Wild at Heart, Raising Arizona, Birdy... these are films that come to mind when I think back to when Nicolas Cage was good. Maybe it all started with Captain Corelli's Mandolin. That's when I realized that maybe Cage wasn't cut out for "mood pieces." Now all he does are somber monotone performances in flicks that put me in a bad mood.
Sure he's had some money problems, but when you're one of the biggest box office stars, why make crap after crap after crap? Now, strictly appearing in "paycheck movies" there seems to always be a Nicolas Cage film happening somewhere. There's always one in theaters, on cable, coming soon on DVD, being shot right now or in post-production. Leaving Las Vegas gave him a well-deserved Academy Award, but after that, the only movies that come to mind nearing redemption are Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation and (just barely) Matchstick Men. There's always an actor who works too hard, like Michael Caine or Samuel L Jackson. They are bound to show up in a bad movie once in a while. With Cage, they're all bad. But in Caine and Jackson's case, you can see the glint in their eyes, an acknowledgement that, "Yes, I am doing schlock." With Cage, the eyes have gone dead.
Which brings me to Drive Angry, which is actually pretty good. Everyone (Billy Burke, William Fichtner and Amber Heard) is having a field day hamming it up and being super cartooney - everyone but Cage. His take on the somber monotone serious dude does not jibe with the rest of the movie. If the filmmakers had chosen anyone else (with the exception of Justin Timberlake) this would have been a four-star movie. Over the top action, titillating gore, violence, sex, nudity and one scene that incorporates intercourse and gunplay at the same time... very original and very funny.
Director Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine) has taken all the things I've been bitching about that was wrong with 3D and made them inventive, imaginative and visually stunning. Everything flies at you: bullets, axes, car parts, body parts, flames, blood. You name it, it whizzes right at you. There's one scene in particular that is true genius. It involves a bullet hole in a windshield, the reflection of the moon and Cage's glaring face all rolled up in a dream sequence - pure brilliance. And, like My Bloody Valentine, when you're in the diner, you feel like you're in the freaking diner. Angry is a painstakingly hilarious cheesy homage to '70s movies, complete with muscle cars and a satanic cult. The throwaway plot is beyond stupid, but that's what makes it so much fun. And it would be an all-out blast if buzz-kill Cage weren't in it, sauntering around striking poses and acting like, well, Nick Cage.
I have gone on record saying that every movie I see Cage in is just more proof that it's virtually impossible for him to act anymore. My theory as to why/how Cage turned bad is that he goes into certain contraptions before going in front of a camera. One is a "personality extractor" that leaves him befuddled and forlorn. Another device is a "charisma vacuum" that sucks the life out of any feeling he might emote. Last is a "laser-beam talent eradicator." One theory I have is that, like Samson, he lost his power when he lost his hair, or hairline. Now relying on insanely weird hair hats, he pushes onward.
In the last couple of years, we've been treated or devastated by Cage's long list of films, not to mention the hideous acting. Long ago, his wacky hangdog spiel and weird take on things worked (Peggy Sue Got Married or Vampire's Kiss), but now Cage churns out B-movie disasters like Bangkok Dangerous, Season of the Witch, two National Treasure movies, Knowing, The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider and Next - the last being possibly the worst movie ever made with his performance ranking as the worst of all time.
That said, if you like over-the-top action films, go see Drive Angry; Cage cannot single handedly destroy a movie this good, try as he might.
Starring Nicolas Cage, William Fichtner, Amber Heard,
Directed by Patrick Lussier