Director Werner Herzog’s career is a catalog of extremes, and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans fits in nicely. Shot in post-Katrina New Orleans (presumably so that Herzog could take advantage of an atmosphere of decay and wreckage that no production design could match), Bad Lieutenant stars Nicolas Cage as Terence McDonagh, a cop who injures his back and becomes addicted to drugs. But even before he became addicted he wasn’t a nice guy, and afterward he’s still capable of being honorable… or at least a smart cop. As his drug use and gambling spiral out of control, he doggedly pursues a drug dealer suspected of murdering a family. Anyone looking for a conventional thriller or police procedural will be baffled by Herzog’s unpredictable direction–the camera will suddenly linger on an alligator by the side of the road, for example–as well as Cage’s weird yet compelling performance, reminiscent of some of his early, off-putting acting in movies like Peggy Sue Got Married and Vampire’s Kiss. He seems disconnected from the rest of the movie (arguably like his drug-ridden character is disconnected from reality), yet perfectly in sync with Herzog’s off-kilter visions of iguanas and break-dancing souls. The tension that results between the realistic setting and Cage’s meta-performance will make some viewers recoil, but others will have a unique and possibly wrenching experience. Featuring an astonishing supporting cast, including Val Kilmer, Eva Mendes, Brad Dourif, Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge, and a wealth of other recognizable faces. –Bret Fetzer
Nicolas Cage stars in this largely unsatisfying science-fiction tale that begins as a taut and spooky story concerning psychic legacies and ends up falling back on Steven Spielberg’s old, cosmic playbook for default explanations about weird phenomena. Cage stars as astrophysicist and widower John Koestler, whose young son attends a school where a 50-year-old time capsule is dug up and opened. Koestler’s son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), is given an envelope from the capsule containing a sheet of paper inscribed with seemingly-random numbers. Koestler interprets groupings of the numbers as prophesies (made in 1959) of disasters leading up to a globally catastrophic event late in 2009. Moreover, some of the later tragedies involve him or members of his family, suggesting the paper was meant to fall into his and Caleb’s hands. That’s not the only freaky thing drawing father and son in a direction they really don’t want to go. Among other things, a quartet of mute strangers keeps showing up with a powerful interest in Caleb’s whereabouts, and the daughter and granddaughter of the little girl who originally scribbled those numbers in 1959 are under the shadow of a separate prediction of doom. Everything goes swimmingly until it’s time for director Alex Proyas (The Crow) to begin tying up all the strings, and cliches start falling like rain. On the plus side, Knowing includes a couple of breathtaking scenes of calamity, the most horrifying (and realistic) of which is a jet crash the likes of which has never been committed to film. –Tom Keogh
An adrenaline-charged action thriller, Lionsgate’s Bangkok Dangerous stars Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas, National Treasure) as “Joe,” an anonymous assassin takes an unexpected turn when he travels to Thailand to complete a series of contract killings. Joe (Nicolas Cage), a remorseless hitman, is in Bangkok to execute four enemies of a ruthless crime boss named Surat. He hires Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm), a street punk and pickpocket, to run errands for him with the intention of covering his tracks by killing him at the end of the assignment. Strangely, Joe, the ultimate lone wolf, finds himself mentoring the young man instead whilst simultaneously being drawn into a tentative romance with a local shop girl. As he falls further under the sway of Bangkok’s intoxicating beauty, Joe begins to question his isolated existence and let down his guard …just as Surat decides it’s time to clean house. Directors The Pang Brothers (The Eye) paint an explosive picture of the Bangkok underworld, illuminated with neon and saturated in violence. From a screenplay by Jason Richman, Bangkok Dangerous is based on the Pang Brothers’ wildly popular Hong Kong action film of the same name. Starring alongside Cage are Shahkrit Yamnarm (Belly of the Beast), Charlie Young (Seven Swords), Panward Hemmanee and Dom Hetrakul (Sniper 3). The film is produced by Jason Shuman, William Sherak, Nicolas Cage and Norm Golightly. Andrew Pfeffer, Derek Dauchy, Denis O’Sullivan and Ben Waisbren serve as the executive producers.
