Category Archives: My Buddy is a Cage

Belated thoughts on Nicolas Cage in ‘Community’ S5/E2 “Introduction to Teaching”

Community- Season 1

In the second episode of its fifth season, Community featured a sub-plot involving a great deal of Nicolas Cage. As a result, I feel obligated to write about it. My obligation is belated. I am aware Community S5/E2 “Introduction to Teaching” doesn’t count as a Nicolas Cage film. I’m doing this anyway. Apologies.

With the gang having re-enrolled back into Greendale Community College, several study group members enroll in a two-day film studies course on one, Sir Nicolas Cage. The course, led by Kevin Corrigan’s thoroughly plussed film Professor Professorson, aims to investigate a single premise: Is Nicolas Cage good or bad? Short of a warning against shotgunning Cage films in marathon-styled succession, a warning Abed will of course ignore, there’s little else involved in the class. ‘Watch five movies. Report back to me.’ With the exception of Abed, everyone else seems resigned to failure in their assignment; classifying a career as bonkers and bipolar as Cage’s within a good-or-bad dichotomy just seems cruel. He’s hypnotizing in Leaving Las Vegas and gloriously naked in Adaptation., but with hammy turns in Next and (of course) The Wicker Man, you’re not sure what to think. And it’s best to not dwell on the impossible.

Naturally, Abed treats the professor’s warning as a challenge. Unlocking the essence of Cage seems like a kind of pop cultural forbidden fruit, one whose rind Abed must pierce to taste the sweet, sweet Cage nectar from within. When Abed takes a taste, the consequences are disastrous. His presumably frenzied 24-hour Cage-a-thon finds Abed stringing together film titles, Cage-isms, acting jags, frantic fits, and explosive outbursts in a rat’s nest of movie trivia. (Think Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, just with way less math.) It’s the kind of stuff you’d expect in a Nic Cage highlight reel. Like this one.

Community’s acknowledgment of what’s long been obvious to most of Reddit and Uproxx is forgivable, but its ambitions toward that subject matter are less so. Complexities and contradictions are part of Cage’s appeal, but Community reduces any nuance to easy punchlines within its B-plot. Shirley likens Cage to one of Hellraiser‘s cenobytes, both good and evil. The unexpected reference impresses Abed, and it should impress us, but Dan Harmon’s better than this. He’s been better than this within the same episode. Classifying Johnny Depp as the “bad” kind of good actor is spot-on, yet for a show that can offer such an incisive look into pop culture, the episode’s Cage material is one-dimensional, settling for a middling “it’s both” argument over nuance.

Danny Pudi’s Cage impression is solid but as Jack Black would sing, it’s low-hanging fruit, especially for a celebrity Abed once refers to as “one of pop culture’s great mysteries.” It’s easy to reference Windtalkers. The difficulty lies in doing something with those references. (adds Windtalkers to Netflix queue)


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My Buddy is a Cage — The Frozen Ground (2013)

Frozen Ground Nicolas Cage

On top of governing the state of Wisconsin, Scott Walker must be a really big fan of David Fincher movies because his new film, The Frozen Ground, seems intent on aping the arch, brooding gunk of Zodiac’s obsessive investigations. Walker (okay, not that Walker) also mines his story from a real life string of Alaskan murders, Robert Hansen, a prize hunter and owner of the most obvious pair of serial murderer glasses in the western hemisphere. To spoil you, Hansen was eventually caught in June of 1983 by Sergeant Nicolas Cage. I mean Sergeant “Jack Halcombe,” who partners with one of Hansen’s escaped would-be victims (Vanessa Hudgens).

Actually “Jack Halcombe” is a stand-in character for Glenn Flothe, Hansen’s real captor, further solidifying Cage’s attraction to roles with Jack and/or John. Jack-John.

Half of The Frozen Ground (which Walker writes) plays like a television procedural, where Halcombe, Hudgens’s prostitute, and a slew of paper-pushing Alaska state troopers (including Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris!) sift through evidence files and testimonies, before proceeding to chase Hansen around town in ridiculous cat-and-mouse games. That brings us to Frozen Ground’s other half, which tails Hansen with a troubling amount of interest and detail. Hansen has a home life, a job, acquaintances in the community, and one hell of a trophy collection. Hansen’s secret life isn’t all that interesting, yet Walker is invested in showing how the man went about his murders and hiding his sordid crimes from his wife and children, stowing away battered prostitutes in his backwoods cabin before dispatching them with belabored plane rides to Bumblefuck County in the Alaskan wilderness. I don’t even like typing his step-by-step process. The film is as interested in Hansen as a person as it is with Cage’s Sergeant, but save for one disturbing sequence where Hansen hunts a victim like an animal, The Frozen Ground’s portrait is cold and objective, at odds with its very accusatory and uplifting ending.

