Rated R - Running time: 1:38 - Released 8/7/98

In his first film outing since Mission: Impossible (1996), writer-director Brian DePalma has crafted a suspenseful, thrilling drama in Snake Eyes, and with cast members like Nicholas Cage and Gary Sinise, it would be hard to fail. DePalma's trademark style is obvious throughout, with his innovative camera angles and regular use of slow motion, not to mention a complex story (adapted for the screen by David Koepp) that keeps us guessing.

Rick Santoro (Cage) is the hotshot of Atlantic City. At least he thinks he is. He's a plainclothes cop who knows every important person in town, especially the bookies. He's a dedicated gambler, and tonight he's psyched up because his favorite boxer, heavyweight champ Lincoln Tyler (Stan Shaw) is fighting at his favorite casino. And to make the evening even better, his best friend, Major Kevin Dunne (Sinise), is there too. Dunne is a decorated veteran who now works in the government's higher echelons, and he's on hand to protect the U.S. secretary of defense, who is also watching the fight.

But Rick's fight night goes from bad to worse. First he watches in horror as Tyler goes down for the count, and then a shot rings out and the secretary is killed while Dunne is up in the stands questioning a suspicious character. Soon the killer is down and the arena is evacuated. Rick takes charge, but the more he investigates, and remembers, the stranger everything seems. Through a fascinating series of flashbacks shown through the eyes of several different witnesses, we learn the many strange aspects of the incident: A beautiful woman in a blonde wig is shot and then disappears. An old drunk in the front row appears to have a tiny receiver in his ear. And the champ, supposedly knocked out, seems wide awake during the shooting. Though the assassin is reported to be a lunatic from the Middle East who acted alone, Rick senses a conspiracy.

Telling much more would give away some of the more interesting elements of the mystery, but let's just say that as the story unfolds and we think we're figuring it out, we only become more confused.

The only flaw is in the ending. When the complex plot is finally resolved, there is a sense of sloppiness to the story. Things don't fit together quite as neatly as they could, and should, but this doesn't take away from the film's qualities in the first two thirds. The final denouement is clever and true to Rick's character.

Snake Eyes is a fun film, very entertaining in the first half hour, not quite as good in the last fifteen minutes, but generally well worth seeing. Cage and Sinise both give fine performances, as does Carla Gugino as the mystery victim and Shaw as the beleaguered champ. DePalma, a director who chooses his projects carefully, has scored again. ****

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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