Each month, our marathon man runs the cinematic equivalent of 26.2 miles. Pray for him.
this month: NICOLAS CAGE DTV MOVIES WORDS SIMON CROOK ILLUSTRATION PETER STRAIN
IT’S A TOUGH time to be a Nic Cage fan. After splurging his fortune on dinosaur skulls, shrunken pygmy heads and America’s most haunted house, Cage’s financial woes have resulted in a manic pile-up of DTV releases to pay off the debts — this year alone, Cage will blurt out seven movies. Question is, do the films match the talent? If the following marathon proves anything, Cage switches genres more times than most people change socks, swinging from horror to thriller, action to comedy, biopic to disaster flick.
Let’s start with a disaster. And boy, is it a disaster. USS Indianapolis: Men Of Courage (2016) subjects Cage to shipwrecks, sharks and Microsoft Paint-level CGI in a dramatisation of the World War II naval tragedy. Remember Quint’s Jaws monologue? There’s more tension in two syllables of Robert Shaw’s speech than two hours of this titanic misfire. Still, Cage puts on a brave face. Or at least a face. Cage is so inexpressive he looks like an Easter Island Statue contemplating a sudoku.
I’m hoping the worst is already over when along comes Left Behind (2014), an apocalyptic Godbuster depicting The Rapture as a spiritual alien abduction. While all non-christians are cursed, the blessed evaporate up to paradise, leaving a crumple of clothes where their bodies used to be, implying heaven is a giant nudist colony.
Cage’s Rayford Steele is piloting a passenger jet when salvation strikes, and spends most of his time in the cockpit, hiding from the rest of the movie. The unholy purgatory continues with Pay The
Ghost (2015), which sees Cage searching for his son after he’s snatched at a Hallowe’en carnival. Pestered by haunted scooters, CG vultures and
broken-plumbing sound design, the hunt leads him to a vengeful witch. Okay, so the final act plunges into a portal of stupid, but the 11 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes smacks of a critical pile-on: it’s an imperfectly enjoyable spook-’em-up.
Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog (2016) spent one lonely day in a London cinema before vaporising onto DVD, but I’m so burned out I stick it on in the hope it provides welcome quality. It does, just. After three earnest Nic performances, he finally unleashes the Hurricage as a coke-boggled ex-con leading a baby-napping heist. The lurid violence sees even the plot run off screaming, but the movie zaps with electric, amoral aggression.
The buzz doesn’t last. Tokarev (2014) is Cage’s entry in the Mad Dad genre and is clearly Taken the piss. Convinced his daughter’s been murdered by the Russian Mob, Nic puts on his Leather Action Jacket, flicks his Elvis hair and goes on the rampage with a jewel-encrusted knife. I’m still nursing a bruised nose after its face-palming final twist, but there’s a priceless moment when Cage asks what the kidnappers smell like. “Spicy food?” he screams. “TOO MUCH COLOGNE?”
The thing is with Cage, you’re always primed for that flash of fearless genius and it hits in
Army Of One (2016). Larry Charles’ biopic tells the ridiculous true story of Gary Faulkner, whose plan to kill Bin Laden involved hang-gliding from Israel into Pakistan armed with a samurai sword. Co-starring Russell Brand as God, the movie’s a mess, but Cage extracts at least five belly laughs from his berserk, helium-voiced take on Faulkner. It’s one of those performances no other A-lister would even think of — all strange honks, bum notes and squeaky highs, and annoyingly fabulous.
Tragically, the binge wheezes to a close with his latest, Inconceivable (2017) — a Nanny From Hell movie that pairs Cage with Gina Gershon as a married couple who unwisely hire Nicky Whelan as a surrogate mother. It’s tempting to retitle this mega-dirge Foetal Attraction but that implies excitement, and Inconceivable is a symphony of beige. I find myself fixating on the exotic geometry of Cage’s hairline, which seems to resemble the bat signal. Who knows? Maybe it’s a cryptic cry for help. I know how he feels.