Netflix Nic: Part 2, Snake Eyes, Outcast, Left Behind

Netflix Nic 2In this, the second installment of my Netflix Nic series, where I watch some Nicolas Cage flicks on Netflix and report my findings, I bring to you a decent offering from the 90s; a surprising action/drama with Anakin Skywalker; and a movie in which the film stock should have been burned like at the end of Inglourious Basterds. Enjoy!

Snake Eyes

Snake Eyes 1Having just officially defeated the year 1997 with both Con-Air and Face/Off releasing in theaters, Cage’s next performance in Snake Eyes starts out as if he’s trying to do a Nicolas Cage impression after not sleeping for three days and taking a bottle of NoDoz. Unfortunately, that particular charm is thrown away fairly early on, but the movie stays interesting enough to not automatically warrant a full dismissal.

I guess it’s just hard to get behind a character in this situation when I can’t figure out his motivation. He’s clearly a lunatic, but also a corrupt one. Cage plays a cop who very obviously takes pleasure in doing whatever he can to skim from the top, and don’t let that throwaway line about never killing fool you. This guy would gladly look away from anything for a fat envelope in his pocket, and I refuse to buy his magical conscience growth.

The movie follows Cage’s character while he attends a big boxing event at a major sports arena. His good friend, played by Gary Sinise, is also there to head the security detail for some high-up politician in the seats. Cage, on the other hand, is there to do two things: place bets with literal blood money and watch some boxing. He doesn’t give a crap about the whodunit until some intangible line is crossed, at which point he remembers he’s a cop and becomes a moral agent with laser focus and a stubbornness not seen since the last time I refused to put down that half-pound bucket of cheese balls at Walgreens. It was delicious.

Once he’s on the case, his entertaining lunacy is replaced with the constant emotion of regret, which also comes with a near-permanent look of constipation and a tinge of worry. Even the fact he’s helping out the immaculate Carla Gugino doesn’t seem to really register until the last scene of the movie, where it forces them to kiss. Trust me, that’s a lame spoiler if there ever is one, and kissing Carla Gugino should never, ever seem forced.

Snake Eyes does do a decent amount of things right, such as having a cool atmosphere and some impressive camerawork. 1990s Gary Sinise could do no wrong, and De Palma knows a thing or two about thrillers. It’s still fun enough to watch the events unfold, even though it oddly gives up the ghost like halfway through. If it could only get a better handle on Cage’s character, I’d be able to recommend it without reservations. If you dig murder mysteries, have at it. Just remember you’re getting Cage turned up to 11 for two seconds before being dialed down to a two or three until the credits roll.

Outcast

Outcast 1I thought Outcast was going to be a Nicolas Cage movie, but as it turns out, he’s only in the first five minutes and the last thirty. You’d think he couldn’t tank a movie by himself with only half an hour to do it, but don’t bet against him in situations like this. His British accent alone would have lowered the bar too much to recover from if he was allowed to stick around the entire time.

Instead of Nicolas Cage, Outcast stars Hayden Christensen as an opium-filled, ex-Templar Knight on a journey to find his soul after murdering countless people in, what he thought was, the name of God. Cage plays his sort of older brother/mentor person who has no real purpose except to (I guess) give Christensen’s character some motivation and a place to hold down the fort when everything comes to a head. The story actually centers on a dynastic Eastern family, which I know, because the movie helpfully flashes “The Far East” across the screen one time. Sibling rivalry has brought about patricide and a forceful takeover of an imperial army, and Christensen unwittingly gets himself caught up in the drama after saving a princess and prince from capture and death. The fight itself is sweet, and I have to say, I think I would have liked the Star Wars prequels more if Hayden Christensen got peed on before every fight.

I’ll confess that I assumed this movie was going to be a big ol’ pile of cheese, but thanks to Cage only appearing in a small roll, the visual style and well-choreographed fights keep things moving along pretty well without distraction. When he does show up, though, he halts everything with his hellish accent and hairpiece. Why is a Templar Knight wearing (fake) hair like a samurai? Did they think the accent was too ridiculous without some kind of wardrobe to match? I’m not sure if they got that last question right or wrong, but I’m glad he’s absent from the entire middle section of Outcast, otherwise I’d still be laugh-crying at my monitor. There is absolutely no reason for Nicolas Cage to be in this movie. None whatsoever. Why does he scratch his beard with a snake that’s wrapped around his fist? I don’t know, but they might as well switch him out with Will Ferrell as Harry Caray and just let him loose. At least the accent would be better.

Outcast 4Hayden Christensen doesn’t sport an Academy-award-winning accent, either, but it’s more of a throwaway one as opposed to the worst thing my ears have ever heard (That’s Cage’s in case you’re wondering). I dig what he does with his character, though. He’s simply a man looking for any kind of redemption, and he finds it without anything feeling forced or silly. I thought the whole thing was going to be an exercise in being forced and silly, so if you thought the same after looking at Nicolas Cage with his second-worst haircut after Next and maybe that one about witches, take heart. It’s much better than it looks.

