I’ll save everyone some time and check my Batman & Robin jokes at the door, but Joel Schumacher continues to raise doubts about his storytelling skills much less his ability to simply choose a good story to tell.
Nicolas Cage plays Kyle Miller, a diamond dealer and the owner of a gated mansion with homemaker wife Sarah (Nicole Kidman) and trampy, rebellious daughter Avery (Liana Liberato). Sarah and Kyle are going through some marital struggles, as evidenced by awkward glances between Kidman and Cage. On the eve of what looks to be a very big diamond deal for Kyle, their home is broken into by a gang of thieves posing as police officers (Ben Mendelson, Cam Gigandet, Jordana Spiro, Dash Mihok). Their goal? Get in, rob the Millers, and get out. Except the biggest threat to the thieves’ plan isn’t Kyle or Sarah or Avery or even the cops. It’s Karl Gajdusek.
Karl Gajdusek isn’t an ambiguously European terrorist who pops up in the third act; he’s the screenwriter for Trespass and the archenemy of suspense. iMDb places Trespass under “drama,” “crime,” and “thriller” but the more appropriate “tedious” is nowhere to be found. See, the Millers’ home gets broken into within the first 25 minutes, and much to the chagrin of lead burglar Elias (Mendelson), plans go anything but smoothly. Gajdusek seems to believe that good storytelling amounts to a series of cheap reveals, but there’s a big difference between organic progression of a plot and withholding pieces of information only to reveal them one by one. Trespass’ least insignificant reveal is its suggesting an affair between Sarah and their mansion’s utility boy, Jonah (Gigandet). Gajusek uses adultery as an “in” for how a few crooks learn the lay of the house, the location of the family safe, and the surveillance camera setups, but the affair is distracting and awkwardly recalled. Constant flashbacks to a seductive pool scene or knowing glances are a no-no in effective storytelling. Schumacher’s direction elevates these dissolving sequences to a laughably cheesy level, with all the mise-en-scene of a Yoplait commercial.
Trespass is an ugly picture, and not in a way that might lend itself to home invasion by gunpoint. Grimy burglars with tattered ski masks and bad tattoos look wretched against the Millers’ flourescent lights and uber-modern digs. Rip Schumacher’s Batman movies for any number of things — dialogue, casting, tone, story, acting; design and art direction aren’t at the top of the list, though. It’s as if Schumacher personally flew Ben Mendelson from the set of Animal Kingdom (where he plays a similarly odious criminal, mind you) shoved him in a room, turned on every light fixture in it and just said “go.”
Cage as “Kyle” — a first name that sadly counts as one of his more exotic roles — occupies a dweebish kind of confidence. He’s a man with a hot (surgically-enhanced) trophy wife, but also a man who never really knew what to do with her, short of having a child. Their daughter Avery is a motivational train wreck, and that’s excluding her skanky fashion choices for a forbidden weeknight party. Both Liberato and Kidman have the unfortunate task of making underwritten women seem like anything but, and that’s hard to do with what they’re given. Schumacher’s direction of his actors takes a back-burner, allowing Gigandet to weasel his way through a bland psychotic heartthrob while pros like Mendelson and Cage are graciously left alone. Mercifully, Cage includes some twitchy looks and even gets in some Cage-ing out between hostage and hostage-taker:
At first, Cage plays Kyle as a buttoned-up workaholic, but here he snaps from all the incessant (and again, tedious) threats on the lives of his wife and daughter. His sudden hard-nosed demands and ballsy bargaining don’t gel with the complacent cell phone calls Cage makes earlier on, but it’s a welcome change of pace from a very empty series of threats. Take what you can get.
It’s difficult to give Trespass any credit since it never gives us any. The burglars’ threats are empty because the stakes are muddied and underdeveloped. For a film with such intended carnage, it’s a relatively bloodless affair of punching and kicking, yelling and crying, stabbing and shooting. No matter how often Ben Mendelson aims his shotgun barrel at Nicole Kidman’s head, we know her face is coming out of this okay — well, as okay as it can possibly be at this point. Schumacher’s trajectory — moving from costume designer to The Wiz screenwriter to hollywood director — is commendable, but the fruits of his labor haven’t fared so hot. Now let’s all bow our heads and pray for Ben Mendelson’s career. He, like Cage and Kidman here, definitely deserves better.
Questionable Curse Word Theater:
- “You shit fucking animals! Avery! Averyyy!”
- “If it’s the kidney you want, take mine, you ass fuck!”
- Cage originally insisted on switching to play one of the Millers’ kidnappers instead. During production.
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