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Nicolas Cage

“211” My rating: C

86 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“211” is less interesting as a film than as a commentary on the failing fortunes of Nicolas Cage.

In the last five years the Oscar winner (for 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas”) has starred in nearly 20 movies, only one of them (“Joe”) of more than passing interest. “211” is more of the same.

York Alec Shackleton’s action/crime drama is a mashup of “Die Hard” and “Dog Day Afternoon,” with Cage playing a beat cop (he’s about to turn in his retirement papers, of course) who finds himself in the middle of a bank robbery and hostage situation.

Curiously, Cage’s cop, Mike Chandler, is but one of a dozen characters of more or less equal importance.  Shackleton’s screenplay attempts to approach the situation from multiple perspectives.

Thus you’ve got Mike’s partner and son-in-law (Dwayne Cameron), as well as the black teen (Michael Rainey Jr.) who for disciplinary purposes has been required to do a police ride-along.  While pinned down the kid comes up with a MacGyver-ish way to communicate with the outside world.

Meanwhile his mother(Shari Watson),  the head of the hospital E.R., contends with a flood of casualties of the mayhem.

There’s also an Interpol cop (Sapir Azulay) who for months has been tracking the criminals, a band of former U.S. special forces soldiers turned murderously mercenary. These baddies are the least-developed of the characters, delivering curt orders in cliched militaryspeak.

“211” (police code for an armed robbery) has been competently made, with a couple of furious action sequences (and a disturbingly high civilian body count) but it really never adds up to much. Cage doesn’t embarrass himself here, but there’s only so much anyone could do with these cut-and-dried characters.

| Robert W. Butler

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Tye Sullivan, Nicolas Cage in "Joe"

Tye Sullivan, Nicolas Cage in “Joe”

“JOE” My rating: B (Now showing at the Leawood)

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Nicolas Cage has for so long seemed a parody of himself that it’s a minor shock to realize that an Oscar-winning actor still lurks beneath the scenery chewing.

As the title character of the rural-Texas drama “Joe,” Cage shows he’s still got it, delivering an indelible portrait of a small-town ex-con trying to get through life without falling back into the violence that almost ruined his life.

The bearded, laconic Joe contracts with a big lumber concern to scour company forest land, poisoning trees that are of no commercial value to make way for new seedlings. He has a crew of workers – unsophisticated, rural black men, mostly – with whom he does a neat balancing act, being both the man who writes the paychecks and just one of the guys.

Gary Hawkins’ screenplay (adapting Larry Brown’s novel) isn’t densely plotted. It’s more of an extended character study.

Joe lives outside town in a nondescript farmhouse. A pit bull on a chain lives beneath the porch. He tends to drink alone at the local bar. He’s hasn’t got a regular girl – although halfway through he allows a local gal to stay with him until her trouble at home blows over. He’s known by his first name at the seedy whorehouse outside town.

At the same time, Joe appears always ready to do a good deed for someone even more hapless at negotiating life than he is. He’s no Chamber of Commerce poster boy, but he tries to keep his nose clean and do right by others.

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