Skip to main content

Mate, I better get off the blower. The cabby’s about to throw a wobbly.

Stolen
(2012)

In which Nicolas Cage’s latest wig is unleashed on New Orleans. His syrup is certainly put through its paces this time, as our Nic has to do quite a lot of pegging it hither and thither. His daughter’s been stolen, you see, and he wants her back. Stolen by an ex-partner in crime (revealing that his ex-partner is not dead is not really a spoiler, as this fact is only a secret for about two minutes of screen time) with whom Nic stole $10m, and which Nic promptly caused to vanish (nothing as sleight of hand as Now You See Me, which is a small mercy), so leaving ex-partner a tad disgruntled. Thus, the title is highly descriptive and appropriate. It also sits comfortably with other succinctly named recent Cage (pretty much) straight-to-DVD fare like Trespass and Justice (the latter also set in Cage’s favourite city). Neither of those were particularly smart thrillers, but sat next to Stolen they take on hitherto unrecognised qualities. This is a particularly dumb movie, and it doesn’t even have the benefit of a crazy Cage performance to see it through. Lots of running, though, so requiring a firmly glued rug.


The first 20 minutes are reasonable, setting the scene for the main event.  A bank robbery goes wrong thanks to the dogged pursuit of Danny Huston’s FBI guy, and Cage’s Will Montgomery is banged up for the next eight years. The rest of the gang escape justice (including the sweetly pretty Malin Akermen and Lost’s not-at-all becoming M.C. Gainey), but Will is compelled to put a bullet in unhinged cohort Vincent’s leg. Vincent (Josh Lucas) has been Will’s accomplice for years, but it’s only now that it becomes obvious he’s a complete psycho? So Will has both the police and (the apparently dead) Vincent on his trail when he is released, after the disappearing loot.


David Guggenheim, writer of Safe House (which moved fast enough not to notice the script problems, I guess) wrote this sub-Ransom crap, which doesn’t have an ounce of logic or coherence. The sign of a good robbery/heist movie is how intricate, well conceived and staged the big steals are (take Heat, for example). Guggenheim has lifted a couple of ideas, but seemingly couldn’t be bothered to think them through. So there’s the old “it looks like the Feds are going to bust in on our protagonists but actually they’ve the wrong building” visual gag, but the geography and staging are so muddled it fails to carry as a “clever” twist. Likewise, Montgomery stealing a store of gold is… well, I see no reason to spoil it but it’s utterly absurd.


If director Simon West had approached Stolen with the tongue-in-cheek excess that washed over his previous collaboration with Cage, Con Air, this might just have worked. But truth be told, West did his level best to murder a witty script in that case and little he has done since show’s any indication of mastery of his chosen field. He’s perhaps a more coherent action director now, but it’s telling that he has found his niche directing B-movies with the Stat (The Mechanic remake might actually be the best thing he’s done in a decade, although that’s not saying much). I’m frankly stunned that, following his next Stat vehicle (a remake of an ‘80s William Goldman script that starred Burt Reynolds) he is making Tolkien & Lewis. This sounds tantamount to Roland Emmerich directing Anonymous (although that picture is actually quite good fun). Will the two authors have bare-chested fisticuffs in a forest at some point? Or try to stab each other in the eyes with fountain pens?


Race-against-time scripts often at least have the benefit of creating a natural inner tension, but West’s picture picks up only very sporadically. The occasional encounter with the cops dogging Will’s heels, a break-in at the FBI, Nic pulling some of his special fight moves. But it’s a movie that quickly becomes about diversion. Vincent kidnaps estranged daughter Alison (Sami Gayle), but the only thing on my mind was how Nic buying a plush Care Bear was a conscious nod-wink to Con Air’s bunny in the box (likewise, Cage gets in a de rigueur reference to his music tastes).


Mainly, though, it becomes about Lucas’ deranged performance. Somewhere along the road he lost any chance of making it as a leading man, probably around the time of Hulk. It’s that inherent shiftiness, most likely. It must chafe a bit that similarly cold-eyed killer type Jason Clarke is getting starring roles. Lucas knows that the only way to approach his one-legged, crazy-brained nutjob is to go bigger and bigger with each scene. And he is quite entertaining; God knows, the picture needs distractions. So when he kicks the living shit out of annoying Aussie tourist we’re almost on side with him. The climax, at a disused fairground, is the stuff of ‘80s Dolph Lundgren movies, as a waterlogged Lucas and Cage duke it out and the former, having been set alight and hit by a car, resorts to his best Creature from the Black Lagoon impression. Grarrr!


It’s all alright, however. Inevitably, this peril teaches Will’s daughter how much daddy means to her (shouldn’t it be the other way round, reconfirming what a monumental ass he is?) and sad-eyed Nic gets to play one last jape on the not-so-bad-really FBI guys. Lucas and an aggressively cheesy Mark Isham score aside, there isn’t enough to make this a so-bad-it’s-good latter-day Cage & the Tax Man effort; Trespass is much more fun in that regard. The poster is absolutely appalling too (below). This is the thing; I’m a (increasingly rare) fan of Cage’s but if he’s going to appear in consistent rubbish in order to pay the bills he could at least give us the satisfaction of deranged performances to make up for it. When he first started with his action hero reinvention he brought the same spark to them as he did his “serious” roles. Lately the only distinguishing feature of his performances has been his postiche rental.


**


That was worth five minutes in photoshop, now wasn't it?


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Who would want to be stuck in a dream for ten years?

Top 10 Films 2010-19
Now, you may glance down the following and blanche at its apparent Yankophile and populist tendencies. I wouldn’t seek to claim, however, that my tastes are particularly prone to treading on the coat tails of the highbrow. And there’s always the cahiers du cinema list if you want an appreciation of that ilk. As such, near misses for the decade, a decade that didn’t feature all that many features I’d rank as unqualified classics, included Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Tron: Legacy, The Tree of Life, The Guard and Edge of Tomorrow.

Don’t make me… hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m… hungry.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)
(SPOILERS) It’s fortunate the bookends of Marvel’s Phase One are so sturdy, as the intervening four movies simply aren’t that special. Mediocre might be too strong a word (although at least one qualifies for that status), but they amountto a series of at-best-serviceable vehicles for characters rendered on screen with varying degrees of nervousness and second guessing. They also underline that, through the choices of directors, no one was bigger than the franchise, and no one had more authority than supremo Kevin Feige. Which meant there was integrity of overall vision, but sometimes a paucity of it in cinematic terms. The Incredible Hulk arrived off the back of what many considered a creative failure and commercial disappointment from Ang Lee five years earlier yet managed on just about every level to prove itself Hulk’s inferior. A movie characterised by playing it safe, it’s now very much the unloved orphan of the MCU, with a lead actor recast and a main c…

The only things I care about in this goddamn life are me and my drums... and you.

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
(SPOILERS) The final entry in John Hughes’ teen cycle – after this he’d be away with the adults and moppets, and making an untold fortune from criminal slapstick – is also his most patently ridiculous, and I’m not forgetting Weird Science. Not because of its unconvincing class commentary, although that doesn’t help, but because only one of its teenage leads was under 25 when the movie came out, and none of them were Michael J Fox, 30-passing-for-15 types. That all counts towards its abundant charm, though; it’s almost as if Some Kind of Wonderful is intentionally coded towards the broader pool Hughes would subsequently plunge into (She’s Having a Baby was released the same year). Plus, its indie soundtrack is every bit as appealing as previous glories The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink.

Mention of the latter highlights Some Kind of Wonderful’s greatest boast; it’s a gender swapped Pretty in Pink, only this time Hughes (and his directing surrogate Howard…