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8mm - The Year of Cage: Chapter 1

Every week, our resident film critic Jeff will be watching and reviewing a Nicolas Cage. This week? 1999's 8mm.
8mm is a bad film. It's probably not the worst thing Cage has ever acted in, but the 1999 Joel Schumacher feature that explores the seedy underbelly of the hardcore porn market and, er, umm, "snuff films," is really really bad, and it's super fitting that it is the first movie I had to watch for this project, The Year of Cage.

The film begins in Miami, a city Cage's private investigator character calls "lonesome." He is doing a nondescript job for a state senator or something, and this let's the audience know that he is a nationally renown P.I., although not too good or too big-time (we'll learn this later).

Cut to Cage glancing at a newspaper with the headline about some rich 91-year-old dying. Umm, me thinks that's a' important!

Cage returns home to some Middle America (Pennsylvanian?) suburb, to his modest home, wife Catherine Keener and newborn baby Cindy ("Cinderella" he calls her). He's been smoking. Keener no likey. Almost immediately, he gets another call. It's the estate of the widow of the rich dude who died. "Sorry, fam," Cage says. "Back to work." And he leaves.

He goes to a huge mansion to meet the rich widow and her lawyer, and herein lies the first main problem with the film. They've discovered a really sick porno inside the dead rich dude's safe and seemingly her only issue with it is that it might be a legitimate snuff film. In a way, this is one of the most sex-positive movies ever made. The elderly woman does not seem to care that her hubby was into this incredibly hardcore shit; she only cares about the girl (maybe) getting killed on camera. Respect?

Cage watches the 8mm film strip (get the title now?) and he is sickened by it. A masked villain, who we later learn goes by the stage name Machine, tortures and kills a young girl.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this movie (outside of the writing, directing, cinematography, most of the acting) is Cage himself. He does not seem to be into it. He speeds through so many lines and other times, he's quite literally phoning it in (seriously: like half of his lines are dialogue on various telephone calls, either to the old lady, his wife back at home, etc etc).

It's not the worst thing I've ever seen, but clearly this period in the Cage filmography is not his finest work. He's yet to hone his current batshit persona that would develop in a few years and really came to light with 2009's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, and we're firmly out of his youthful, truly giving a shit period that perhaps peaked with Leaving Las Vegas. The middle act that is the mid to late 90s/ early 00s action/thriller big-budget star Cage is maybe the least interesting Cage in a lot of ways. C'est la vie. Here we are folks, and there's no going back.

Daryl from The Walking Dead shows up:

"Max California"
The most rewarding part of 8mm is, of course, young Joaquin Phoenix in the role of Max California, a character Cage meets in, you guessed it, California (L.A.). Phoenix is not phoning it in; rather, he's giving everything to this terrible SE7EN knock-off of a script. It's pretty funny to see the favorite for this year's Best Actor award––and general, well-deserved Hollywood darling of the last ~10 years––in an early role like this. By far, the best parts of this film are when he and Cage are doing their warped version of an odd couple / buddy cop routine. It kinda saves the movie.

It's truly a masterclass in making the most of some of the dumbest lines ever penned:

(Sidebar: How about that ridiculous Eastern-sounding film score?!) So anyway, Cage and Max California team up to look for information that might lead to the missing girl in the film, whom Cage was able to I.D. through some high-tech 1999 computer research. There's some pretty hardcore stuff shown on camera here as they creep through the dingy S&M subcultures (borderline NC-17 for sure). Tony Soprano shows up. As does the weirdo mute from Fargo (the always welcome Peter Stormare). The latter plays a character named Dino Velvet (the "Jim Jarmusch of S&M"), who when we first meet him is wearing... wait for it... A VELVET JUMPSUIT! I cheered.

"How hard is his stuff?" "How hard do you want it?" The Dynamic Duo shuttle off to NYC to meet Velvet and the paper-thin plot just completely shreds to pieces. For a film that is so reliant on its mystery, it just constantly outs itself in the most uninteresting ways possible. Cage finally meets the killer "Machine," face-to-mask, and has this to say:

That line was probably worth the price of admission, honestly. Anyway, shortly after this is when everything goes berserk. All of the mysteries are solved instantly. Tony Soprano and the rich widow's lawyer show up and they are both heavily and personally involved with this nonsense. We quickly learn that the lawyer handpicked Cage for the job because he thought he was a shitty enough P.I. that he'd give up before cracking the case? OK, sure. AND there are still about 45 minutes left to go πŸ€¦...

The major crux, I suppose, of what transpires next is that Nicolas Cage goes insane himself. He can't deal with all of this EVIL and it has made him EVIL too. It's all completely unearned and poorly executed. Max California, Dino Velvet and the lawyer all die right then and there, and the other two escape. First, Cage tracks down and tortures Tony Soprano before burning him alive. Then he finds Machine living with his religious mother in some rural town. He sneaks inside when the mom goes to church. Machine loves Danzig, naturally, and his bedroom looks unchanged from some high school goth phase. He's also somehow fully prepared for Cage's intrusion, as he has the mask on and is ready with a counterattack. They stumble outside to fight in the rain, in a cemetery which is right next to the house obviously. Cage makes Machine take off the mask and he's just some dorky nerd underneath. "What'd ya expect? A monster?" Machine, whose real name is like Todd or something, says, before putting on some eyeglasses to really get the point across. It's as predictable a line as you'll ever hear. They stab each other a few time and then Cage kills him.

The movie ends with Cage having returned home to his family, a broken man who will never be the same perhaps? He's raking leaves with a very serious, dour facial expression when the mailman shows up. The mother of the girl from the video (who tried to sleep with him earlier in the movie; sorry, I forgot to mention that part) has sent him a letter thanking him for the street justice he did by killing all the bad guys. Catherine Keener is watching him as he reads the letter. Cage looks up and their eyes meet. He smiles. Roll credits.

This movie is not a complete failure as it definitely traverses some "so bad it's good territory," and the Max California scenes are all pretty fun. But that stuff's too far and few between, unfortunately. What's left is just an ultra bleak and fully botched attempt at social commentary. Far be it from me to say that this ruined Joel Schumacher's career but...


Every Friday, is proud to bring you a new entry into our project THE YEAR OF CAGE, wherein the entire filmography of Nicolas Cage will be watched + reviewed in alphabetical order. Next week? 211

Bang it here for all our 𝔗π”₯𝔒 π”œπ”’π”žπ”― 𝔬𝔣 β„­π”žπ”€π”’ content. Shalom.


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