From the writer of Se7en... Nic Cage... is a detective dragged deep into the vortex of pornographic lunacy... You know the drill: sand-gargling trailer voice-over bite-sizes it all down, hoping to spark a sense of undisputed "unmissability". Only this time the pitch won't fit, despite the credentials.
Cage's mission is clear - he wants to be Reconstructed 21st-Century Action Hero. A dashing, sweaty, Bruce Willisy vest-ruiner type (The Rock, Con Air) with just enough vulnerability to stay afloat in ChickFlick Land (City Of Angels). And a gimmick in the tail: when the mood takes him, he can act (Leaving Las Vegas). But here he's wasted, dropped into a directionless, schizophrenic jumble, - a conventional detective drama tarted up as something darker and more subversive.
In the '80s, Hollywoodised serial-killer chic kept horror happily modulated until Se7en stepped in to rough things up. On paper, 8MM promises to follow through with the inevitable pre-millennial oneupmanship: glimpses of hardcore, sexual torture, snuff porn. How low can we go? In practice, it's high-concept/low content. Se7en's bleak ferocity kept things pounding along with grim anticipation. Here, the twists and turns amount to less of a white-knuckle ride, more a distracted amble around the Museum Of Detective Movie Clichés.
Clunking idiot-plot moments (a crucial piece of evidence casually uncovered after seven years of FBI probing); standard-issue bad-guy slaparounds in rain-soaked parking lots; a "surprise" baddie (shifty enough to make your mum yawn); and, most irritating of all, an ultra-stoopid double standard heralded by the arrival of Peter Stormare as, erm, Dino Velvet, the twisted ringmaster of the death-sex underworld. Stormare mugs himself silly as a laughably camp Dr Evil type but, by the end, we're informed that, actually, people who indulge in violent pornography are misguided, but really rather mundane. Yes - NOT THAT DIFFERENT FROM YOU AND ME! It's the old problem of actors with differing ideas about the tone of the film they're appearing in.
Good bits: Cage at least tries to overcome the general droop and carry the thing with a bit of dignity, and there are a couple of passable set-pieces (notably, the finale stalking of very big, very bad guy known as `Machine', the brutal puppet of the snuffographers). But the only real revelation is Phoenix who, as imperious grot-shop staffer Max, guides Cage through the ever-degrading circles of porn purgatory - and hogs all the best lines.
But clearly any original venom in Walker's script has been neutered by Schumacher, who is far too impressed with the Cage-as-sleuth element, and the jarring over-stylisation of the darker stuff. (An apparent sexual torture chamber - complete with `appropriate' graffiti - just looks like the restless dream of a kids' TV presenter.)
In the end, far from being left gagging on a dose of icy hyperrealism, we're soothed on our way with a typically anaesthetic pay-off: being happily married with a family is much nicer than being involved with sexual exploitation and murder. Really?
Sleek and Se7en-style spooky? A dizzy descent into the porny heart of darkness? Dumpy and disjointed detective caper, more like. Unless you're a die-hard Cage nerd, 8MM will disappoint - doomed by an uneven script and chewed up by a miscast director.