Like a Hardy Boys mystery on steroids, National Treasure offers popcorn thrills and enough boyish charm to overcome its rampant silliness. Although it was roundly criticized as a poor man’s rip-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Da Vinci Code, it’s entertaining on its own ludicrous terms, and Nicolas Cage proves once again that one actor’s infectious enthusiasm can compensate for a multitude of movie sins. The contrived plot involves Cage’s present-day quest for the ancient treasure of the Knights Templar, kept secret through the ages by Freemasons past and present. Finding the treasure requires the theft of the Declaration of Independence (there are crucial treasure clues on the back, of course!), so you can add “caper comedy” to this Jerry Bruckheimer production’s multi-genre appeal. Nobody will ever accuse director Jon Turtletaub of artistic ambition, but you’ve got to admit he serves up an enjoyable dose of PG-rated entertainment, full of musty clues, skeletons, deep tunnels, and harmless adventure in the old-school tradition. It’s a load of hokum, but it’s fun hokum, and that makes all the difference. –Jeff Shannon
Less engrossing than its 2004 predecessor National Treasure, Jon Turteltaub’s busy sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets is nevertheless a colorful and witty adventure, another race against overwhelming odds for the answer to a historical riddle. Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage), the treasure hunter who feverishly sought, in the first film, the whereabouts of a war chest hidden by America’s forefathers, is now charged with protecting family honor. When a rival (Ed Harris) offers alleged proof that Gates’ ancestor, Thomas Gates, was not a Civil War-era hero but a participant in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Ben and his father (Jon Voight) and crew (Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger) hopscotch through Paris, London, Washington DC, and South Dakota to gather evidence refuting the claim. The film is most fun when the hunt, as in National Treasure, squeezes Ben into such impossible situations as examining twin desks in the queen’s chambers in Buckingham Palace and the White House’s Oval Office, or kidnapping an American president (Bruce Greenwood) for a few minutes of frank talk. Helen Mirren, the previous year’s Oscar winner for Best Actress, wisely joins the cast of a likely hit film as Ben’s archaeologist mother, long-estranged from Voight’s character but as feisty as the rest of the family. Returning director Turteltaub takes excellent advantage of his colorful backdrops in European capitals and the always-eerie Mount Rushmore, and oversees some wildly imaginative sets for this dramedy’s feverish third act in an audacious and completely unexpected, legendary setting. If National Treasure: Book of Secrets doesn’t feel quite as crisp and unique as its predecessor, it is still ingenious and wry enough to laugh a bit at itself. –Tom Keogh
The weirdness of actor Nicolas Cage and the weirdness of science-fiction author Philip K. Dick seem like a natural fit. The premise, taken from a short story by Dick, is a good one: A mediocre Las Vegas magician named Chris Johnson (Cage) can see into the future–but only about two minutes at the most. Just enough to pull off his act and to make some money at the gambling tables, so long as he’s discreet. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been discreet enough; a government agent (Julianne Moore) has sussed out his precognitive talent and wants to use him to track down terrorists. But all Johnson cares about is a beautiful young woman (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist) that he can see in his future–much further in his future than he’s ever seen before. Next has flashes that point to a much, much better movie than it turned out to be. A sequence in which Johnson, clairvoyantly explores all the different permutations of how he might approach his mystery woman is both funny and thought-provoking, and when Johnson avoids pursuers by knowing just the right moment to turn a corner or duck his head, it’s smart and suspenseful. Unfortunately, the terrorist part of the plot is utterly perfunctory and precognition is reduced to an action movie gimmick. Somewhere in there is the kernel of a romantic comedy about precognition that’s just waiting to be made. Cage gives a solid if unsurprising performance, Moore is basically earning a paycheck, but Biel is unexpectedly good (and her part is considerably better-written than your usual romantic interest); her performance suggests a better future than anyone might have predicted. –Bret Fetzer
