When was the last time you saw a good movie starring Nicolas Cage? Not a so-bad-it’s-good movie, not a bad movie in which his crazy performance is enjoyable more as a meme-making machine then as anything else, but a genuinely good movie. It’s been a while, I’m guessing.
The Oscar-winning Californian actor, a nephew of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and an ex-husband of actress Patricia Arquette (he’s currently married for 12 years with a former waitress two decades younger than him), has long been gone from prestige flicks and auteur cinema.
Nowadays, he favors the quick money he makes from smaller productions, mostly playing weird characters included in an even weirder script, and not in a good way. With his Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation days behind him, Cage has become a parody of himself, a movie star that’s not exactly that and an off-putting performer whose strengths (most of all his unwavering commitment and intensity in every role) are almost never well-used by moviemakers.
Almost every movie in this list dates after 2010, and that’s a reflection of Cage’s declining taste in projects, or Hollywood’s declining interest in offering him good parts – you pick.
10. Seeking Justice (2011)
Directed by Roger Donaldson, the guy that made The Bank Job and No Way Out, and gifted with a crazy script including a deep-buried conspiracy funded in a sense of thwarted justice and vengeance, Seeking Justice had everything to be at least an agreeable thriller.
The studio’s decision to shelve it for years after it was made should have been a warning, though – included in the 2009 blacklist, the list of unproduced scripts better liked by Hollywood producers, Seeking Justice is the story of Will Gerard (Cage), a high school teacher whose wife was recently assaulted, and who’s approached by Simon (Guy Pearce), the creepy member of a shady organization who guarantees victims of violent crimes vengeance in trade for a favor to be collected in the future.
Joined by January Jones as his wife and Harold Perrineau, Jennifer Carpenter and Xander Berkeley as supporting players, Cage navigates a screenplay that tries to be a conspiracy thriller without a worthy conspiracy at the bottom of it. What’s worse,
Cage is not even given the best character in it, and ends up playing straight with his family man Will while Guy Pearce gets to have fun in the role of shaven-headed villain Simon. And of course we’re all for Guy Pearce getting to have a little bit of fun, but it’s still an even bigger disappointment when a typically bad Cage movie doesn’t even give him the meatier, crazier role.
9. Drive Angry (2011)
We’ll give Drive Angry this: it is not, by any means, boring. Rolling Stone’s reviewer Peter Travers said of the movie: “Patrick Lussier is listed as the director, though I saw no evidence of anyone in control”.
Less a film and more a vulgarity-fest of unnecessary gore, kitsch and nudity, Drive Angry is a midnight movie spun out of control, bringing the worst of stylized exploitation cinema to the 21st century. The true problem, though, is that director Lussier, of My Bloody Valentine fame, is no Robert Rodriguez, and instead of a good-spirited homage to trash filmmaking, this becomes just an appeal to the lowest instincts of macho spectators that doesn’t fly with anyone else.
Take a look at this plot summary: in Drive Angry, Nicolas Cage plays John Milton, a thoroughly bizarre middle-aged man who’s racing against the clock to save his infant granddaughter – the girl was kidnapped by Jonah King (Billy Burke), the leader of a satanic cult that killed Milton’s daughter in the process, and intends to sacrifice his granddaughter to the devil at the stroke of midnight.
Milton and the waitress he rescues from an abusive fiancée (Amber Heard) are pursued by an FBI agent that introduces himself as The Accountant (William Fichtner, because of course he’d be on this film). A mess of satanic symbolism, sex, violence and MTV-horror-movie imagery, Drive Angry won’t bore you, but it will leave you absolutely dismayed.
8. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
Well, since we’re talking about Nic Cage action movies gone awry, how about Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, a sequel to the already dreadful first movie based on the Marvel character that’s basically a motorcycle-riding demon with a flaming skull, chains and a leather jacket?
Trying to up the ante on the ridiculousness of the premise and the tone, Spirit of Vengeance looks and sounds like a hipster’s ideal of an ironic trash movie, a thoroughly cynical tongue-in-cheek parody of itself that could have worked, were it a little more sincere in its love for kitsch and uncompromised in the will to give directors Neveldine & Taylor, fresh from the Crank movies, their space to be subversive.
As it is, though, Spirit of Vengeance is a PG-13 movie that wastes Cage and Idris Elba’s will to give over-the-top performances to match the tone, boosts a few cool-looking chase scenes, but mostly goes about making juvenile in-jokes about the film’s own trashiness, and grows tiresome long before its 96-minute runtime. Made with less than US$60 million, the movie has bad special effects, and ends up a disappointment to both the character’s fans and newbies who had the misfortune to stumble upon it.
7. Tokarev (2014)
Tokarev’s alternate title, deemed more palatable to American audiences, was Rage. A number of critics by the time of its release had fun with that name, contrasting it to one of Cage’s numbest performances to date – New York Daily News’ Elizabeth Weitzman made the call: “He’s clearly just messing with us now. Who else would make a revenge thriller called rage and then sleepwalk his way through it?”
There are very few hints of that passion and commitment that make most Cage films awfully fun to watch here, as he goes up against Russian mobsters in a plot that wants to make valid points, but gets too caught up in the contrivances of the script to make them.
Cage is Paul Maguire, a reformed criminal and a businessman in the construction industry whose daughter is kidnapped while him and his wife (the much younger, as usual, Rachel Nichols) were on a dinner party. Later, the girl turns up dead, shot by what ballistics identify and a Russian model pistol, which makes Maguire remember his criminal past and his ties to the Russian mob.
Out for vengeance with his old crew, Maguire makes his way through a slew of badly directed action sequences orchestrated by Spanish director Paco Cabezas in his Hollywood debut, a filmmaker Cage was reportedly eager to work with since he loved his breakout film Neon Flesh.
6. Season of the Witch (2011)
Of all the preposterous roles Nicolas Cage took throughout his very colorful career, Crusade warrior Behmen in Season of the Witch amazingly manages to be the one you’d least imagine he would be fit for. And surprise surprise, he obviously isn’t, playing the protagonist’s angst and despair for all the lives he took while in the battlefield in sleepwalking mode, unable to chew the scenery as much as he’d like.
The same can be said about Ron Perlman’s sidekick Felson, going through the motions while craving for more and deeper material than he gets. And that’s just it: both Cage and Perlman can be great on occasion, but their knack for projects almost never helps.
Instead of them, the film’s only highlight is probably Claire Foy, an old favorite of British television who plays the unnamed character of the witch Behman and Felson have to escort through a dangerous forest to deliver to a monastery for exorcising.
The actress sneers and condescends her way out of a derogatory and ridiculous role, something that neither Cage nor Perlman are able to do. With a predictably misogynistic script by Threshold creator Bragi Schut and a frantic direction by Gone in Sixty Seconds’ Dominic Sena, Season of the Witch is not only offensive and backwards, it’s also kind of a bore.