In fact, Outcast is a kick ass little movie if you can get around the bizarreness of Cage. You’ll have to suspend your disbelief when either Christensen or especially Cage take on dozens of men, but I’m used to that kind of thing by now. If it’s done well enough, it’s not a deal-breaker by any means, and Outcast does it well.

The story has been done before: White guy gets mixed up in craziness sometime during the 12th-19th century; is charged with protecting a pretty girl; kisses pretty girl while fighting a lot; saves the day in a foreign land; etc. But Outcast doesn’t overdo it and doesn’t overstay its welcome, either. At 98 minutes, Cage doesn’t get enough time to ruin everything, and I’d say to give this one a shot as long as you don’t actually want more of his character on-screen. If you do, you’re part of the world’s problems.

Left Behind

Left Behind 3If there was ever a movie that would benefit from a crazy Cage accent and getup, Left Behind is probably it. I think he read the scripts for both this and Outcast and mixed up how he wanted to play each character in his head, because he all but sleepwalks through the entire thing.

You might have heard of the Left Behind book series before, as it was quickly turned into a trifecta of terrible starring Kirk Cameron and the fakest Russian antichrist ever. But for all the things those movies get wrong (99% of everything), at least I understand what their message is. In the Cage remake, there’s no theology whatsoever, so you’re left with a mess of a story that never goes anywhere. The setup is bare-bones: Cage plays an airline pilot and family-ish man who has to come to terms with the fact that God has raptured all the true believers into heaven, while everyone else is left to fend for themselves in the aftermath.

That actually sounds way more exciting than what Left Behind delivers, so let’s calm down. What you end up getting the majority of the time is Cage sitting, blank-faced, in the cockpit while passengers bicker, fight, cry, and pray with each other in the cabin. Meanwhile, his daughter on the ground eventually realizes the same truth about the end of the world, and they race to reunite with each other.

Yawn.

At least the Kirk Cameron ones are about something. He globe-trots; he digs into conspiracies; he emotes(!). He doesn’t just sit in a chair with a mopey expression only to finally break down toward the end when it’s time to talk about God and stuff.

So, about God. Hilariously enough, Left Behind hardly seems to want the viewer to know anything about that. In a CliffNotes version of Biblical morals, the only tasty kernel the movie offers is by way of a repentant pastor, who says, “It’s not about what we do, it’s about asking for forgiveness…”. That’s all good, except it doesn’t explain why the Muslim guy wasn’t raptured away. He was all about praying to God and literally helping little old ladies, so what’s up with that? I’m pretty sure he’s the type to routinely ask for forgiveness, wouldn’t you think?

Left Behind 4I would, at any rate, and I also think I have more respect for the honesty of the originals, even if they’re much more bat-shit insane. The remake washes away any meaning behind its premise through the sin of omission, and believe me, the effects used late in the movie make me think it only sins because it wants to. Basically, it feels like a cash-grab by somebody. Who? I don’t know, but I’d be surprised if it was a hardcore Christian of any kind. These movies are typically made for less money, with less talent, and by people who know a hell of a lot more about reciting scripture than they do about making decent movies, and for good reason. The scripture is the important part. The movie simply functions as something to distract you while you’re fed your dose of the Holy Ghost, and the intended audience doesn’t really care. This version of Left Behind forgets the Holy Ghost and is content to offer you beer nuts and, like, a third of a Bible tract scribbled on a napkin instead.

And by upping the ante to the tune of four times the original’s budget (or $16 million), the intended audience has to grow proportionally, otherwise you’re asking for trouble. As it turns out, that $16 million budget only got them $19.6 million in revenue, along with a boring movie, so I’d like to take this opportunity to share this quote by one of the book series’ creators, Tim LaHaye:

My dream has always been to enter the movie theater with a first-class, high-quality movie that is grippingly interesting, but also is true to the biblical storyline—and that was diluted in the first attempt. But Lord willing, we are going to see this thing made into the movie that it should be, and that all the world sees it before the real Rapture comes.”

Lord willing.

If you can’t tell, I’m not impressed. I can’t even laugh along with the more Biblical stuff, because there isn’t any. Cage just woke up from a coma before fitting into his flight suit, and Lea Thompson is in two scenes before disappearing. Two scenes! It’s like when I saw Sigourney Weaver for half a second in Ridley Scott’s Exodus before she got edited into oblivion. Not cool.

Anyways, I sentence Left Behind to eternal damnation, where it will be shown on loop to those poor souls unlucky enough to have one of those personal hells that happen to deal with airports. I know, it’s specific and eccentric, but it’s still a valid and just punishment.

—George Bell

Read more from George Bell at Knights of Mars Roundtable

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