Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA, 2022. Lionsgate, Saturn Films. Screenplay by Tom Gormican, Kevin Etten. Cinematography by Nigel Bluck. Produced by Kristin Burr, Nicolas Cage, Michael Nilon, Kevin Turen. Music by Mark Isham. Production Design by Kevin Kavanaugh. Costume Design by Paco Delgado. Film Editing by Melissa Bretherton.
It’s been forty years since Nicolas Cage made his feature film debut in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, and he has been gifting the movie industry with nothing but gold ever since, a magnificent career of highs and super highs that has yielded hits (The Rock), bombs (take your pick), critical acclaim (Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation.) and derision (Not The Bees!), plus there was that unfortunate period when tax troubles forced him to say yes to just about every movie that seemed like it was a joke poster in The Last Action Hero.
For his fans, all his ventures have been a gift, and what sane person out there who says they love movies would dare to not be a fan of Nicolas Cage? The man gives a hundred percent every time he shows up on the set, and more when the camera is turned on, he is never less than fully committed and, more important, wholly sincere, sometimes to the point of achingly vulnerable in his sincerity (I LOST MY HAND!) and it’s not his fault if, sometimes, there are directors and scripts out there that have no idea how to handle it.
Cage’s blockbuster days comfortably behind him, he has of late been resurfacing in popularity as the star of some very beloved indie cult films (Mandy, Pig, etc), and it is this perpetual mode of survival that this very funny meta comedy pokes good-natured fun, while also showing the star off as a particularly good sport at sending up all aspects, good and bad, of his public persona. Playing a fictional version of himself, Cage is at the familiar point of despondency that is required of a hero about to go on a noble quest, his career is on the decline (he is rejected from a dream role by his Joe director David Gordon Green) and he doesn’t handle it well, getting drunk at his teenage daughter’s birthday party and furthering the divide between them.
Cage’s agent (Neil Patrick Harris) informs him that things aren’t good financially either, he owes a very big bill to the hotel he lives in but no film roles are coming along to help pay it off, but there is a lucrative gig that has fallen into his lap that will at least yield him some cash: a mysterious tycoon has invited him to party in Mallorca for a million dollars, all he has to do is show up, tell a few jokes over cocktails in his Ridiculous Cage mode, get the cheque and head home. At first reluctant but eventually realizing that he needs to improve his standing with his genuinely concerned ex-wife (Sharon Horgan, playing the first ex-wife in a man’s story of redemption who isn’t a stone-cold bitch), he agrees and flies to Spain where he lands in tropical waters and is escorted to a gorgeous compound.
The wealthy host turns out to be a very successful olive merchant who is also an obsessed Cage superfan, played by Pedro Pascal, who wants the star not only to chum around with him for a bit but also hopes he’ll read the screenplay he wrote and want to shepherd it into production. At the lowest point of hopelessness and ready to give up on acting altogether, Cage softens towards Pascal and appreciates both his adulation and his friendship, little knowing that federal agents are also on the island, played in inexplicably underwritten roles by the wasted talents of Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish. They approach our star and pressure him into helping them with their mission: Pascal, they tell him, is actually an internationally reviled arms dealer who they suspect has kidnapped the president of Catalonia’s daughter and is holding her somewhere on the compound, and he needs to help them rescue her.
The screenplay takes us on a tour through Cage’s diverse filmography and the plot follows in this vein, going from Spike Jonze to John Woo as what begins as a charming character comedy becomes, well, a Nicolas Cage action movie. Things heat up in the third act, violence bursts forth from the screen, twists and turns in loyalties and identities keep popping up and our star gets to be the Nicolas Cage of his own dreams (one of the film’s funniest conceits is to have a younger version of himself dressed like his Wild At Heart character communing—and making out–with him in his imagination).
Horgan gets in a few choice moments of her own, and a cameo by Demi Moore is a delightful surprise, and Cage is never hesitant to share the screen and enjoy the marvelous chemistry he and Pascal enjoy. It lacks the philosophical element that made JCVD a much better film in a similar vein, and it has to be said that the title is truly terrible, but there’s great pleasure in watching this film’s subject effortlessly navigate the pace of a cheeky but never smug plot.