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Bringing Out the Dead

Director:Martin Scorese
Writer:Paul Schrader
Paramount; R; 118 minutes
Cast:Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, Ving Rhames

Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead sends Nicholas Cage on a downward spiral through New York City's Hell's Kitchen and his own overexposed psyche. Frank (Cage) is Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle for the '90s, seeking personal peace instead of vigilante justice, steering an ambulance instead of a cab. Far from being the Dantesque Inferno is aspires toward, Bringing Out the Dead is another Heart of Darkness—an upright white man steps into madness after close contact with native forces of evil: the black drug dealer who medicates Mary (Patricia Arquette), the dreadlocked youth (Marc Anthony) whose psychotic actions another driver (Tom Sizemore) imitates when he finally breaks from job strain, the Latina ghost accusing Frank of murder from beyond the grave, etc. Ving Rhames does a boisterous, accomplished job as a fellow driver, although even his persona is reduced to caricature.

Scorsese is confused between bright, wry humor and mordant pseudo-social commentary, resulting in a mix of sketches patching together a slipshod emotional quilt. Some moments are excellent, while others wobble weak in the knees. Although the manic highs and lows of ambulance paramedics provide material for Cage's fine performance, shoddy direction destabilizes any force the movie might have achieved and cliched voice-overs knock it down.

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