Can you spell "ludicrous"? If you can't, you'll be able to after watching this film, along with "stinker" and "exit."

Snake Eyes is short on everything but plot. In no particular order, we are given a hurricane, a staged assassination, a casino mogul dabbling in defense contracts, a peacenik secretary of defense, a rigged prize fight, a blond who isn't really a blond (is there any other kind?) and last but not least, a motor-mouthed Atlantic City cop brandishing a gold-lamé cell phone and naked political ambitions.

That cop would be Nicolas Cage. After making Leaving Las Vegas, one would think that he wouldn't have any good reason to get near a film about casinos and crapping out. But Vegas is now an ersatz Disneyland, leaving derelict Atlantic City to pick up the slack on sleaze. So here's Cage, manic and chatty as always, trying to stay fresh in a stale role: Rick Santoro (Cage), ladies' man and security head for a prize fight, with a hurricane blowing outside the dilapidated arena.

In the audience is the secretary of defense and his bodyguards, led by Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise), an old pal of Rick's. Their friendship is tested, however, when the prize fight is revealed to be a cover for a political assassination and Rick and Kevin begin to search out the killer. In blockbusters, heroes and villains should be pretty much unambiguous but Cage and Sinise, good actors that they are, don't do cartoons very well and we are left wondering by the end of the picture where to put our sympathies.

They're certainly not to be placed with Brian DePalma. At one time, his films were at least watchable (see Carrie). Not any more. Snake Eyes might have been, at the very least, an interesting failure if the direction had had more flash and style --this criticism despite the much ballyhooed single-take opening. Brian, baby, if you want to trump Scorsese, you'll have to do better. Worse, there's a nod here and there to Rashamon-esque story exposition, now sadly verging on cliché.

Material like this requires atmosphere and dynamic pacing, to put the viewer right into the chaos of the situation and paranoia of the characters. Snake Eyes charges on like a freight train through a terrain littered with red herrings. All to deliver its box cars of nonsense.

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