Once intended as a feature for Johnny Depp, the long-germinating feature film adaptation of Marvel Comics’ cult title Ghost Rider stars Nicolas Cage as motorcyclist Johnny Blaze, who transforms into a skull-faced angel of vengeance to battle the forces of evil. Though perhaps a bit too mature for the role, Cage brings a degree of humor to the outrageous proceedings; he’s well matched by the Easy Rider himself Peter Fonda, amusingly cast as Mephistopheles, the demon with whom Blaze strikes a bargain to save his father, and in turn, causes his transformation into Ghost Rider. Wes Bentley is also fine as Blackheart, the rebellious offspring of Mephistopheles, and Blazes’ chief opponent in the film. They’re joined by a solid supporting cast which includes Donal Logue, Eva Mendes, and Sam Elliott, but their participation and a relentless barrage of CGI effects can’t hide the fact that the story itself, though largely faithful to its comic origins, is rife with clichéd characterizations and glum B-movie dialogue. Fans of the venerable title may cry foul over this adaptation (as they did over helmer Mark Steven Johnson’s previous comic-to-movie feature, Daredevil), but less stringent viewers may enjoy the fiery visuals and Cage’s typically quirky performance. –Paul Gaita
The lethal business of arms dealers provides an electrifying context for the black-as-coal humor of Andrew Niccol’s Lord of War. Having proven his ingenuity as the writer of The Truman Show, and writer-director of Gattaca and the under-appreciated Simone, Niccol is clearly striving for Strangelovian relevance here as he chronicles the rise and inevitable fall of Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage), a Ukrainian immigrant to America who makes his fortune selling every kind of ordnance he can get his amoral hands on. With a trophy wife (Bridget Moynahan) who’s initially clueless about his hidden career, and a younger brother (Jared Leto) whose drug-addled sense of decency makes him an ill-chosen accomplice, Yuri traffics in death the way other salesman might push vacuum cleaners (he likes to say that alcohol and tobacco are deadlier products than his), but even he can’t deny the sheer ruthlessness of the Liberian dictator (a scene-stealing Eamonn Walker) who purchases Orlov’s “products” to expand his oppressive regime. Niccol’s themes are even bigger than Yuri’s arms deals, and he drives them home with a blunt-force lack of subtlety, but Cage gives the film the kind of insanely dark humor it needs to have. To understand this monster named Yuri, we have to see at least a glimpse of his humanity, which Cage provides as only he can. Otherwise, this epic tale of gunrunnng would be as morally unbearable as the black market trade it illuminates. –Jeff Shannon
Marking a welcome return to the breezy style of Thelma & Louise, Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men reminds us that the director of Gladiator is equally adept with quirky comedies and offbeat characters. Smoothly adapted from the novel by Eric Garcia and set amidst the sunlit, 1950s-style architecture of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, this gently dramatic comedy centers on Roy (Nicolas Cage), a divorcée whose career as a con artist is complicated by: (1) his ongoing struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder, which manifests itself through various quirks and rituals; (2) a wily partner (Sam Rockwell) whose criminal ambitions are greater than Roy suspects; and (3) the arrival of 14-year-old Angela (Alison Lohman), claiming to be the daughter he’s never known. Turns out she’s got a knack for dad’s profession, and that turns Matchstick Men into a multilayered comedy with unexpected twists and surprising revelations. To say more would spoil the fun; suffice it to say that Hans Zimmer’s playful score and a Sinatra-laced soundtrack are perfect complements to Cage’s engaging eccentricities. –Jeff Shannon
With this lavish follow-up to Shakespeare in Love, director John Madden proves himself a worthy craftsman of literary films, and while Captain Corelli’s Mandolin may frustrate admirers of Louis de Bernières’s densely detailed novel, it’s a tastefully old-fashioned adaptation, preserving the novel’s flavor while focusing on its love story set against the turbulence of World War II. Set on the Greek island of Cephallonia, the drama begins in 1940 with occupation by Italian troops, awkwardly allied with the Nazis and preferring hedonistic friendliness over military intimidation. That attitude is most generously embodied by Captain Corelli (Nicolas Cage), who is instantly drawn to the Greek beauty Pelagia (Penélope Cruz) despite her engagement to Mandras (Christian Bale), a resistance fighter whose absence leaves Pelagia needy for affection. Mandras’s eventual return–and the inevitable attack by German bombers and ground troops–threaten to stain this Greek-Italian romance with deeply tragic bloodshed.
Accompanied by pensive serenades from the captain’s cherished mandolin, the film charts the unlikely attraction of Corelli and Pelagia, whose wizened physician father (splendidly played by John Hurt) fears for the worst. Their love is uneasy (and Cage’s miscasting doesn’t help), but the island’s beguiling atmosphere is as seductive to them as it is to the viewer, thus making the outbreak of violence–and a climactic earthquake–jarringly traumatic. Emphasizing nobility in war and the many definitions of love, the story’s wartime context intensifies the film’s admirable depth of emotion. Faults will be found by anyone who’s looking for them, but Captain Corelli’s Mandolin remains a sensuous, richly layered film that die-hard romantics will find hard to resist. –Jeff Shannon