That ending makes sure to include title card updates on Hansen’s victims, what became of the serial killer, and the fate of Cage’s sergeant. Again, it’s very much in the vain of Zodiac — gotta get that Courier New font! — but the throwback quality isn’t tirelessly recreated like in Fincher’s masterpiece. Save for the absence of cell phones, I’d have never known what decade this was in. Place is less of a discrepancy, as Walker establishes the barren snow-capped trees of the Alaskan wilderness with helicopter shots buttressed by booming tones in the score. Hans Zimmer isn’t even dead and his ghost already haunts this decade’s cinema like nobody’s business.

Despite the obvious misogyny of Hansen’s crimes — again, Walker’s rigid recreation of the torture and murder of Hansen’s victims is disturbingly cold– but that casual dismissal of women seeps into other areas of Walker’s script. Halcombe’s wife exists only as the most basic of indicator of a family life, and her decision to stay with her career-obsessed husband leads one to wonder why she protested at all about his overnight fastidiousness in the investigation. And Hansen’s wife may as well have been window dressing, her presence reduced to a loving answering machine message and a dinner table objection thats’ quickly squashed by Hansen — of course. There’s more than a hint of irony in Walker’s own treatment of women in his film, but their presence at all here is symptomatic of a larger issue. The Frozen Ground goes in search of the humanity in this story, but in all the wrong places. Rather than pay more screentime to its two male leads, more was owed to Vanessa Hudgens’ struggle. Now there’s something I never thought I’d type.

Hudgens’ isn’t spectacular here. Like her earlier turn in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, Hudgens continues to break from her rosy Disney typecast. The only difference is that she’s obviously trying in The Frozen Ground. At the same time, her position as Hansen’s escaped would-be victim seems poised for those personal elements Walker seems to strive for, and as a last bit of armchair screenwriting, one cannot file “ludicrous 50 Cent pimp side story” under “personal elements.” Sorry.

I have little desire to investigate how Robert Hansen ended up confessing to 17+ counts of abduction, rape and murder, but the manner The Frozen Ground chooses — whereby Cusack stutters out an angry series of rants — is wholly ridiculous and terribly un-cinematic. The man himself here is okay, but the role of Jack Halcombe as a cool, collected lawman never calls for spastic fits of frustration. Perhaps its the film’s closer resemblance to a televised movie than straight genre fare, but Cage sits comfortably in the “Jack-John Safe Zone” here, in line with Seeking Justice or a version of Red Rock West without the fucking of Mexico. It’s yet another paint-by-numbers Cage performance. Too bad someone forgot the color.

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My Buddy is a Cage — Seeking Justice (2011)

Seeking Justice 1

Where’s the line between desperation and dedication? It’s a question director Roger Donaldson (of The World’s Fastest Indian and Dante’s Peak fame) tries and fails to answer in the Anchor Bay release, Seeking Justice. That line between desperation and dedication however is also fast becoming the theme of Cage’s late career filmography. Like the similarly Creole-flavored Stolen, Seeking Justice takes place in New Orleans — “Who Dat Nation,” as high school English teacher Will Gerard (Cage) reminds us in awkward white man fashion. Yet apart from a tacked-on bit about city corruption, Seeking Justice has virtually nothing to say about Louisiana, the state which also happens to be the adopted home of its star actor. Cage’s intentions are hopefully noble here — bringing a studio production to a still struggling city’s economy, like Stolen and in Shreveport for Drive Angry — but at what point do we start to suspect Cage is just sick of his morning commutes?

For the very little it’s worth, Seeking Justice entertains an “Adjustment Bureau” style premise: what if a secret vigilante organization had infiltrated all levels of a city’s justice system? What if one high school teacher got involved with this organization to exact revenge on his wife’s rapist? What if this organization was blinded by its own ambitions and principles? At times, Seeking Justice plays like a lesser Twilight Zone episode: a man goes outside the law to avenge the horrific assault of his wife and gets more than he bargained for. It’s a dull, inconsistent mess of corruption and moralizing, a “Be careful what you wish for” fable shoved inside the plot structure of Batman Begins. Remove Nolan’s storytelling finesse, add some January Jones and a hammy Guy Pearce performance and dinner is served.

