Director: Paco Cabezas
Writer: Jim Agnew, Sean Keller
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Rachel Nichols, Peter Stormare, Danny Glover, Max Ryan, Michael McGrady, Judd Lormand, Max Fowler, Pasha D. Lychnikoff, Ron Goleman, Aubrey Peeples
Running Time: 92 min.
By Paul Bramhall
For several years now Nicolas Cage seems to have had a ‘say yes to everything’ policy in place when it comes to accepting movie roles. It’s a policy which has taken him to some odd places – in 2014 alone he starred in the cringe inducing Chinese period piece Outcast, the Christian propaganda movie Left Behind, straight to video thriller Dying of the Light, and last but not least, straight up revenge flick Rage.
Look up a one-line plot description for another of Cage’s straight to video thrillers, 2012’s Stolen, and it’ll read “A former thief frantically searches for his missing daughter, who has been kidnapped.” Basically the same description can be applied to Rage, only instead of a former thief, he’s a former gangster, now living a peaceful life with his wife and daughter while running a construction company. From the get go it becomes clear that Spanish director Paco Cabezas, here working on his first English language movie, is trying to go for a Taken vibe with Cage’s character. However with his super slicked back hair and leather jacket, Cage comes across as more of a Steven Segal clone than the killing machine that Liam Neeson so effectively portrayed.
To elaborate on the plot a little further, Cage and his wife have to attend a dinner one evening to help secure a construction deal. Leaving his 16 year old daughter at home hanging out with two of her guy friends, in the midst of the dinner he’s interrupted by the police. Immediately assuming they’re on his case due to his past misdemeanors, he attempts to get rid of them, only for them to drop the bombshell that they’re not there about him, they’re there about his daughter. Soon Cage is shaking down his daughters two guys friends to find out what happened, but apart from revealing that three masked men broke into the house and took her, they aren’t able to provide any other clues. That is until it’s revealed that a Tokarev pistol was involved in the abduction, which implies the Russian mafia was involved.
So, of course Cage does the only thing he can do, he rounds up his two best friends that also used to be gangsters, and proceeds to “do what he has to do” to find his daughter. What follows is probably supposed to be a taut thriller with Cage and co. navigating the Alabama underworld to get answers as to his daughter’s whereabouts, however thanks to an unbelievably clunky and awkward script, Rage frequently entertains for all the wrong reasons. Most of the entertainment comes from Cage himself. He’s always been an actor with a streak of extravagance, and in the right roles he’s a joy to behold. However most of those roles happened a long time ago, and recently his over the top histrionics are more a source of amusement than a legitimate expression of character.
Rage perhaps does more to cement the former opinion than any of his recent movies, as he takes the script and rampages through the 90 minute run time in a variety of laugh inducing scenes. Even the somber moments, such as when he asks for the help of his two friends, become bizarre exercises in acting, calling them over for an awkwardly filmed three-way man hug which brings new meaning to invading another’s personal space. For those looking to see Cage do what he does best though – lose it in a fit of hysterical screaming and yelling – Rage provides not one but two of these scenes, both of which I’d be willing to bet put to shame any comedy released in the same year. I’d also suggest on the strength of his performance here that Cage’s hair should almost have its own billing, as the various states of dishevelment it gets into during his mission for justice demonstrate more range than some of the actors.
Keeping with the theme of head scratching moments, Danny Glover turns up as a police lieutenant who delivers the news to Cage about his daughter. Glover knows about Cage’s criminal past, but trusts that he’s clean now, so basically just shows up now and again to dispense such pearls of wisdom as “Let us do this our way.” Of course, really Glover should have arrested Cage the minute bodies start piling up, but for reasons known only to the script writers, he doesn’t. In a scene which stretches the concept of disbelief like no other, Cage gets involved in a car chase with the police, during which one police car even goes up in a ball of flames, however at the end of it, Glover turns up and lets him go. I suspect the only reason Glover is in the movie at all is that he must have had a spare hour one quiet Saturday afternoon, so figured he might as well make himself some extra dollars.
The movie was scripted by James Agnew and Sean Keller, who between them have been responsible for the Wesley Snipes actioner Game of Death, Dario Argento’s misfire Giallo (most famous for the lawsuit that Adrien Brody successfully filed due to not being paid!), and TV monster movie Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep. Not exactly a top tier writing duo, and unfortunately it shows frequently. The script isn’t the only issue though, the production values themselves are also laced with technical errors. From the shadow of a boom mike following a character, to the crew being reflected in Cage’s sunglasses, to damaged cars arriving in the next scene without a scratch on them. Somehow though, rather than being infuriating, the clumsiness of everything only adds to the ‘so bad it’s good’ quality of proceedings.
Rage does do some things right. The head of the Russian mafia is played with effective menace by Pasha D. Lychnikoff, and it’s one of the few movies in which he actually gets a name rather than being the stock Russian character. (Look this guy up on IMDB – Russian FBI Agent in Miami Vice, Russian Man on Street in Cloverfield, Russian Soldier in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Russian Cabbie in A Good Day to Die Hard) The brief bursts of action are also entertainingly staged. Cage and co. raid both a gambling den and a drug dealer’s house over the course of the movie, and both scenes play out effectively with no CGI, with some nice falls from the stuntmen. The violence also shows imagination, from one character having a noose tied around their neck, and the other end tied to a breeze block, which is then thrown out of a several floors up window, to another character having their hand pinned to their back with a knife.
It has to also be noted that Rage ends with a twist that I didn’t see coming, and I’d say almost does enough to redeem a lot of the movies short comings. It shows that writers Agnew and Keller did actually have a solid story to be told, the issues come from their inability to create an engaging script to tell that story. That being said, the twist packs the punch it intends, and for that they should be given credit. In the closing line of the movie, Cage looks directly at the camera, and in what could well be a case of breaking the fourth wall, solemnly states, “I’m sorry I let you down.” Looking at the number of roles he’s going to be playing in the immediate future though, I think it’s safe to say he doesn’t mean it.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5.5/10