8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE. TriStar Pictures, 1986. Jeff Bridges (Matt Scudder), Rosanna Arquette, Alexandra Paul, Randy Brooks, Andy Garcia. Based on the novel Eight Million Ways to Die, by Lawrence Block (Arbor House, 1982), and in part on A Stab in the Dark (Arbor House, 1982). Director: Hal Ashby.

   Hal Ashby’s 8 Million Ways to Die seems like it was doomed from the start. As Ashby was struggling to make a Hollywood comeback, he was faced with producers who apparently didn’t appreciate the type of film he was trying to make and didn’t allow him to work on editing his own film. (Ashby had previously been a stellar editor before becoming an auteur director in the 1970s.) Worse still, the production, which adapts Lawrence Block’s eponymous novel to film, shifts the story’s locale from New York to Los Angeles and turns Scudder, Block’s fictional ex-cop turned unlicensed PI, into a quasi-Southern California surfer dude who says “man” a lot.

   That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have some great moments. There’s a real genuine sense of location, an aesthetic sensibility that permeates the film: the seedier side of Los Angeles in the mid-1980s. It’s a land of palm trees and sunshine, of high priced call girls and cocaine and alcohol. And that’s where Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Scudder (Jeff Bridges) lives. He’s an alcoholic who has lost it all, his wife, his house, and his kid. As he struggles to rebuild his shattered life, he becomes caught up in what he thinks is a dispute between a call girl and her pimp. Little does he know that he’s somehow stumbled upon a giant cocaine operation run by the eccentric and brutal Angel Moldonado (Andy Garcia) who struts around like a walk on villain in a Miami Vice episode.

   But as a coherent whole, 8 Million Ways to Die doesn’t work in the way it was likely intended. It tries to be a crime drama and a romance and, most importantly, a study of a man trying to rebuild his shattered life in the midst of chaos. Maybe it was the producers, maybe it was the three screenwriters, maybe it was even Ashby who was rumored to have been a cocaine addict himself in the 1980s.

   Whatever the case, this crime film never ends up feeling particular cinematic. It’s more akin to a moderately watchable made-for-cable TV movie than a feature release. Perhaps that’s why it fared so poorly at the box office.