It’s too bad that the sleazy thriller 8 Million Ways to Die became the swan song of the very gifted director Hal Ashby, whose best films include “The Last Detail” and “Shampoo.”
Considering the talents involved, in front and behind the cameras, this trashy film is a major disappointment.
Based on a confusing, cliché-ridden script by Oliver Stone and David Lee Henry, from Lawrence Block’s novel, this Los Angeles-based crime picture stars the always reliable Jeff Bridges and Rosanna Arquette.
Bridges plays a loser named Matthew (Mat) Scudder, a man in desperate need for redemption. When the story begins, he’s a narcotics detective with a severe drinking problem, who had lost everything in his life: his job, wife, and child. Scudder tries to clean up his life by attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, which serve as the first and last scene.
At the invitation of a woman in his AA group, Scudder goes to a party held at the home of one of his ex-vice busts, Brooks, where he meets Sunny (Alexandra Paul), a dark-haired prostitute, and Sarah (Rosanna Arquette), a blond-haired femme who may or may not be a hooker, but deep down she is a good girl.
Also at the party is a weasel-like drug dealer named Angel (Andy Garcia) and an old enemy of Sudder, the druggie Randy Brooks. It doesn’t take long for Scudder to figure out that Brooks is a pimp and Sunny is one of his hookers. She begs Bridges to help her break away from Brooks. When Sunny is murdered, Scudder becomes obsessed with finding the girl’s killer.
Predictably, Scudder crawls back into the bottle, but eventually, he sobers up, vowing to avenge Sunny’s death.
Though poorly executed, especially by Ashby’s high standards, “8 Million Ways to Die” is barely watchable, due to the appealing cast. Some of the scenes between Bridges and Arquette slightly elevate what’s essentially a B-level movie.
Dismissed by most critics, the movie, which was shot on a budget of $18 million, was a commercial flop as well. It’s considered to be one of the big-budget flicks that put under Producers Sales Organization, a successful foreign sales company; the other two were “Clan of the Cave Bear” and “91/2 Weeks.”
Jeff Bridges as Matthew “Matt” Scudder
Rosanna Arquette as Sarah
Alexandra Paul as Sunny
Randy Brooks as Willie “Chance” Walker
Andy García as Angel Moldonado