9:45 A.M. - The Beginning
As Americans across the country celebrate Independence Day with a three-day weekend, barbeques, and watching the limited offerings at their local multiplexes, I decided to celebrate my freedom to watch four sub-par Nicolas Cage films on Netflix. I had not seen any of these films and they all belong to the forgettable 2007-2012 Cage period. So I figured, why not? Surprisingly, none of these films were really that bad. They certainly weren't great, but all of them were at least fun and showed that even in forgettable throwaways, Cage usually brings his A-game and acts his ass off in these films. I'll admit that watching so many of these back to back made them start to blend together, but that has less to do with them being similar than with them having mostly one word bland titles (seriously, Seeking Justice is the most uniquely named out of the bunch) and mostly being filmed in and around New Orleans. I will say that this experience brought up two things in me. Nicolas Cage is fun to watch in pretty much anything and damn it, do I miss New Orleans. So join me as I put my Cage-love to the test and try not to lose my sanity in the mucks of his paychecks.
10:00 A.M. - Next
The first film I watched was 2007's Next, the earliest and possibly most fun of all the films for the day. This might have to do with the Cage-fresh eyes I had going in, or with the fact that this was relatively early in the “Cage makes 5 of these films a year” period. Next is a dumb action movie loosely (and I mean VERY loosely) based on the Philip K. Dick novella “The Golden Man”. Cage stars as Cris Johnson, a sleazy Vegas magician that goes by the stage name Frank Cadillac (this would have been so much better if that was the character's real name and the title of the movie, just sayin'), who has the ability to see up to 2 minutes into his own future. This basically means he can redo events in his own life to get his intended outcome, like a more immediate Groundhog Day. These powers and their extent become really fucking hazy towards the end of the film, when the script and CGI budget call for their use, but Cage seems to be having fun in the role. A vague group of terrorists hijack a nuke to blow up a vague area of America for some vague reason, so an FBI agent (Julianne Moore) tries to use Cris to help stop their vague plans while Cris just wants to be left alone to slime his way into some woman's panties (Jessica Biel) for vague reasons having to do with his powers that make some vague kind of sense.
The biggest problem with this movie is Jessica Biel, not that she is bad in it, just that her character is completely unnecessary and unbelievable. She is there because for some reason Cris can see further ahead in time than his usual 2 minutes when she's around (kind of) and Cage needed a love interest young enough to be his daughter in the creepiest and most unrealistic of ways. They could have made it a little more interesting if she also had the same ability (or some other kind of special ability) to explain why he has a connection with her or to give her more to do in the plot, but no...just a love interest and damsel in distress for you, Ms. Biel. What would have made much more sense, tightened up the plot immensely, and put one of the best working actresses that happens to be in your movie to good use, would have been to beef up Julianne Moore's role as the FBI agent who believes in Cris' powers and wants to use them to her advantage. Not only would she have made way more suitable love interest (in both age and chemistry with Cage), but it actually could have made for a fun cat-and-mouse dynamic between the man with the future-seeing powers just trying to be left alone and the FBI agent that needs him for the government's use, but also respects and maybe even digs him a little bit. I'm just spit balling here, but Julianne Moore deserved more to do in this movie and having her and Cage play off of each other more was something this film desperately needed.
The other big problem with Next is the ridiculous amount of horrible CGI throughout the movie. I kept having to remind myself that this film was made in 2007 and had a budget of around 70 million dollars, because it's so easy to believe that it was made in 1998 for less than half of that (the sea monster in Deep Rising looked better than the big action pieces in this). The biggest action set piece revolves around Cage escaping from the FBI and the terrorists simultaneously by running down a mountain while a bunch of rocks and display train/wagon pieces careen down the mountain after them and holy shit...is it laughably bad. I'd say they should have done it in any other way to make it look better or create a more believable action scene, but honestly, it's the shit like this that makes this movie so enjoyable. This is what allowed me to accept the film as a big dumb action extravaganza or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the Cage. Next...