You are going to want red beans and rice with that, though because Seeking Justice is blander than this cheap metaphor. As Cage’s concert cellist wife, Jones proves incapable of moving beyond her ice queen screen persona (one which X-Men: First Class smartly played up). On Mad Men, Jones has longevity because Jon Hamm’s philandering affords her the opportunity to make pouty faces and grump about — in some seasons, understandably so. Here, Donaldson trusts Jones to be his delicate flower, and while the manner in which he shoots her brutal assault automatically earns sympathy, rape is less a character trait so much as it is a simply despicable act, and it’s not enough for us to give two craps about her beyond that. There’s no warmth behind a pretty face, and it’s a flat performance. 

Seeking Justice January Jones

Pearce, however, swings Ye Ole Acting Pendulum in the polar opposite direction of Jones as “Simon,” the vaguely sinister head of this vigilante organization. Simon as a character is as bland as his organization, which doesn’t even bother to self-identify beyond a puzzling, annoying catchphrase: “The hungry rabbit jumps.” Like Jones, Cage, or anyone else in Seeking Justice, Robert Tannen’s script awards Pearce a bare bones role, but he imbues lines with a “You’ll be sorry” quality that feel right at home in a B-movie. As for why Pearce is in this, Seeking Justice also indirectly suggests the actor is a better looking Nicolas Cage parallel. Breaking through in promising projects — whether L.A. Confidential or Raising Arizona — Pearce and Cage have both found themselves taking on hammier roles, performances and characters that demand a modicum of the control required of them in Memento or Adaptation. Even in higher-tier fare like Lawless, it seems Pearce can’t escape the same scene-chewing bargain bin roles.

Donaldson bungles Seeking Justice’s turning point to such a severe degree it’s fantastic, because if you didn’t think Cage’s investigation of Pearce’s vigilante organization would lead to a monster truck rally in the Superdome, you haven’t been paying attention. As an example, there’s an exchange of information via recorded flip phone video… from an SUV DVD player… in 2011. Cage’s Will Gerard is meant to be a fish-out-of-water here, a teacher-turned-hometown avenger, and much of his sleuthing involves improvisation against random screenwriting curve balls. A series of unqualified, undeveloped plot twists early on seem arbitrary; when Seeking Justice makes no attempt to pay them off, they seem more like double middle fingers.

That Cage’s recent career choices have been more fascinating than the actor himself is a point I grow tired of making, but Seeking Justice is truly no different. At one point in his investigation, Cage himself at the funeral of a dead journalist, where a friend jokes about the recently deceased’s secret identity as an alien. If only that were the truth.

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My Buddy is a Cage — Trespass (2011)

Trespass Nicolas Cage

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 Nicole Kidman

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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My Buddy is a Cage — World Trade Center (2006)

World Trade Center movie

I know. I know. I know. It’s been a month. Shut up.

I briefly toyed with the idea of watching World Trade Center around the second week in September last year. My assumption was that it would somehow pay respect to a terrible event in American history. 

Waiting was a great decision.

Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center marks… what, the eighth time Nicolas Cage has played a character named “John” or some Jack-related variant as New York officer John McLoughlin. That number goes up even higher if you add “Joe” to the mix. And once again, Cage is filling in for someone else, as Stone’s alleged original choices were Mel Gibson, George Clooney, or Kevin Costner.

World Trade Center is a great example of how to ruin a pretty easy story to tell. I want to be clear here, though: The terrorist attacks on 9/11 was terrible and ripped apart thousands of families forever. Obviously. World Trade Center is just as obviously centered around those attacks and thus its disadvantage — tiptoeing around the events of a national tragedy just five years after — is also its advantage as a dramatic centerpiece: We know that people are going to die. While World Trade Center is  respectful to the event by not recreating too much of that day, apart from the shadow of the first plane and some recreated tower shots. However, Oliver Stone and writer Andrea Berloff remain convinced that “9/11 movie” is the same as drama, that people reacting to tragedy is the same as plot mechanics. World Trade Center operates under the assumption that “this is sad, so be sad about these sad characters we’re showing you” and then proceeds to thrash about for another 90 minutes.

