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after 1993's " falling down , " i hoped that joel schumacher would mature into a great director .
since then he has offered us two so-so adaptations of john grisham novels ( " the client " and " a time to kill " ) and two batman movies that lowered the standards of that franchise .
although these disappointments dampened my enthusiasm for schumacher's potential , the publicity for his latest release , " 8mm , " raised new hope .
it promised to be something unusual .
it wasn't .
the plot goes like this : tom welles ( nicolas cage ) is a private eye who is hired by a wealthy woman , allegorically named mrs . christian ( myra carter ) , to investigate an 8mm movie found among her late husband's belongings .
the movie appears to be a snuff film in which a teenage girl is raped and murdered by a man in a leather mask ( who reminds me of bane in schumacher's " batman & robin " ) .
because murders can be realistically simulated in movies , mrs . christian wants tom to discover if the girl is alive or dead .
by combing through missing persons reports , tom finds the girl's name and tracks her to los angeles .
with the aid of max california ( joaquin phoenix ) , a video store clerk ( and another symbolic name ) , tom wanders through the underworld of pornography in search of snuff .
the plot bears an obvious resemblance to paul schrader's " hardcore , " in which a father goes deeper and deeper into the industries of porn and sex to find his missing daughter .
both films are modeled on dante's " the inferno , " of course ; " 8mm " makes that connection overly obvious by casting max as virgil and having him constantly tell tom that they were heading toward a meeting with the devil .
" hardcore " is a much more subtle and meaningful film .
" 8mm " had a lot of promise .
in its better moments it's an examination of violence as entertainment and of the beast within even a nice guy like tom .
one moment of the first sort : when we first meet max he's reading truman capote's " in cold blood " underneath the cover of a porn novel .
" in cold blood " was the father of the true-crime genre , which is the literary equivalent of snuff films .
max promises that we will see examples of the second theme when he tells tom , " dance with the devil and the devil don't change ; the devil changes you . "
tom does change-i'll let you discover the specifics for yourself-but not permanently .
schumacher and screenwriter andrew kevin walker didn't have the guts to take tom so far down the dark tunnel that he couldn't come back .
( walker's " seven " did a much better job on that theme by refusing to compromise ) .
cage tries hard to pull it off , but the script doesn't give him enough to work with .
phoenix walks away with the movie-he's smart , charming , and funny .
other cast members include " fargo " 's peter stormare camping it up as porn auteur dino velvet and " the sopranos " 's james gandolfini as a soulless porn merchant who pushes tom too far .
in the last analysis , since " 8mm " falls short of its pretensions and its promise , its just another private eye story in the raymond chandler/ross macdonald tradition of having the detective uncover the depravity behind the glossy facade of wealth and privilege .
however , unlike other predictable fare in the genre-last year's " twilight , " for example- " 8mm " is especially disappointing because it could have been much more than it is .