The house wins; the audience has nothing.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Snake Eyes" dims Brian De Palma's reputation as master of the weird surprise. The master has grown lazy. He uses the camera to create an eerie atmosphere without building a good story to support it, and then he adds a fraudulent touch: he thinks we won't notice.

The movie opens in the Atlantic City Arena, soon to be razed and replaced by the Millenium Hotel--a cash machine for its crooked owner. Befitting the nature of casino culture, the arena is windowless and dark, quickly seducing patrons to the business at hand: parting with their money at the gaming tables or on tonight's prizefight. No clocks or windows exist to remind them that there is another life outside. The hall is shuttered against reality even though Hurricane Jezebel is whipping into town with the sole purpose, it seems, of lifting an image from "Indiana Jones."

The Secretary of Defense has arrived to watch the fight, his adrenaline running high after a successful missile test that will enrich the corporation that builds it. Within moments we know that corporate greed and gambling greed have become one under this big top tonight. But don't think for a moment that you'll be able to figure out who's who.

Nicolas Cage delivers a manic turn as a sleazy cop, Rick Santoro, who wants to be mayor of Atlantic City. Working the arena in a flat-collared brown and yellow shirt, he glad-hands everyone he knows, makes deals here and there, and finally settles in to watch the fight with Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise), a childhood buddy who has made it big as a naval commander. Tonight, Kevin is in charge of security for the visiting Secretary of Defense.

It's enough to say that we are now entangled in a combination of unconnected plot elements and Mr. De Palma's beloved imagery. We have an assassination, two suspicious bimbos, a corporate plot, a frame-up, and, of course, the assassin. After Mr. De Palma tells us early on who the bad guy is, we really have nothing to do but watch the director play with his camera.

In a cheap take on Dallas, 1963, the victim clutches his throat, and a woman bystander, dressed entirely in white, is spattered with blood. The fight fans are now trapped in a locked arena where no one is in charge. Individuals accountable to no one are following their own agendas, none of which make much sense.

When the media arrives, Rick changes both his shirt and his personality. We are expected to forget the turkey he was a moment ago and believe that underneath all that slime beats the heart of a noble man. Shaking at the very thought that loyalty and friendship could be violated, the newly pure hero lets us know that betrayal kindles fire in his belly.

As Rick is fond of saying, "You've got nothing, it came up snake eyes." Exactly. The movie comes up snake eyes. The house wins; the audience has nothing.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : Paramount
Rating : R
Running time : 1h39m

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