|INTERACTIVE (Rate the Review)|
Hollywood's Wild Talent
by Brian J. Robb
(In Paperback from Amazon)
A Nicolas Cage movie is a trip to parts unknown. That is, in the sense that the actor gets enough scripts thrown at him that he can afford to be adventurous in his selections. His credits are a testimony to works that set themselves apart for one cenceptual reason or another. We shouldn't be surprised, then, that he takes on a script by Jason Richman ("Swing Vote") based on the Thai original that brothers Danny and Oxide Pang made, with the same title, in 1999. The result of their directing this re-write and restaging with an American star is a torpid Cage hitman-action piece inoculated with an Asian strain.
The work of his hitman, Joe, is nothing new. His inner dialogue letting us in on his thoughts of quitting isn't new, either. The "rules" he lives by are also worked over theme material, and his conviction that he can "read" another person or danger lurking in an alleyway has been beat to death. In fact, the whole character is one we've seen as often as shady neighborhoods and sexy nightclub acts. But, there is one thing that could be called, "different."
Okay, so it's not remarkable, but since everything else about this thriller is standard fare in overfamiliar territory, it's worth noting.
Joe claims to be able to sense a person he can trust but he chooses a cheap street con named Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) to train as, first his bagman to pick up his pay after the fulfillment of a contract and, then, his sidekick. But why is this slacker/opportunist so trustworthy? You coulda' fooled me. Reminded me of president Bush telling the world about Putin's soul.
The hitman is getting restless because business is so good and unrelenting he's been unable to think of anything else--like a woman, for example. So, we know he's interested and aren't surprised when he falls like a schoolkid for deaf mute Fon (very pretty, camera loving, Hong Kong star Charlie Young), a drug store employee. Since she's got eyes for him from the first instant, as well, this turns into a altar-bound romance (until she finds out what he really does--in a stab at deep pathos to contrast against the routine betrayals and brutality on the employment front).
No argument about the exotic, steamy locales and nightclub acts, which provide gorgeous flesh and exotic staging arenas for the action, though cinematographer Cecha Srimantra's nighttime exteriors shows either limited craftsmanship or more limited time, budget and lighting equipment than a Cage film should demand. One near-disaster hitman episode turns into a motorboat/motorcycle action sequence in which Joe makes up for responding to a local distraction and nearly letting a target escape with his life. Big non-no.
Cage's page-boy turnout is too conspicuous to go unremarked. Could this hair choice have been a bow to Javier Bardem's killer in "No Country For Old Men?" It gives Cage a stalwart, architecturally handsome look in some angles, but the part, as written, is no Chigurh.
Young's deaf-mutism comes off as an excuse for an Asian actress who speaks no English. If this is so, it would have been a great deal more honest to use that rather than the mute ploy. On the other hand, if the part was originally conceived that way, I can't see that it adds much except the excuse not to have to write dialogue for Fon.
Formulaic and given to baffling character swings in our anti-hero, the missing ingredient is meat on the bones of the people, who remain skeletal thematic entities with little semblance to reality or fascination. Not a career buster--Cage is way beyond that concern--but not a Thai-tasty addition to the credit list. Still, action fans and, in particular, Cage action fans, won't want to miss it and, actually, shouldn't.
~~ Jules Brenner