Can you believe we had to wait 7 whole months for a new Nic Cage movie?
For any other movie star, this might seem perfectly normal. But for the man who has averaged over 5 releases a year for the last 3 years, it was an unusually long wait after Between Worlds capped off a very productive and exciting 2018 for our holiness. Thankfully for us Cageoholics, who rely on his new film appearances for sustenance, it seems like the master was just in a brief hibernation, saving up his energy so that we could have no less than 6 new movies to close out the final 5 months of 2019. The man’s got quotas to fill, people! (Quotas of my heart, that is…)
So how did he fare in yet another busy work year? While the maestro continued to step back out into the limelight in terms of the press (that surprisingly honest, in-depth and essential New York Times interview) and social media (just recently spending New Year’s buying everyone a drink at a small pub in England), the films that he lent his peerless talents to were… not some of his best work.
But if a Nicolas Cage movie is made and nobody watches it, does it even really exist? Let’s make sure we never have to answer that question.
A SCORE TO SETTLE
The first Cage vehicle of 2019 starts out as a hodgepodge of a dozen or so other recent Cage vehicles. After spending a significant amount of time in prison for taking the fall for a murder committed by his mob boss, gangster Frankie (Cage) is released early and ready to reconnect with his now-fully-grown son, which is reminiscent of the way Stolen begins. Unfortunately, the reason he’s been released early is because he’s succumbing to a terminal illness that has rendered him an insomniac prone to hallucinations and fainting spells, much like his character in Dying of the Light. His response is to use the remaining time he has to re-enter his former gang world to track down and kill the former criminal associates who betrayed him, which is basically what he does in Rage. Plus, he has a dead wife who he’s grieving for, which is pretty much a Cage character standard trauma at this point.
With this fairly typical Cage-movie setup, director Shawn Ku (who hasn’t done much since his 2010 breakout Beautiful Boy) somehow seems stuck between making a straight-up action flick and a family bonding drama. Just as Frankie is on the verge of busting some skulls with the bag of baseball bats he carries around (a nice touch), the film reverts to another in an endless procession of awkwardly sentimental father-son moments, scored to the cheesiest music this side of City of Angels. By the time Frankie starts to fall in love with a kindly escort who works at the hotel that him and his son are staying at, I was starting to wonder if this score was ever going to be settled.
If you manage to slog through all this, you may be somewhat rewarded by the ending, which serves up a crazy twist and some decent action movie histrionics. As for Cage, I’m all for him exploring his emotional side but with such wooden dialogue and one-dimensional characterization, there’s nothing for him to do but go through the motions on a bunch of badly lit sets.
COLOR OUT OF SPACE
Cage once again classed up the joint at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, bringing along the unholy marriage of himself, H.P. Lovecraft and cult auteur Richard Stanley. With a neon-drenched palette reminiscent of Mandy and a plotline about a rural family losing their home, their bodies and eventually their sanity when a meteorite crashes on their land, Color Out of Space had all the makings of an instant cult classic.
And it is… sort of. But like 2017’s Mom and Dad, it also sort of feels like it’s straining too hard, with the action going from 0 to 100 before you get a sense of who anybody really is. As dorky family man Nathan Gardner, Cage still has some great moments, getting increasingly petulant as the story progresses. But apart from a few gnarly body horror scenes, it still ends up as an oddly conventional experience that is curiously lacking any sort of atmosphere. Where Mandy felt existentially weighty, this is more of a hollow theme park ride barreling towards a very loud finale.
Still, this is the best thing he was in this year. And if you think I’m being too hard on him, remember that it is only through expectation that we can achieve greatness.
RUNNING WITH THE DEVIL
Nic Cage couldn’t have dinner with me to discuss potential projects while he was in town for TIFF because he had to rush back to L.A. for the premiere of his next film, the drug trade thriller Running with the Devil. At least that’s what I assume is the reason for his absence, as all of my hand-crafted (in my own blood, for that extra-special touch) letters to him went unanswered.
Featuring a fairly large ensemble of familiar faces, Devil presents Cage and Laurence Fishburne as two members of a massive drug trade conglomerate who are sent by the CEO (Barry Pepper) to uncover how a shipment of cocaine went missing before reaching its destination in the US. This sends the combative pair down to Colombia, where the drug is harvested by an isolated farmer (Clifton Collins, Jr.), to trace the steps it took and the people it passed through in order to find the thief responsible. Meanwhile, they have to evade the feds, mostly led by one persistent agent (Leslie Bibb), who are trying to bring down the whole operation.
With its expansive scope and plentiful cast of characters, actor-turned-director Jason Cabell clearly wants to make a realistic drug-trade exposé a la Traffic or Sicario. He also clearly wants to give it that cheeky Guy Ritchie touch, stacking the story with wacky criminal degenerates and refusing to give any of them names, instead calling them all by their job titles – the Boss, the Snitch, the Executioner, and so on. In the end, the serious stuff isn’t realistic or intense enough and the comedy stuff isn’t funny enough (or at all, really), making the whole endeavour collapse in on itself.
