We may have reached a new precedent in our magical journey through Sir Nicolas Cage’s oeuvre. There’s the strange hairstyles and trademark spasms, and Cage’s career has already spanned the breadth of romantic comedies and generic actioners to dramatic powerhouses and zany genre pictures. But this might mark the first instance where a co-star is actively attempting to out-Cage… Nic Cage. For the effort, my nonexistent hat’s off to you, Josh Lucas. I’m putting it back on after this, though.
Stolen might be proof that Simon West can’t direct his actors. Much of Con Air’s success rested on the shoulders of loud character work — the Malkoviches and Buscemis — and whatever southern-fried accent Cage worked up owes little to West’s direction, since by comparison Cage contributes so little here to ex-bank robber Will Montgomery. West does have a knack for competent action and Stolen gets an OK start with a 20 minute “one last job” that sees Montgomery abandoned by his rag-tag partners in crime (Malin Akerman, M.C. Gainey and Josh Lucas) and busted, much to the delight of a vengeful detective (Danny Huston). If this sounds like a mad-libbed action script, good. There’s so much routine to Stolen’s plotting that it forgets to include motivations to drive anything forward. First, Lucas and Cage are old pals; 8 years later, Lucas is missing a foot and covered in meth scabs, their friendship overtaken by an obsession with getting his share from that botched job. So he kidnaps Cage’s daughter (Sami Gayle), tosses her in the trunk of his cab, and totes her around the suburbs of Louisiana.
It’s an adequate hook until one realizes all the opportunities Montgomery skips over in favor of committing to Stolen’s premise. It strains the film’s faith in the audience that any kind of glue between Cage and his estranged daughter would be enough to sustain a 98 minute car chase. At one point, Cage hijacks a cabbie’s GPS at gunpoint in an attempt to track down Lucas’ car. We know the feds aren’t likely to believe such a ludicrous plan from the mouth of an ex-con, but couldn’t Cage have just ordered the cabbie to call this one in? Authorities might take news of a creepy one-legged asshole more seriously if the head of a cab company phones in a tip, right? Cage skips all that and re-enlists the help of Akerman for one last “one last job” to get Lucas’ $10 million. Disappearing completely for nearly an hour, Akerman might have been cast simply as an attractive bookend where she risks her quiet retirement to help with a very dumb idea. Stolen’s rampant stupidity is contagious, too. Both Huston and underling Mark Valley play the stoogiest of any law enforcement characters in recent memory, with little to no foresight in their “tactical” methods, save from being giant pushovers in elevator tussles.
Dramatically, there’s so very little room for Cage to move through. David Guggenheim writes Montgomery as a stolid shade of the remorseful Dad, and apart from some early notes on Care Bear literature, Cage plays things by the book. The boring, predictable book. This one goes to Josh Lucas, but that’s not necessarily a compliment. Lucas’s Vincent is a delusional, self-righteous dick, whose credibility is destroyed by such a ridiculous appearance and accents of whatever synthetic compound he’s been smoking. Lucas doesn’t just look filthy; he sounds like it:
The risk of such a loud performance against the rest of Stolen’s density is an overreaction, both in Vincent’s character and in Lucas exaggerating a scenario in which anyone else would settle with the missing leg and let sleeping dogs lie. Then again, people who look like they’re crashing on Courtney Love’s couch don’t exactly qualify as “anyone.”
Comparisons to Taken are easy here — seriously, that title is shameless — but apart from the kidnapped daughter, this really has more in common with a bargain bin redux of Matchstick Men or acid flashbacks to Book of Secrets and its doofy storytelling. When Montgomery finally buries his old life with him, we’re treated to Danny Huston vocalizing his interior monologue to the effect of “Thank you, Will. I’ll return to my life now.” I’ll endorse half of that thought.
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