Los Angeles Times

This film is Cage at his most Cage-y

- By Noel Murray

The prolific Japanese director Sion Sono has explored just about every genre imaginable over the last 20 years, including straightfo­rward drama. But he’s probably best-known among internatio­nal cinema buffs for his over-the-top cult films like “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” and “Tokyo Tribe,” which ping-pong between action, horror, comedy and art, aiming to overwhelm audiences with pure sensation.

Sono’s first English-language film, “Prisoners of the Ghostland” (written by Aaron Hendry and Rexa Sixo Safai), stars Nicolas Cage, who likewise has had a career ranging from forgettabl­e lowbudget trash to Oscar-winning hits. Cage though is perhaps most famous for giving gonzo, over-the-top performanc­es in collaborat­ion with weirdo auteurs like Sono.

This pairing of two movie mavericks is, predictabl­y, pretty wild. Cage plays a villain named Hero: an infamous crook captured by the Governor (Bill Moseley), the ruthless ruler of a town that’s part Old West outpost, part post-apocalypti­c red-light district. The Governor encases his prisoner in a leather suit, rigged with escape-proof explosives, and orders him to trek into a no-go zone known as “Ghostland” to retrieve one of his fugitive geisha girls, Bernice (Sofia Boutella).

The plot here is a bit of a mash-up of “Escape From New York,” “Mad Max,” and a dozen half-forgotten spaghetti westerns and samurai flicks. It’s primarily an excuse for Cage to experiment with offbeat line deliveries — his pronunciat­ion of “testicle” in one pivotal moment is peak Cage — while Sono and his crew fill in the background with freaky-looking characters, costumes and sets.

Anyone expecting more from “Prisoners of the Ghostland” is bound to be disappoint­ed. This is very much a “fans only” picture, aimed at anyone who enjoys spending time in the company of kooks like Cage and Sono. Even devotees of midnight movies may get a little worn out by the time this very slight story ends in yet another epic fight sequence, lit in garish neon.

There is a theme of sorts here, related to the difference­s between the Governor’s technologi­cally advanced, consumeris­t dystopia and the more mystical, handmade community of Ghostland — each of which is cruel and exploitati­ve in its own way, and each of which needs to be liberated.

At its best, the film eschews narrative and messaging in favor of tracking shots through surreal landscapes, sometimes populated by people dressed in suits made of old mannequin parts. “Prisoners of the Ghostland” is less a movie than an environmen­t — not always hospitable but distinctly bizarre.

 ?? Toshio Watanabe RLJE Films ?? NICOLAS CAGE plays a villain named Hero.
Toshio Watanabe RLJE Films NICOLAS CAGE plays a villain named Hero.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States