Volume 92, Issue 81
Wednesday, March 3, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Schumacher proves size doesn't count
Photo by Christine Loss
By Luke Rundle
For all those who brood over the fact Hollywood just doesn't give the hardcore sex world its chance in the spotlight, take heart. Director Joel Schumacher's 8MM comes fully prepared to strap on its star-studded chaps, uncoil its cinematic whip and give audiences the mistreatment they crave.
Nicolas Cage brings his routine no-frills approach to the lead character of private investigator Thomas Welles. Contracted by a rich elderly widow, Welles must determine the validity of a pornographic film, which ends in an apparent murder, found among her dead husband's possessions. As his investigation progresses, however, Welles finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into the horrors of an underground porn industry complete with taboos which carry the most serious repercussions.
Schumacher remains a curious director, one who can never seem to find a happy medium. When he is good, he makes stellar pictures like Falling Down. When off his game, methane-smelling stink bombs like Batman Forever pervade the atmosphere with their unbearable stench.
However, Schumacher did his homework and ate his Wheaties in preparation for this effort and manages to produce a fine film. While the vast and sometimes sickeningly extensive wealth of knowledge of the hardcore cinematic sex world is a true benefit to the production, the menage-a-trois between Schumacher, the dark foreboding film work of photography director Robert Elswit (Boogie Nights) and the haunting score by The Sweet Hereafter's composer Mychael Danna produces an infectious chemistry. One wonders how porn directors like Ron Jeremy might have fared with cinematic partners of the same calibre.
Thankfully, Cage's minimalist approach to the character is well suited to the role and benefits from Schumacher's on-the-ball direction. While the big name star power may have sold the movie to studio heads, the real strength of 8MM lies in its established (albeit anonymous) supporting cast.
Joaquin Phoenix joins the gender bendin', body piercin', leather wearin' sex party as Max California, a pornographic bookstore clerk recruited by Welles to scout an underground sex scene, which is considered taboo by even the most outrageous pornographic standards. One of the best young actors around, Phoenix lends the movie a much-needed deposit of comic relief, particularly in his antics behind the porn store counter.
The talented anonymity continues in the casting of Peter Stormare as the homicidal and grandiose porn director Dino Velvet. Stormare, best known for his role as the cut-up compatriot to Steve Buscemi's weasely kidnapper in Fargo, is resplendent in tight leather pants, flowing velvet shirts and Howard Hughes-length fingernails which give him a haunting hilarity. As well, talented character actors like James Gandolfini (She's So Lovely) and Catherine Keener (Your Friends and Neighbors) round out a poser-free lineup.
All told, 8MM is a wonderfully dark and unsettling movie in a market which continually wants to champion the light and frivolous. While it will almost assuredly leave audiences with an unsettling queasiness in the pit of their stomachs, it is a morsel worth swallowing.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999