With Cage taking a more serious approach to this one as “the Cook” (he runs a restaurant and I assume cooks drugs there too?) it leaves Fishburne to play the sloppy, coke-fiend supplier called “the Man” who is desperately trying to cover his own tracks, embarrassing himself right from his introductory scene where we get to witness him enthusiastically jerk off in a backroom sex club.
Even Cage wanted no part of that.
I guess Cage enjoyed his trip to Colombia so much that he decided to stay awhile, making a whole other movie while he was down there to boot. And like Running with the Devil, the bluntly-titled Kill Chain is also an ensemble piece about shadowy figures and the violence they wreak upon each other. Most of the characters are also just referred to by cryptic titles in lieu of actual names. Wait a second – did I accidentally just watch the same movie again? It’s hard to tell sometimes.
Cage plays a mysterious former mercenary/hitman type named Araña who is now hiding out in a small South American town running a ramshackle hotel. But after a brief pre-credits sequence, we actually don’t get to see Cage at all until about halfway through the movie, instead following a succession of other random people, including Enrico Colantoni as an aging anxiety-prone sniper and Ryan Kwanten as a corrupt federal agent, whose criminal actions all consequently lead into the next, creating a chain… of killing. Eventually we settle on a character credited as “the Woman in Red” (Anabelle Acosta), who gets chased into Cage’s hotel by some baddies, forcing him to step back in his old shoes to protect her and his new life and blah blah blah…
Honestly, it’s nearly impossible to care for anybody or anything going on here. Writer-director Ken Sanzel (who, in another time, kicked off his career as the poet behind The Replacement Killers) has an ambitious idea in mind, but lacks the character- and world-building to pull it off, resulting in a vague, pseudo-philosophical bore of a movie.
Meanwhile, Cage just looks like he’s on vacation. They probably just shot at the hotel he was staying at.
In my 2018 year-end wrap up, I eagerly anticipated Primal for its incredible premise alone, with Cage playing an unscrupulous hunter forced to face off with a bunch of Amazonian animals let loose on a freighter ship. Could this be his Snakes on a Plane moment?
As it approached, however, I realized it was being helmed by Nick Powell, the man behind 2014’s Cage-starring Ancient China epic Outcast – a big ol’ pile of garbage if I’ve ever seen one. So I adjusted my expectations accordingly and… I should have probably adjusted them a bit lower.
Contrary to what the marketing might lead you to believe, there is very little of Cage doing battle with animals (although when they do show up, they’re made up of laughably bad and instantly dated CGI) and much more of the cast, which includes a couple of shady government types played by Michael Imperioli and Famke Janssen, wandering around the ship’s endless dark hallways trying to find a psychotic prisoner (Kevin Durand) who was being transferred on the same ship (you see, he got loose and set the animals free).
Kudos to Durand at least, the one bright spot in this picture, as he tears into his bad guy role with glee and manages to be legitimately threatening. Opting for relaxed hunter chic, Cage just looks out of shape, making his eventual victory (spoiler alert) feel contrived and unbelievable, especially since Durand has been ruthlessly killing soldiers and deckhands left, right and center for the entire film.
It’s too bad he didn’t make this movie in the late ‘90s with Jerry Bruckheimer. It would have been a banger then for sure.
Cage’s final gift to us in 2019 was this Louisiana-set noir about a desperate young man named Buddy (Luke Benward) who takes a job fixing the front yard fence of a house belonging to an ornery old military vet named Walter (Cage) and his alluring wife named Fancy (KaDee Strickland). At the end of the day and with an impending hurricane fast approaching, his car stalls and he’s forced to spend the night with the uncomfortable couple, who make no secret about the fact that they hate each other.
Of course, Fancy starts to flirt with Buddy and Walter keeps grumbling, drinking and shooting suspicious looks their way, leading to an awkward situation where Buddy is independently offered a sum of money by each party to kill the other one. Oh yeah, did I mention that the entire story is told in flashback, with Buddy recounting the events in a police interrogation room to a pleasantly hammy Kelsey Grammer?
Director Stephen S. Campanelli (notable for being Clint Eastwood’s longtime camera operator and probably not the right choice to direct the Canadian adaptation of Indian Horse) hits all the typical noir beats, until twisting the third act into something more akin to a horror movie. I wish I could say this makes the experience better, but the abrupt turn is handled so clumsily that it just plays as an unoriginal cheap shock.
Despite all of this, something miraculous does happen – Cage brings back that Southern-fried Con Air accent to play Walter. It was beautiful music to my ears.
2020 AND BEYOND
So yeah… 2019 won’t go down as one of Cage’s most memorable years in front of the camera. On the flipside, we did get teased with a bunch of announcements for bizarre-sounding upcoming projects that our main man will be headlining. Between roles as a farmer who must track down his kidnapped pig in Pig, a janitor overseeing a demonic amusement park in Wally’s Wonderland and even a version of himself in an intriguing meta project called The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, there is no shortage of thespianing to look forward to.
Even some of Cage’s classic properties are being reignited, with the long-in-development National Treasure 3 once again underway and the idea of a Face/Off reboot being bandied around the Paramount lot. Make sure to head on over and sign the petition to keep Nic Cage in said Face/Off reboot, by the way. Because a Face/Off without Nic Cage (and Travolta obviously) is not a Face/Off that I want to face.
Until next year, folks!