Nic Cage’s latest is yet another film which has been released simultaneously on VOD to stop riots in Cineworld foyers around the world when it inevitably sells out. Dying of the Light seeks to answer an important philosophical question: how bad does a film have to be for even Nic Cage to disown it? Its troubled gestation saw director Paul Schrader and the headline cast refuse to promote it in protest at pesky studio meddling.
Cage plays CIA special ops maestro turned desk jockey and ace after dinner speaker Evan Lake. “People think we’re all backstabbers watching porn and tapping phones!!” he booms at a nonplussed room of new recruits. He’s no Peter Ustinov, and the toastmaster makes a mental note to book Sir Steve Redgrave instead for his next motivational talk.
Lake isn’t happily coasting to retirement though – he wishes he was still out there in the field. The past haunts him like bad reviews haunt Gerard Butler and he can’t expunge the memory of the one who got away: terrorist Mohammad Banir. Or ‘tourist’ as Nic insists on pronouncing it in his ongoing War On Enunciation.
Lake thinks Banir escaped in an operation that went south 20 years ago, because although presumed dead ‘the corpse didn’t have a head’ (and there’s obviously no other way to I.D. a body). The trauma of that day left him with a Holyfield ear and turned his hair whiter than the crowd at a Belle and Sebastian gig, and things only get worse when his GP informs him he’s now facing his toughest foe yet: DEMENTIA.
“You will be subject to overreactions, inappropriate reactions and blank spells” advises Dr Spaceman.
“But that’s enough about my acting style, what are the symptoms of the illness?” deadpans Nic. Laughter really is the best medicine.
Word gets back to Lake that Banir is alive but no so well in Mombasa, as he’s suffering from a life-ending hereditary anaemic condition and being treated by a Romanian quack. He wants to go out there and finish what he started, but after some semi-incomprehensible trash talking with the crusty old head of the CIA – “You have your head so far up Obama’s ass you can’t see anything except shit” – he’s off the force and he’s gone rogue. Of course he has.
What follows is a fairly low stakes game of trans-continental cat and mouse as a terminally ill man tracks his terminally ill enemy across the globe. Nic employs undercover chops not seen since Team America as dons a fake beard, glasses and an Aleksandr Meercat accent to confront his nemesis for a final, wheezing, tedious philosophical face-off.
“The only hope for Islam now is social justice. Have you read any of my work? I publish sometimes on the internet.”
“A social justice blog?? I’m terminally ill, not suicidal” Nic replies.
Unsurprisingly the film is a shambles, but its hard to ascertain how much of that is down to post production fiddling. Cage films are rarely without weird tonal shifts, and Shrader’s directorial career has been fairly scattergun – from the creepy as fuck Auto Focus, via having his Exorcist prequel shitcanned, and casting sex bore posterboy James Deen in the near universally derided The Canyons.
Sometimes it threatens to be a meditative character study, pondering on mortality and revenge, before taking a hard right into reactionary politics and B movie ultraviolence. And what looks like being a thoughtful, ambiguous ending is quickly sacked off in favour of Nic sporting a collarless leather jacket for a generic shootout.
Cage’s performance, whilst intensely watchable, is all over the place, though it’s good to see he’s read Russell Crowe’s memo and is acting his age for once. Never knowingly underplaying it, he’s a mess of nervous tics, incongruous booming laughter, with the odd contemplative moment thrown in. Seriously, this performance has more layers than a Taste The Difference lasagne.
As a film it sums up Nic’s metier in microcosm: decent ideas, moments of promise, and genuine talent turded up the wall. His career still seems to be stuck in the nosedive it went into in Left Behind, and his next film is going to have to do something pretty special to arrest that decline. Next on his roster is Outcast, in which he plays a samurai with a topknot, an indeterminate accent, and a lazy eye. SHIT.