It has been a while since I last binged on some of Nicolas Cage’s latest offerings. So with a triple bill long over due, I delved deep into my collection (which now numbers 71) and carefully selected what I hoped at least would provide a solid evenings entertainment. With the wife dispatched to an early bed, the 5 year old fast asleep and my 3 month old in my arms it was time to renew my acquaintance with the great man.
Southern Fury (Steven C. Miller, 2017)
Released as Arsenal outside the UK, this is pitched as gritty crime thriller with the promise of Nicolas Cage reprising one of his more bonkers roles from one of his lesser known ahem…classics Deadfall (Christopher Coppola, 1993).
Cage is on scene chewing supporting duties here as the film focuses on two brothers, Mikey (Johnathon Schaech) and JP (Entourage’s Adrian Grenier). JP is the younger brother and has built himself a successful construction company, forever trying to keep his big bro out of trouble. Petty criminal Mikey has fallen foul of local gangster Eddie King (Cage) who kidnaps him forcing JP to fork over $350,000 or Mikey is dead. With only childhood friend turned cop Sal (John Cusack) to help him, JP faces a race against time to save his brother.
This film is utterly dreadful. The plot is littered with holes big enough to drive Nicolas Cage’s fake nose through. The crushingly out dated bullet time effects and slo mo action scenes are just embarrassing, I mean just how many times can you show slow motion blood splatter? I stopped counting at 10.
Adrian Grenier must have been about 14th choice to play the lead here and is totally unconvincing as an action hero and saddled with an utterly dreadful script, (“Katrina didn’t run us out, neither will Eddie King” or “You cant blame the marines for throwing you out for bad conduct”) he barely pulls off being human. A podgy Johnathon Schaech doesn’t fare much better, while John Cusack must be wondering what happened to his career as he coasts through this on autopilot playing second fiddle to Grenier and Schaech and sporting a variety of weather inappropriate head gear (the black bandanna being a highlight)
Then there is Nicolas Cage himself, he really is the silver lining here, looking like he is having the time of his life hamming it up in a ludicrous wig and fake nose which brings back memories of Jennifer Aniston in Leprechaun. He shouts and squints his way through this film and commits like he was back in his 90s heyday. Both Cage and Cusack seem like they are pretending they were in a better film and by the 60 minute mark, I was pretending I was watching one.
The night wasn’t off to the best start. When Cage was on the screen, which sadly wasn’t that often, he is the best thing in the film. That however, is not saying a lot.
Army of One (Larry Charles, 2016)
Next up was one of the craziest films I have watched in many a year.
Army of One is based on the true story of Gary Faulkner, an ex-con turned handyman who has been blighted by kidney disease. He begins to have hallucinations and believes that God has tasked him with hunting down and capturing Osama Bin Laden. Armed with only a samurai sword he bought on a home shopping network and an invigorated sense of purpose, he takes off for Pakistan to track down the biggest criminal in recent history.
This is a really strange film, mainly because I don’t think it knows what it wants to be. Is it going for a flighty fantasy or a homage to, let’s be honest, a pretty crazy man? By not really nailing its flag to any particular mast it just sort of exists as piece work that leaves you wondering what the hell you have just watched and while it started promisingly, the film eventually outstays its welcome. You are just left with too many questions, principally, was Gary mentally ill or was his hallucinations brought on by his kidney disease? A proper character study might have worked better than this clumsy attempt at satire.
While he has had moments in his career, you could never really describe Nicolas Cage as a comic actor, so having him in the lead is a strange choice. He puts on an irritatingly whiny vocal performance which is utterly baffling as when we see the newsreel footage of Faulkner at the end of the film, he sounds nothing like that. In an attempt to make Gary more relatable, they shoe horn in an utterly unconvincing romance with his old High School crush (played by the brilliant Wendy McLendon-Covey from Bridesmaids) which backfires somewhat. Rainn Wilson, Paul Sheer, Will Sasso and Matthew Modine also pop up but add little to the proceedings and the less said about Russell Brand as God the better.
I suppose terrible would be the way to describe this film, but I found myself liking it way more that I should have in spite of all the evidence that was in front of me. I am not sure if that was because the film was good or that it was just wasn’t as bad as Southern Fury….
Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader, 2016)
The evening ended with the latest collaboration between Nicolas Cage and director Paul Schrader, following the disjointed Dying of The Light (2014).
A trio of ageing criminals reunite when the last of them is released from prison. Realising that it will be impossible to go straight, they decide to team up for one last job. It seems easy enough, kidnap the baby of criminal’s rival and make some easy money. Things inevitably goes wrong, very badly wrong.
This just feels like a film out of time. Following the release of Reservoir Dogs in the early nineties, there were a whole slew of cheap knock offs that invaded the bottom shelf of our local video store, Dog Eat Dog feels like one of those. It is even based on a novel by reformed criminal Eddie Bunker, who played Mr Blue in Tarantio’s classic.
A classic, however, this is not. It is not terrible by any means, but it just isn’t very good either. Nicolas Cage does his best as the leader of the trio and the brains behind the scheme and he plays it relatively straight, dialing back his usual rage as he leaves the more gruesome and shouty moments to a brilliantly unhinged Willem Defoe. The film follows a pretty predictable caper gone wrong plot until the last 10 minutes, which play out like a crazy alternate dream sequence, almost as if Schrader was replaced by David Lynch.
The biggest problem with this is that it is just quite nasty. From the moment Defoe brutally disposes of his girlfriend to the bonkers ending the film just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. There are things to enjoy though however as both Cage and Defoe are great and Schrader does shoot some great scenes, in particular a switch from black and white to colour in a strip club which reveals Cage wearing an awesome turquoise suit (honestly, it is better than it sounds)
Overall, while Dog Eat Dog has its moments, it is just overly gruesome and a bit out dated.
So at the end of another night’s viewing, Dog Eat Dog won the night with Army of One offering a few chuckles and Southern Fury in spite of some over the top awesomeness from Cage, most definitely bringing up the rear. I will soon delve deeper into my Nicolas Cage collection but until then why not check out the previous installments.
Thanks for reading. Hope you folks enjoyed yourselves, catch ya later on down the trail.