Snake Eyes

on August 07, 1998 by Wade Major
   Hopscotching, as he has of late, between commercial, mainstream fare and the stylish psychological thrillers that first brought him notoriety, Brian De Palma returns to the latter with the ably engaging "Snake Eyes," his first film since the career-topping success of "Mission: Impossible."
   A taut, claustrophobic thriller set entirely inside an Atlantic City hotel and sports arena complex, "Snake Eyes" stars Nicolas Cage as not-so-straight Atlantic City police detective Rick Santoro, invited by his boyhood friend, Navy Commander Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinese), to a front row seat at a championship fight where Dunne is in charge of security for the U.S. Secretary of Defense. But when the Secretary is gunned down in the middle of the fight, Santoro is forced to rise to the occasion to both solve the crime and clear his friend's conscience.
   Die-hard De Palma fans will undoubtedly embrace this latest work if for no other reason than its brave sense of style, much of which hearkens gleefully back to the heydays of such De Palma classics as "Body Double," "Blowout," "Sisters" and "Obsession." From its extended opening tracking shot to such familiar De Palma devices as the cross-cutting splitscreen, "Snake Eyes" is saturated in style, although never so much as to short-circuit its pacing or tension.
   Unfortunately, as is too often the case with larger, studio offerings nowadays, "Snake Eyes" suffers somewhat in the script department, lacking the unforeseen and often perverse twists and turns that once earned De Palma persistent comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock. The David Koepp script, based on a story co-written by Koepp and De Palma, isn't all that hard to figure out, leaving little beyond the sheer audacity of De Palma's style to maintain interest throughout.
   As for Cage, who plays Santoro with his trademark manic energy, the film is yet another splendid showcase, complete with action, snappy dialogue and romance. Supporting turns by Gary Sinese and Carla Gugino, meanwhile, are likewise excellent, even if their characters appear, at a certain point, to be drifting into cliche territory.
   On the whole, however, "Snake Eyes" is welcome summer entertainment, an intelligent and modestly-scaled thriller which, if it doesn't quite recall the classic Hollywood days of yore, it comes desperately close. Starring Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, John Heard, Carla Gugino, Stan Shaw and Kevin Dunn. Directed and produced by Brian De Palma. Written by David Koepp. A Paramount release. Thriller. Rated R for some violence. Running time: 98 min
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