March 5, 2011

Assessing the career of Nic Cage.

A few days ago, my friend Conor and I saw Drive Angry.

We didn't do it ironically. We weren't drunk or on drugs. We did it because, despite his many flaws, Nicolas Cage can be damn entertaining.

He can also be awful. I doubt he's ever turned a movie down, no matter how subpar the script or idea. For every fine film, there are a dozen Cage-starring disasters.

Yet there's something about him that keeps drawing me back. Sometimes, in fiascoes like The Wicker Man, his awfulness ends up being truly memorable. Anyone who watches Internet videos on a consistent basis will agree with me.

So how does Cage's scorecard play out? What's worth seeing, and what's an unmitigated disaster?

The good:
Adaptation. One of my all-time favorites, a wild Charlie Kaufman-penned movie about Charlie Kaufman writing the movie. Or something. Either way, Cage plays Kaufman and his fictional brother Donald, providing a great back-and-forth and some of my favorite quotes of all time. "Mom called it psychologically taut."

Leaving Las Vegas. His Oscar-winning role. Cage absolutely controls every second he's on screen, portraying the most endearingly outrageous drunk in cinematic history. This is Exhibit A for anyone that thinks Cage can't act. You just gotta find him meaty roles, point his craziness in the right direction and let him go wild.

The Weather Man. Maybe the most interesting "straight man" movie of Cage's career. He plays a disillusioned weatherman in Chicago with family issues and no real direction in life. His dad is famous author Michael Caine, and his son gets almost-molested by Gil Bellows. This should be revisited by critics and film fans alike, as most people weirdly passed it over upon release.

And then there's the Bruckheimer triology: The Rock, Con Air and Face/Off. All tremendous pieces of entertainment that, and this is the most important, are impeccably cast. Ed Harris, David Morse, John Cusack, John Malkovich, John Travolta. These aren't the first actors that come to mind when you think "action," but they help raise the material above your typical paint-by-numbers, shit-blowing-up type of movie.

The bad:
Next. National Treasure (I saw this in theaters, don't ask me why). National Treasure 2. Knowing (paid to see this, too). Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Snake Eyes. The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Season of the Witch.

Coincidentally (or not), most of his worst movies have come out in the last decade or so. Maybe he just wants to buy more castles. Or maybe he's enamored with the idea of "Nic Cage, action star." No matter the reason, mainstream film audiences these days are right to cringe a little when they hear the words "starring Nicolas Cage."

So what was Drive Angry, good or bad? Surprisingly, I didn't hate it. William Fichtner (of Heat and "the beginning of Dark Knight" fame) was terrific as the Devil's accountant, and the action was absurd enough to keep me interested. But it was way too long (104 minutes) and Cage gave an unfortunately straight-laced performance. If the star of Ghost Rider is gonna sign up to star in trash, he might as well go hog wild. But he instead re-adopted his "serious surly action hero" persona from Con Air, and that kept Drive Angry from becoming a true Cage masterpiece.

But no matter what kind of schlock Cage signs up for, I can't wait to see what awaits us down the line. The two-time Academy Award winner is one of the most enigmatic and interesting stars of the last 20 years; you never know what he's going to do next. And he's got some serious acting chops, whether young audiences know it or not. There's at least one more memorable portrayal left in him, but I guess I'd settle for another amazing Japanese commercial:

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