If, for whatever reason, you find yourself in an argument with someone who is desperately trying to convince you that Nicolas Cage has returned to form with his brilliant performance in David Gordon Green’s “Joe,” you’ll be able to shut them up thanks to Paco Cabezas. They can bring up all sorts of scenes as valid evidence of Cage’s buried talents, unearthed by his performance as Green’s titular protagonist, but you’ll only need one word for a comeback and it will be checkmate—“Rage.” If they know it, you’ll have won. If they don’t know it, they’re much more fortunate than you are. Yes, “Rage” is the latest addition to the Nicolas Cage portfolio, and it is such a horrendously abysmal picture that it manages to even stand out from the rest of his eccentric and, at times, god-awful choices.
The plot, which plays out as if scribbled on the back of a dirty napkin during a drunken stupor, deals with the disappearance of a child and her father’s search for justice. Paul Maguire (Cage) is doing everything he can to be an upstanding member of the community, a good husband to his young and beautiful wife Vanessa (Rachel Nichols), and most importantly a protective father to his 18-year-old daughter Caitlin (Aubrey Peeples). He still hangs out with his two best friends, Danny (Michael McGrady) and Kane (Max Ryan) at the latter’s bar, and reminisces about the good ol’ days when they used to get into trouble. This included one fateful night 20 years ago, when the three of them stole some money from a Russian mobster and ended up killing him. After spending the night with friends while Paul and Vanessa are out having dinner with someone important, there is a home invasion and Caitlin is kidnapped. Paul’s criminal past is immediately brought up by detective St. John (Danny Glover) but Paul tells him in no uncertain terms and that he’s “out of the game” now, and why would anyone want anything to do with him or hurt his daughter? And then, he remembers the Russians.
It becomes too obvious too quickly, and too painfully, that Paul will not be waiting around for the police to do their job. With the help of Danny and Kane, Paul starts to dig to try and find out what happened to Caitlin. At one point, Danny asks him “how deep do you want this to go?” and Paul answers with “How deep is hell?” We know the answer. It’s staring us right in the face because it’s the most unintentionally meta question the film asks. “Rage” is a movie that sails well beyond the so-bad-it’s-good level, somewhere around the point when Danny ties one end of a rope around an innocent girl’s neck, and a brick at the other end of it. He throws the brick out the window, shoots the rope after the girl almost suffocates, and later tells Kane how he couldn’t believe he got that rope—alluding to how old he’s become. It’s a scene that adds absolutely nothing to the plot, is filled with cringe-worthy dialogue, and acting so bad you can’t believe these guys are actually being serious. It’s also one example, from the many to come, of the transparent machismo and injected testosterone frothing from every frame, numbing this picture down to absurd levels of idiocy.
Nicolas Cage has become a walking, talking internet meme, so it’s hard for people to remember that he’s actually a good actor. This movie will remind them of the memes, not the talent. You’ll see him rage at the telephone while no one’s on the other end of the line, you’ll see his face contort to hilarious proportions as he screams the word “rat,” and you’ll see him kick ass with a knife because that’s his specialty. In one scene, he says “uh-huh” a few times in a row and, no joke, that’s the highlight of his performance because it’s the only moment that feels inspired and genuine. As for the rest of the cast; the less said, the better. Glover sleepwalks, McGrady proves that he’s better when motion captured for a video game (he played a role in Rockstar Games’ “L.A. Noire”), and Nichols is there to look pretty and have zero personality.
There is a slither of a silver lining when the twist near the end reveals a sober thought process in the screenplay, but it’s much too little and too late to save this catastrophe. Perhaps, this movie was made to be intentionally bad. The slow-motion gimmickry, overdramatized score, and presence of Nicolas Cage certainly make a strong case. And if that’s so, it’s a film intended to fail and should expect no other grade than the very worst. Tired, lazy, incongruous, shocking and hilarious in all the wrong places, “Rage” is destined for the graveyard television slot, squeezed between infomercials for mops. Perhaps there is a good drinking game in here somewhere (a shot for every time the camera swirls around Cage?), but as a movie, it redefines failure. [F]