Wednesday, May 29, 2024

‘Snake Eyes’ Rolls Cold Dice

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Snake Eyes is an impressively dull blockbuster. I’d say the boredom was on purpose if I didn’t know any better. No one intends to make a bad movie, but whether the filmmakers behind Snake Eyes meant to or not-they have.

It is the most baffling thing, but as I sat there enduring the film, I could feel the director, Robert Schwentke, trying to make a good movie. Even the essential crux of the script by Evan Spiliotopoilos, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouses feel like there’s a good movie inside fighting to get out. But it never materializes.

Schwentke’s biggest problem is that Snake Eyes is a movie without any rhythm. It plods along but at an uneven pace. Everything looks good, and we’re never confused about what’s going on, but we never really care all that much either. 

I saw Snake Eyes in a 4DX theater. If you’re not familiar with what that is, it’s part of a gimmick some movie theaters are trotting out. Essentially it makes movies even more of a theme park ride, and while it can be distracting and keep you from falling into the movie’s world, it is kind of fun in its own “this is neat” kind of way. Unfortunately, I sat there in the dark, my seat rising and falling, bursts of air erupting by my ear, water spraying up every once and a while, and Snake Eyes was still a slog. 

Henry Golding has proven to be a charming leading man. But as Snake Eyes, he seems unsure on how to deliver his lines and utilize his talent. As a result, he comes off as bland. Golding’s charm helps him a little bit, but when he’s saddled with such forgettable dialogue, there’s little he can do.

But the dreary dialogue is only half of it. Halfway through the movie, I found myself struggling to remember what just happened. Snake Eyes is the type of movie that evaporates from your mind almost as soon as you see it. Almost nothing stands out; characters stand around talking but never with any flair or personality.

Some might argue that I’m too harsh on a movie based on a cartoon created to sell toys. To which I say that’s no excuse for a film to be this tedious. Also, say what you will, but the original cartoon could sell toys. Snake Eyes struggles to sell its own premise.

Golding’s Snake Eyes witnesses his father, played by Steven Allerick, being murdered. He’s murdered by a gangster blandly named Mr. Augustine (Samuel Finzi). Augustine makes his victims roll a pair of dice before they die to see if they might live. Wouldn’t you know it? His father rolls snake eyes.

Now, Snake Eyes is consumed by vengeance. It is a vengeance that refuses to be slaked by anything other than avenging his father’s death. You know, that old rag. Still, that could have been interesting; after all, franchises have been started on less.

He is eventually hired by a gangster, Kenta (Takehiro Hira), who convinces Snake Eyes to join with the promise of hunting down his father’s killer. Soon he meets Tommy (Andrew Koji), who is undercover and wants to kill Kenta. Tommy and Kenta are both members of the Clan Arashikage. Or Kenta was until he was banished for trying to violently overthrow the clan leader, Sen (Eri Ishida), and now Tommy is trying to kill him for the clan’s honor.

Snake Eyes is asked to kill Tommy once his cover is blown and refuses. Soon the two are escaping to Japan, and Tommy has offered Snake Eyes a new home with a new purpose because when they look into each other’s eyes, they see “honor.” 

The story is so rote it almost writes itself. Although, at times, the movie became close to being interesting. It is revealed that Snake Eyes is a double agent. He is infiltrating the Clan Arashikage to steal a jewel for Kenta, who wants it on behalf of Cobra. The inner conflicts and fraught relationships the script sets up borderlines on Shakespearean. But none of the filmmakers, or the studio, has the guts to do anything with it.

Snake Eyes never takes itself too seriously, but it also never has fun with itself either. It waffles in the middle being neither corny nor engaging. This becomes all the more apparent once G.I. Joe and Cobra start to enter the plot and characters enter the story that seems like they come from different movies.

The Baroness (Ursula Corbero), a Cobra representative, for example, strolls around her scenes in stiletto heels and never misses a chance to vamp. Corbero’s performance is one of the standouts, if only because it’s somewhat fun to watch. With her immaculate make-up and wire-framed glasses, she looks more like something out of a dime-store pulp novel than anything Schwentke and his team dreamed of.

Samara Weaving even has a small part as Scarlett, a G.I. Joe who alerts Snake Eyes and Tommy to Cobra’s involvement. She has a few brief scenes, including a fight scene in the bathroom while she’s on a video chat with Tommy and Snake Eyes. In a movie where the action scenes are bereft of any tension, Scarlett’s fight was fun, if only because of the comedic aspect and change of scenery.

Poor Golding and Koji are stuck slinging back lines that feel ripped from an instruction manual. They try, though, and every once and a while, they almost succeed. But Snake Eyes is a movie rife with structural failure so that any success a scene might have is immediately undercut by the following scene.

Golding tries to give us moments showcasing the inner struggle of his character. Torn between his pathological need for vengeance and the bonds he has formed with his new friends, and dare I say it, family. But Schwentke could care less.

Snake Eyes is a movie where every decision is the wrong one. Scenes either go on for too long or end too quickly. Tension is deflated so often by the ill-timing of the pacing that the action comes off as sloppy and tiresome. 

Bojan Bazelli, who has worked with filmmakers from Gore Verbinski to Adam Shankman, seems hobbled at every turn. One scene takes place in a Tokyo back alley, giant neon signs in the background, rain pouring down, and you can almost get a sense of atmosphere. But it’s never quite enough because the scene can never decide what it wants to be. Is it a fight scene, or is it a dramatic scene? Surprise, it is neither.

Snake Eyes does briefly become entertaining towards the end. Only because, at long last, it has finally decided it wants to be a G.I. Joe movie. The final battle is led by Sen. She is joined by the Blind Master (Peter Mensah), the Hard Master (Iko Uwais), and the head of security Akiko (Haruka Abe), as well as Snake Eyes, Tommy, the Baroness, and Scarlett. The fight is overlong and is every bit as sloppy as the other action scenes, but it has a crucial component-it’s fun.

There are quips, fireworks, magic, and quite frankly, a firm grasp of tone that has been sorely lacking for most of the movie. But it’s too little too late.

Much of what plagues Snake Eyes feels like studio meddling. An attempt to make the film like other successful films. The result is a movie so forgettable you forget it as you watch it.

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

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