11:50 A.M. - Trespass
After a quick break to eat and collect my thoughts on the nonsense I just watched, I jumped ahead to 2011, where the next two films in my Cage-A-Thon live. After the silliness of Next, I decided to go with the (supposedly) more serious home invasion thriller Trespass. While this film turned out to be pretty dumb and ridiculous in its own right, this is the one that showed me how much Cage commits to the schlock he puts out. This may be a mediocre film, but the two Nics (Cage and Kidman) act the fuck out of these characters and lend some gravitas to a fairly by the numbers flick. I was surprised to find out this movie was directed by Joel Schumacher (8MM reunion party, y'all!) and compared to his other recent output, it's not that bad. The two Nics play a wealthy and unhappy married couple with a teenage daughter who hates them, because she's a teenager and wants to make bad decisions like going to a party with other shitty rich teenagers. When their daughter sneaks out of the house, a group of bad guys break in and take the couple hostage, trying to rob them of all the money and diamonds Cage keeps in his safe (he's a diamond dealer).
These events bring all of the family's secrets and problems to light (as well as the bad guys’ secrets and problems), turning it into a therapy session full of guns and beatings. While the performances are pretty good and the story is passable, all of the twists and turns are pretty bland and predictable. Cage is actually broke and has been hiding their financial dilemma from the family (only he actually has a huge stack of money hidden in the house), Kidman is an unhappy house wife who cheated with one of the bad guys when he installed their security system (only it turns out she didn't, I guess?), the bad guys are trying to get the money because they lost $180,000 worth of drugs fronted to them (only they were actually stolen by the boss that fronted them), and the main bad guy's brother is the one that sold them out and is there because he's mentally unstable and believes he and Kidman are in love (that part's actually true). Again, most of the plot is pretty boring, but the film shines when Cage and Kidman are being broken down by the bad guys and have to muster up the courage to fight back.
The film concludes with a bunch of mediocre action, a little poor CGI, and the family being reunited and happy. Trespass is fine, and certainly a better film overall than Next, but it seems to show that the main problem Cage faces in his career is finding material to match his talent and enthusiasm. He'll always show up and do his job and will go out of his way to work with lesser known directors and shoot films in places like New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama (that being my hometown, I appreciate it Cage). But he seems to get 20 scripts across his desk each year that are equally forgettable and interchangeable and says yes to most of them, because the dude likes to work and he has to pay for his castles and dinosaur skeletons somehow. That's the most frustrating thing, that most of these films could be something good and Cage tries his best, but the films hardly ever seem to be able to rise to the occasion. They don't live in the mighty house of Cage, they just trespass...
1:30 P.M. - Seeking Justice
Also from 2011 is Seeking Justice, or that awkward Cage film about rape revenge, yet another film with a great cast and a decent premise that shows off Cage's love for New Orleans, but becomes another by the numbers action film by the end. Cage plays high school teacher Will Gerard (not Will Montgomery...that's the next movie). Once again, Cage is paired with a female lead over a decade his junior with January Jones playing his wife Laura, who gets brutally raped right after establishing their happy marriage. In Will's rage (not to be confused with Rage, which I passed on rewatching for this), he is approached by Simon (Guy Pierce), who tells him he belongs to a secret group that kills the wicked when the law can't give justice. A couple of vending machine candy bars later, and the group murders Laura's attacker, with Will now owing them a favor in the future. Cut to 6 months later and the couple are still adjusting to life after the incident, with Laura living in constant fear and paranoia and Will with constant guilt and paranoia over his shady dealing. That's when Simon calls on that favor from Will, which starts with a couple of weird odd jobs and culminates in framing Will for the murder of a journalist that was going to expose them (though Will was there and DID lead to the journalist's death, even though it was an accident...kind of). Now this wimpy high school teacher has to clear his name and protect his family while finding out that seemingly everyone around him is a part of this super secretive group.
