that if you clean yourself up and stay strong, you can shack up with the attractive call girl who tried to seduce you for her coke-head boss. Forget about your wife and kid, they are gone now. The buxom blonde is the one for you. The whole dead-beat dad who is estranged from his wife and child angle, is dumped about two thirds in and merely never mentioned again. Ahhhhh the 80’s, it was a simpler time. Any discernable message or point the film may have once had is soon ignored and pushed into the background in favour of a couple more gunfights and a couple more excuses for Andy Garcia to get angry and desperately resist asking Scudder to “say ch’ello to my leetle fren.”
Too tacky and predictable to even be a guilty pleasure, save the disappointment and watch Lethal Weapon instead.
8 Million Ways to Die is out on DVD 12th September 2011.
Director: Hal Ashby
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Rosanna Arquette, Alexandra Paul
Runtime: 115 min