Monday, May 10, 2010

The agony and the ecstasy of Nicolas Cage

PhotobucketI'm a big Nicolas Cage fan, which is incredibly uncool to admit.

At one point, circa 1995 or so, Cage was very cool indeed. But in the years since, he has signed his name to an awful lot of movies (Wikipedia lists a staggering 18 Cage-starring flicks since 2000), and an awful lot of those movies were, technically, not that good. But y'know what? Even in a bad movie, I like to watch Nic Cage do his thing. I am fascinated by him as an actor.

Cage at his best few will dispute -- Raising Arizona, Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off, Adaptation -- but even in pulpy trash like Snake Eyes or Next, I find enough Cage to amuse me. His face is not conventionally Hollywood handsome -- he's all bug-eyes, sharp angles and soft edges blurring together in a kind of intense, lean flame. Cage's very passion often gets him accused of overacting.

Somewhere around the silly good fun family action flick National Treasure-- which attempts to marry The Da Vinci Code with Raiders of the Lost Ark -- Cage went from hip to hambone in the eyes of many. Is it because he has a knack for picking rather bad scripts? (But then again, so do a lot of other actors.) Some people seem to take Cage's prolific acting personally, as if his every movie should be a Leaving Las Vegas rather than a Ghost Rider.

Photobucket But frankly, I just think Cage a rare animal among actors -- he's not afraid to embarrass himself. I know that sounds a strange quality but it's a rare one among big Hollywood actors -- the willingness to look a fool. (See "Wicker Man" clip below.) Cage is often teeth-gnashingly, manically over the top -- and hey, I'm entertained by that. I'd rather watch someone interesting like a Cage, a Sam Rockwell or a William H. Macy over a stiff and self-pleased Tom Cruise or WIll Smith sort any day.

The recent movie Knowing is not exactly a great film -- it's a tangled sort of horror story/alien abduction movie, which veers from bizarre to outright outrageous to strangely affecting. Yet, in its kitschy fashion, it's genuinely interesting, and as a professor and father who gradually becomes an apocalyptic conspiracy theorist, Cage is never less than sincere.

Last weekend I watched the hideously titled but quite good recent Werner Herzog film Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans. As an unspeakably corrupt, drug-addicted cop, Cage is sweating, hunchbacked and jittery, an ugly portrait of an ugly character -- and he's mesmerizing. Or take his fine turn in Kick Ass, as Big Daddy, where he combines bits of "Taxi Driver" DeNiro with Adam West's "Batman" to create some kind of twisted vigilante genius.

Is over-the-top automatically a flaw when considering an actor? I wouldn't mind if Cage did pick better scripts -- "Adaptation" and "Bad Lieutanant" stand up as far better films than most of his recent work -- but heck, I'll still watch him in in just about anything.

I leave with this gem of a montage from "The Wicker Man" 2006 remake -- not one of Cage's best by any standard, but as neat a concise summary of the bizarro Cage appeal as any clipfest. How can you not find the "Bees! Bees!" line entertaining? Thirty years from now when Cage gets that Lifetime Achievement Academy Award, I hope to God they play this as he walks to the stage.

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