This film really has two things going for it in Guy Pierce being an excellent villain and the city of New Orleans being so damn photogenic. The idea of a secret group of vigilantes that take the law into their own hands and recruit favors from those they help (like a twisted version of The Shadow) is an interesting one, but is only explored as the usual “everyone's in on it” paranoia thriller seen again and again. Cage plays half meek teacher out of his element and half action star getting through every obstacle like it's nothing. It does contain some good set pieces, like using the Superdome and a mall abandoned after Hurricane Katrina in the finale, but the story is still filled with the usual plot twists and double-crosses that keep it from being anything memorable. This film is probably the most unique out of everything I watched today, but that isn't saying a whole lot and the only thing that keeps it separate in my mind from the others is that it's the one with two words in the title. At this point, I'm losing my enthusiasm about this project and just seeking justification...yeah, I know. Not my best.
3:30 P.M. - Stolen
I almost gave up and dropped this whole thing, but I decided to see it through to 2012's Stolen, an ex-con doing one last job movie that we've seen Cage and his interchangeable buddy John Travolta do so many times before. It's not bad really, it's just not that good either. This one leans most heavily on the New Orleans location, using Mardi Gras and a few super Cajun characters to make sure you know damn well how much Cage loves this fucking town (can't blame him). This is also the weirdest of all the Cage films I watched today, which is saying a lot. Cage stars as Will Montgomery, bank theif extraordinaire, whose team (Malin Akerman, Josh Lucas, and motherfucking M.C. Gainey) disbands after a job gone wrong and Will getting 8 years in jail. Upon getting released, Will just wants to reconnect with his teenage daughter, whose relationship has all the emotional impact of Getting Even With Dad (maybe not even that much). But guess what? Josh Lucas, thought to be dead for all of 5 minutes, is actually alive and out for revenge against Cage and wants his damn cut of the score from 8 years ago (which Cage burned in a fire to lessen his sentence). Now Cage has to run around New Orleans in as many parade scenes as you can handle, trying to find his daughter and avoid the hardened detective (Danny Huston) who is obsessed with catching him (but goddammit if he doesn't respect him).
Despite a pretty fun gold stealing “one last job” sequence towards the end of the film and the finale taking place at an abandoned amusement park (that sadly isn't utilized enough), Stolen is the film that most blends in with the others. I was about to start writing about a car chase in the film that I enjoyed, but realized that was actually from Seeking Justice. Oh yeah, in that one he almost jumps over some train tracks, but doesn't get there in time...and in Next, the same thing happens, but he sees into the future and speeds up enough to make the jump. There is also a car chase in this film...I think. Oh yeah, there's a brief one in the beginning that gets destructive as shit in a parking garage. Well, in this one, he has a teenage daughter he's trying to protect...wait, he also did in Trespass and if you weren't paying attention, you might think that about Jessica Biel in Next as well. Stolen does have the weirdest of all the villains in Josh Lucas, who is wearing one of the worst blond wigs committed to celluloid and has enough missing appendages to make the writer of The Fugitive blush. It also has the hilarious cliché of the detective obsessed with the bad guy with the heart of gold, played with just enough knowing homo-eroticism to make it kind of sweet. I could be losing my mind, but I think the film ends with a “good guy thief gets to keep some of the loot” scene set to a reggae song...and that's just fine with me.
5:15 P.M. - The Aftermath
My eyes and my brain hurt. How many times did I see Nicolas Cage running today? How many times did I see him wreck a car? How many times did I see him make goo-goo eyes at a woman that was born around the time he made his first film appearance? Too many to count. I saw him with glasses. I saw him with a goatee. I saw him with hair all manner of size and shape. I saw him play subtle. I saw him play bombastic. I saw him scream, and cry, and crack jokes with no emotion at all. But most of all, I saw what it means to be free, to throw up your hands and say, “Fuck being productive or interacting with the world around me, I'm going to spend the next 7 hours submerged in the murky waters of Nic Cage's resume!”. I was Seeking Justice for the shade thrown at such an interesting actor and his choices, never knowing what would come Next or how bad it would be. I started to think that my time was just being Stolen from me for no good reason, but it turns out the only thing these films were able to Trespass...was my heart. So what do I do now? Where do I go from here? Oh hey, Knowing is available on Amazon! I can toss another title joke into my closing statement! Happy Independence Cage everyone!