Berloff’s script is an adaptation of the accounts of two former Port Authority officers who did in fact help evacuate the buildings: the aforementioned John McLoughlin and Michael Peña’s Will Jimeno. Aside from loosely recreating the  morning of September 11th, 2001, the bulk of Berloff’s script switches between McLoughlin and Jimeno, who become trapped under falling rubble as they help evacuate the twoers, and the frantic searches of their wives, played by Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal, respectively. “Their wives” sounds reductive, and it is, but not on my part. I’ve no doubt these two women were completely distraught over the safety and livelihood of their brave husbands. In real life. But perhaps Berloff should’ve considered a different focus for her script, as it affords the two actresses little to do short of playing feckless, apparent homemakers fawning over their significant others; they’re baby-ovens and laundry-folders who fail the Bechdel test right out of the gate.

World Trade Center Nicolas Cage

World Trade Center shifts between its characters through a disarming number of fades, and the effect is schizophrenic in that those fades constantly suggest significant lapses in time, even when Stone cross-cuts to a simultaneous event. It’s a technical piece of storytelling that seems trivial but makes a great difference when used so recklessly. Forget that Berloff doesn’t know how to balance anguished wives with Jimeno and McLoughlin’s survival dialogue; Stone makes things worse. As a word to the wise, shooting at a higher frame rate and cutting out non-diegetic sound do not automatically create great drama. The constant fades and grating slow-motion don’t add historical weight. They make a trudgingly-paced adaptation a nigh unbearable two hour movie. They make a not-so-compelling story unwieldy, like a raconteur on a Robitussin trip. Not that I’d know anything about that kind of thing.

World Trade Center also presents New York City’s middle class as an interior slice of suburban nobility and wisdom. Everyone knows everyone else, and they’re all united in their noble, wise middle-class-iness. When Marine Corps volunteers (including a then-unknown Michael Shannon)  discover McLoughlin and Jimeno beneath the tower debris,  McLoughlin is placed on an oxygen machine, and World Trade Center uses this as an opportunity for an overwrought conversation between Bello and Cage via unconscious dream sequence. It’s a heavy-handed chunk of Levittown-styled nuclear family schmoozing, and its aim is unclear aside from giving McLoughlin a “reason” to live. Again, Berloff is adapting a story about real people, so maybe McLoughlin really did argue with his imagined wife about redecorating the house. Maybe he really did live for civil service, for his family, for wantin to take his kid to see the Yankees whoop the A’s in the playoffs. I don’t know, and in terms of good filmmaking it doesn’t matter. It’s no excuse to tread water in a movie that probably never needed to get made in the first place — really par for the course on Oliver Stone’s filmography these days.

There’s little room for any character development here, as Berloff would have to cram several epiphanies inside a 24-hour story rooted in history and raw emotion. Luckily, Cage still finds ways to insert his crazy anyway. It’s tough to pin down exactly what he’s doing with his New York accent; sometimes it’s convincing, but more often that not it sits somewhere between extremes of “drunk New Jersey truck driver heckling Derek Jeter” and “standup comedian who’s never met a New Yorker doing his best approximation of a New Yorker.” Cage also scrounges up some anguished screams of torture. They’re  not on some serious Wicker Man levels, but it’s enough to remind you that Nicolas Cage once starred in a 9/11 drama. According to the occasionally unreliable iMDb “Trivia” section, Cage spent hours in a sensory-deprivation tank to prepare for the role’s claustrophobia. Please let that be true. 

There’s a few pretty, even haunting shots of New York City here, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is surprisingly competent in the nothing role she has here, but Stone tries to take his contemplative imagery and spread it out over a two hour runtime. On top of that, he gives Berloff’s adaptation more dramatic credit than it probably deserves. I’ve no doubt a better screenplay is probably somewhere inside the real accounts of John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, but it isn’t here.

Stray Observations:

  • Usually these pot-shots are reserved for those delinquent Clone Wars reviews, but what Stone and his production team envision as “Sheboygan, WI police officers” is laughably bad. Eager to to do their part in recovering from this American tragedy, a soggy patrolman mans a grill and extends a cooked sausage to a fellow first responder: “WANNA BRATT?” In Los Angeles, there is no “Minnesota” or “Illinois.” We’re all the same.
  • “I don’t think you guys realize this, but this country is now at war.” Michael Shannon, before shaving his head at the barber and suiting up.
  • Bello and Cage’s weird subconscious conversation: “You can’t leave yet, the kitchen isn’t even finished yet.” “Will you forget about the kitchen for a minute. I’m kinda stuck here.” “Well get unstuck, John.”

