My Buddy is a Cage – Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Vampire's Kiss Nicolas Cage teeth

Ask Tommy Wiseau and he’ll swear on his grave The Room was meant to be terrible all along, that it was made as a black comedy and he knew that from the get-go. I remain… skeptical on that front. A quick sample of his filmography reveals a small body of work that’s generally underwhelmed audiences. I’m especially hesitant to bury anyone, especially after Rex Reed opened up his stupid mouth, but Wiseau’s track record seems to reveal his hand for him. The Room isn’t played for humor. It’s a failed dramatic effort that’s enjoyed an incredible upswell of ironic “cult” success. When Wiseau doesn’t acknowledge that, it’s disingenuous and a little insulting to its fans, even if they’ll throw plasticware regardless.

Rob Bierman’s Vampire’s Kiss doesn’t sit in quite that same low-rent paddleboat of probable certainty, rocking gently on the waters of revisionism and overextended metaphors. Vampire’s Kiss is a different animal from the same species, one where dramatic sincerity turns tail whenever Nicolas Cage graces us with his odious accent.

Peter Loew (Cage) is a prim literary agent who slowly seems to be losing his mind over a missing contract, one which his mousy absent-minded secretary Alva (María Conchita Alonso) can’t seem to find. Much of Vampire’s Kiss looks to its lead actor — and only its lead actor — for any attempts at humor, and in a film with this dominating of a performance, a similarly-sized dissection of Cage’s turn seems necessary. Cage dials up the yuppie douchebaggery with a thick, obnoxious accent that might belong to the love child of a Anglophilic Cali surfer. Though it’s repulsive to the ears, the ladies Loew routinely brings home seem to like it just fine. His mannerisms and tics, already humongous and disproportionate, quickly nosedive into ridiculous territory after Loew brings home “Rachel” (Jennifer Beals) and she bites his neck mid-coitus. Well, maybe she does. Bierman pastes events together in a hypnotic manner, where time lapses and commutes between work and home and therapy (Elizabeth Ashley) dissolve away occasionally.

Post-vampire bite is where Cage’s more… quotable moments turn up. Donning sunglasses to block out the office daylight, empowers Cage to ramp up the seething impatience. A series of confrontations with Alva become more and more ridiculous: one day he’s boring holes through her with magnifying eyeballs; the next, he’s leaping on furniture and chasing her around the building. There’s even a fake-out cab ride, where Loew personally visits Alva’s home — as she’s ironing in her bra, no less –to make amends. Only once he gets her back in the car, Loew “snaps again.” Cage’s nutso characterization is the only compelling piece of the Heatherton contract pursuit — one might argue the joke is precisely that same overreaction, but Alonso plays Alva as just as anxious over this scrap of paper. Because of that, Cage looks absurd but not completely unjustified in his temper tantrums.

The real meat of Vampire’s Kiss is Loew’s gestating fear that “Rachel” was secretly a vampire, and now he too is becoming one of them. It begins in horror with their drunken hook-up, but Loew never seems resistant to the idea, at one point even purchasing a pair of plastic vampire teeth. When his bizarre wish-fulfillment reaches its pinnacle, Cage runs through the streets, shouting at the top of lungs what only he could possibly believe.

Is this a parodic vision of the American businessman as societal leech? Is screenwriter Joseph Minion channeling his inner Bret Easton Ellis? Doubtful. Bierman strongly implies Peter Loew is just a man, delusional, but the truth is beside the point. Vampire’s Kiss remains unfocused, even after its lead gave its creators other things to obsess over, like say, the pedestrian camera work. Sure, the cutting room floor keeps the illusion running, but the editorial department can only do so much when the pieces are this deadened.

In a rare moment of disagreement, I would respectfully challenge Mr. Scott Tobias’ assertion that Vampire’s Kiss is among Cage’s best roles. That I can simply link to any of Cage’s nutso moments with a YouTube clip is a testament to their entertainment value, but one must be careful to conflate that with quality. Although Minion certainly had one in Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, Vampire’s Kiss is no dark comedy. One actor chomps on Scenery Hoagies among a supporting cast that’s committed to playing everything straight. Cage’s upper crust Valley Boy can’t only exist in the writing. Perhaps Bierman explained to his lead that this big of a performance was his modus operandi, that the intentional disjointing of parts dramatic and comedic was the point all along. Fine. But now you’re centering all attention on one player. Now Cage’s turn goes less in service of the joke and instead just becomes its own.

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Want more Cage? You got it.

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