Directed by Hal Ashby, written by Oliver Stone and starring the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, 8 Million Ways to Die (1986) should equate to a thrilling, yet touching tale of a cop gone rogue, but instead feels more like an extended late night version of Magnum, P.I. Bridges plays Matt Scudder, an alcoholic cop who loses his badge after shooting a man who went berserk with a baseball bat during a routine narcotics raid.
After a destructive drinking binge which also resulted in him losing his wife, he beings a redemptive journey back onto the wagon of sobriety via a brief stint in AA. Once completely t-total, Scudder realises his career options are limited and decides to become a private investigator. His new profession is influenced by the arrival of a hooker (Alexandra Paul) who comes to him for protection because she’s become terrified that her pimp is going to kill her. Things don’t go well and her body is soon discovered in a storm drain and Scudder finds himself hospitalised and severely injured. After a three day black-out he emerges and starts to put together the pieces of this suspicious murder, so starting a perilous investigation into the underhand dealings of a seedy drug baron (Andy Garcia).
8 Million Ways to Die couldn’t be any further from the sort of film you’d expect from Hal Ashby, with each character little more than a gratuitous, stereotypical representation of their role. Indeed 8 Million Ways to Die has more in common with a Michael Mann film, with its reliance on unsubtle plot devices and fundamental dialogue, than it does with Harold and Maude (1971). No surprise that Oliver Stone attempted to get his name removed from the finished film – to no avail.
Bridges is as charismatic as ever, still as much of a screen presence then as he is now. However, even his incredibly likeable demeanour isn’t enough to make 8 Million Ways to Die’s shallow action from becoming vaguely engrossing. Indeed, even his redemptive journey is confused, teaching the audience that if you sort your own life out, you too could end up falling in love with an attractive but no doubt disease ridden call girl, who’ll attempt to seduce you in exchange for protection from her drug addled boss.
8 Million Ways to Die is a prime example of how the eighties were the last decade the archetypal male chauvinist was allowed to flourish. These archaic representations of men as all powerful saviours of women (who only had to shout loudly and drink excessively in order to become every weak willed blonde’s dream boat) is a fact only amplified from some of the film’s genuinely cringe worthy dialogue. From Andy Garcia’s serve case of Tourette’s syndrome (punctuating every other word with a “fuck” or “shit”) to such illuminating lines of dialogue as “Street light makes my pussy hair glow in the dark”, 8 Million Ways to Die is one of the few remaining dinosaurs of the exploitative history of 1970s and 80s action films.
With so many clichés (both in the plot and the dialogue) sporadically placed throughout the film, 8 Million Ways to Die feels like an action movie jigsaw puzzle being painstakingly put together in front of our eyes, whilst simultaneously making Lethal Weapon (1987) seem like a thespian exploration of the genre. 8 Million Ways to Die, despite the inclusion of Bridges (a modern day cinematic icon) is too tacky, too predictable and worst of all, utterly unoriginal in its direction to even be enjoyable on the most basic cinematic level.