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Movie Review: Snake Eyes -- Promising start craps out

By Tzu-Mainn Chen

Written by David Koepp

Directed by Brian De Palma

With Nicholas Cage, GarySinise, Carla Gugino

Watching movies which suck from the very beginning (Godzilla, for example) isn't necessarily such a bad experience. With these sorts of movies, at least you can comfortably settle back in your seat and yell wisecracks at the screen with your friends. And afterwards, it's easy to erase the whole memory from your mind and move on to better things.

On the other hand, it's a tragedy when a movie begins with great promise before sliding downwards into a perfect waste of time. This is true not only because of the squandered potential, but also because a viewer often leaves the theater burdened with the knowledge that if the movie had been changed in such-and-such a manner, then the whole experience could have been much more enjoyable. Put another way: if you're not going to make it to the top, don't even attempt the climb. Unfortunately, Snake Eyes fails to observe this maxim.

Snake Eyes begins by following one Ricky Santoro (Nicholas Cage) around in an Atlantic City casino. Dressed in a loud Hawaiian shirt and a broad smile, every aspect of Ricky screams "sleaze." As the camera trails Ricky in a dizzying array of shots, we see him try to place a three thousand dollar bet with a bookie on the championship boxing match that is to take place later that night. When the bookie demands the money up front, Ricky finds a local hood, takes him to a quiet place, and promptly beats the hell out of him, stealing the needed money in the process. And in a brief, throwaway moment between these two events, we learn that Ricky also happens to be the head of the police assigned to protect the casino.

In that one instant, director Brian De Palma brilliantly begins drawing the viewer into the universal darkness and corruption that lies at the heart of one of modern America's mythical locations-Atlantic City. It's a feeling that De Palma tries to sustain throughout the film, through deceptions and betrayals and the like. But the whole mystery falls apart far too quickly.

Ringside, Ricky meets up with his best friend, Navy Commander Kevin Dunne, played by Gary Sinise. They chat for a moment before sitting down to enjoy the fight. In that conversation we learn that Dunne is the polar opposite of his friend: forthright and honorable. He's there in charge of the security detail protecting the Secretary of Defense, who's at the fight as well.

But strange things begin happening. Dunne is distracted by a suspicious redhead, who runs as he approaches her. While he's away, a blonde woman scurries over to the Secretary and begins a hurried, whispered conversation. A drunk begins yelling and kicking up a fuss as the boxing match progresses. And at the critical moment, when one of the boxers is knocked down by his opponent, two shots ring out, hitting the Secretary in the throat. The crowd collapses into chaos, the blonde woman flees, and Ricky is left holding the tattered pieces of a conspiracy that he must try to piece together before his friend takes the fall for the assassination.

For a while, the movie holds together well as a suspense mystery, with Ricky following up several tangled threads. Did the boxing champion throw the fight? Why was the drunk wearing a radio earpiece? And where did the blonde woman go?

Unfortunately, in a moment as devoid of grace as Alexander slicing apart the Gordian knot, the leader of the conspiracy is revealed before the movie has a chance to fully involve the viewer. It's all downhill from there, and the movie quickly becomes just another cliche, as both the good guys and the villains race to find the blonde, and Ricky struggles against the darker angels of his nature in order to do the right thing.

Not only that, but as the movie collapses, it becomes easier to notice many other annoying details, from the overdone eye makeup on the villain who, at one point, appears to have an excessive amount of eye shadow smeared beneath the eyes, to the overly-repetitive and annoying music, which, more than anything else, made me wish that the movie would finish already. All of this culminates in one of the most laughable endings that I have ever seen on the big screen involving, among other things, a hurricane and a gigantic metal ball rolling around the boardwalk.

Snake Eyes shows excellent promise in its first thirty minutes or so, and for that alone, it deserves to be seen on videotape. However, the sheer stupidity of the rest of the movie makes an $8 investment a complete waste.