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By Phil Hall | March 1, 1999

Nicolas Cage stars in director Joel Schumacher’s (HACK! HACK! uh, excuse the cough) rendition of writer Andrew (“Seven”) Kevin Walker’s script of a modern, nihilistic “Divine Comedy”. There’s just one problem. The world created here is complete bulls**t. What did you expect from the man who created the disco operating rooms of “Flatliners”?
Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage) is a rising surveillance expert (we used to call them private eyes) called to the estate of a recently deceased captain of industry. The widow has found a disturbing 8MM film in her husband’s private safe. It’s a “snuff” film; a movie depicting the murder of a young woman. She wants Welles to find the identity of the girl and determine if she is still alive. Welles puts a name to the girl and traces her path from runaway to the making of the film. Along the way he picks up Max California (Joaquin Phoenix) as a tour guide for this descent into Hell. Hilarity ensues.
It doesn’t matter how many variations of “Seven” he writes, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker will never be Paul Schrader. It would appear the only steps Schumacher took to prepare for this film was to watch “Seven” a couple of times, anyway. What’s so bad? Let’s start with the art direction. Every single stop on the underground porno train looks like the place where Freddy Krueger killed all those kids. What locations bear any relation to this scene in the real world will not always so literally look like dungeons.
The next problem is the acting. If we can’t tell how shocking the material is, the actors are more than ready to tell us. Cage’s character should be this calm, collected professional, but whenever something “shocking” occurs in the little “snuff” film, he jumps around as if someone’s squeezing his nuts. Peter Stormare adds another entry into his pantheon of wacky foreign guys.
The biggest thing wrong with this mess is its whole attitude. The film tries to condemn all these shocking things, but if you’re not shocked, just wait a couple of minutes and they’ll try again. If that tact fails, the characters will then thoughtfully tell you how shocking it all is. At least the reality shows on Fox are honest about what they are. The director can shake his finger all he wants, but he can’t turn up his nose as the stench is coming out of his a*s. “8MM” is just a glorified freak show, and a fictional one at that. Though they quickly say so in the film, snuff films are an urban myth. Even if you hear voices in your head, you wouldn’t want to get caught by murder evidence like an actual film. Schumacher has no idea what he’s doing. As we’re following her trail, the director could have given the girl a real voice in the film. If we’d been able to know her, connect with her, we might have actually cared what happened to Welles. All we’re offered is a bad noir freak show and a half-assed thriller. Walker at least has a solid premise here. Too bad the script didn’t find its way to another David Fincher who could understand it. Now the writer knows how Batman feels.

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