So about 20 minutes into the really quite appalling Drive Angry last night, I was forced to consider just what on earth is going on with Nic Cage. A fairly prolific presence in Hollywood, Cage’s films seem as likely to be cinema success stories as they do straight-to-video discount bin leftovers.
A keen cinema goer might find themselves a fan of a certain actor, enough to perhaps take a punt on a film just for their presence in it. Would this even be possible with Cage? Although he probably has one of the most reliable types of film to appear in, with a high action movie bias, the swing in quality is galactic. Just a quick check of Cage’s recent woks cause much head scratching. For instance, he is at his wild-eyed, manic best in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant. Fuelled by cocktails of drugs and plunging deeper and deeper into spirals of insanity, it’s a role that was tailor made for Cage. Similarly, the ‘eccentric’ Big Daddy from Kick Ass allows Cage license to unleash the inner lunatic, as he coaches his sociopathic daughter to higher levels of violence in the name of justice and revenge.
However, efforts like Drive Angry, Season of the Witch and Bangkok Dangerous make that 1996 Best Actor Oscar all seem a long, long time ago. That’s a fact that gets forgotten. Cage has an acting pedigree beyond his rich Hollywood Coppola-dynasty lineage. Plaudits for Leaving Las Vegas aside, the likes of Raising Arizona, Red Rock West and Wild at Heart are all high-class cinema and all showed his range without the bat-shit lunacy that has become so much the signature of recent films.
They in turn ushered in the golden age of Nic Cage action classics. The Rock, while dominated by the charismatic screen presence of Connery, has a terrific cast of action stalwarts in which Cage formulates his oft used character of the reluctant action hero. More circumspect than the Hollywood norm, the slightly more cerebral kind of lead who still isn’t afraid of a scrap seems more accessible than the bullet proof, unflinching, stone eyed action-monger of, oh I don’t know why Jason Statham springs inevitably to mind. Reappearing in the car-porn celebration that is Gone in 60 Seconds, slightly second rate Indiana Jonesing of National Treasure and the in every way awful Next, it’s been a successful device Cage has made his own.
Con Air nearly fits the above mould, but is ruined by the ridiculous scene where he walks down Cyrus The Virus’ gun, and doesn’t even bat an eye as he shoots a lump out of his arm. Here Cage plays it straight in a plane full of crazies, Steve Buscemi taking the crazy cake with his turn as the Lecter-esque Garland Greene.Completing Cage’s 90’s triumvirate of action classics was the John Woo gun ballet of Face/Off, where Cage practically pops his eyeballs out of his own head in his efforts to take his gurning edge-of-reason nonsense to it’s uppermost limit. But then, how would you feel if John Travolta was wearing your face? Either way it was probably the performance that really earned Cage the reputation in the pubic conscience for some loving fan to create this fabulous montage of mental.
In the mix of styles are also Cage the sensitive, in the surprisingly touching The Weather Man, and further proof he can do powerful without the unhinged element in the excellent Lord of War. Littered amongst are a spattering of rote action flicks, some kids stories and even a few cartoon voice overs. Versatility is as much his signature as the apparent lack of control of his eyebrows.
So Nic Cage can clearly do the business in rolls of all shapes and sizes, so what is that makes him incapable of choosing wisely when those scripts land on the desk? Why for every soaring entertaining high is there a crushing, demand-the-2-hours-of-life-back low? Is it just the cash? There are obvious passion projects for a notorious comic book fan, Ghost Rider being the obvious, and most disappointing stand out. Is it for the hell of it? In Drive Angry, was it for a bet that went sour? He is a law unto himself, that remains fact. His films as entertaining as they are frustrating, hs presence as divisive as each person’s contact with his varied back catalogue. Doubtless though, he will remain a divisive an unpredictable element in Hollywoodland, and in a world so focused on ‘safe’ investments, a few more mavericks like him would do no harm at all.