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My Buddy is a Cage – Wild At Heart (1990)

Nicolas Cage Laura Dern Wild at Heart sunset

Note: March is “Lynch Month” over at Sound on Sight, so if you don’t care about my ho-hum thoughts on The Straight Storyat least read the other great writing they’ve been putting out

David Lynch is a frustrating dude.

Take it from someone who took approximately 37 viewings before he could appreciate Mullholland Dr. Like Lynch’s masterpiece, Wild at Heart is filled with that trademark “WTF” factor. Lynch’s direction is hyper-stylized, demanding actors go from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds; emotions are stilted or melodramatic, and often in moments you wouldn’t expect.; the sound of a phone hitting the receiver booms like a dynamite explosion; a house band stops playing at the drop of a pin. Wild at Heart plays a lot like a fever dream, especially given those flourishes to what is a very simple story.

After brutally killing a man who attacked him, local ruffian and Elvis enthusiast Sailor (Nicolas Cage) gets locked up in the clink, much to the despair of his gangly, spirited lover Lula (Laura Dern). Lula’s mother, Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd, and Dern’s actual mother) wants Sailor to stay in jail or even better, stay dead — probably because of all that violent pointing Sailor does. So Marietta does what any supporting mother would and sends a motley crew of hired guns to take Sailor out. Not taking any chances, Sailor and Lula skip town for New Orleans, hoping to avoid the likes of private eye Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton), gangster Marcellus Santos (J.E. Freeman) and most feared of all, Willem Dafoe’s pencil mustache.

Much of Lynch’s Wild at Heart is really about how it’s telling itself rather than what it’s saying, and it often suffers from his insistence on personal touches. There’s no bigger giveaway than Lynch’s insistance on changing the original ending in Barry Gifford’s 1989 novel.  Sure, the Elvis homages add some “fuck you” bravado to road film escapism, and yes, the Wizard of Oz references allow for an clever inversion of Dorothy’s slipper-tapping in a story about leaving home. But so very little of it is needed, leaving the inessential bits — the hypersexualized one-off characters or a severe overuse of lipstick — to feel Lynch’s eccentric window dressing, not illuminating subtext.

Wild at Heart Glinda bubble ending

Then again, Wild at Heart offers some faceted dimensions of the interplay between violence and romance, a much more successful effort than the sophomoric likes of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. Dern and Cage share a raucous duality in their love-making, and really, their entire relationship les dangereux. Dern taps into that tension between sensual frailty and sexual empowerment. She’s precise with a simple brush of her curly mane or in the clenching of fingernails against a bed sheet. It’s no wonder that Dern and Lynch collaborated again following Blue Velvet. 

More so, Cage might be the perfect acting specimen for a Lynch film. His propensity for shifting from loud to soft, from tender to violent is on full displayThere’s an explosiveness to Cage’s Sailor, one that might feel campy in Vampire’s Kiss or overblown in Matchstick Men, but sits right at home with Lynch’s own bipolarity. Cage’s talents in Wild at Heart are never more perfectly on display than at a club, where Lula and Sailor celebrate the end of his sentence with the traditional speed metal concert. As the pair tear it up to the soulful screams of Powermad, a poor soul tries rubbing up against Lula. Sailor takes control. Then he takes the mic.

Like anything Cage commits to, he gives his 150% dedication to the moshing and fist pumping and a seething half-in, half-out Elvis drawl. It’s weird and garbled and oddly fantastic. Sailor is a ball of machismo and PCP, a Jailhouse Rock enthusiast who’s pretty damn strong on the mic when he needs to be. As I’ve written countless times before, under the proper directorial control, Cage can be cool and commanding, and that’s everything Lynch needs him to be here. The entire room stops in awe of Sailor, but part of that might be in awe of Cage’s talent.

It’s great setup for its actors, but Wild at Heart never excuses itself for why it wants to mash up speed metal with smalltown Americana, cerebral primalism with Glinda ex Machina. Lynch’s fatal flaw might be simply knowing when to get out of his own way. If only by comparison, as his lead actor has shown time and again, less is more.

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My Buddy is a Cage – Stolen (2012)

Nic Cage Stolen safe

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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