What exactly is Nicolas Cage? Is he an actor? Is he a meme? Is he a living breathing cartoon character?
Well, whatever he is, his career has been in the self-parody zone for at least a decade now. A zone where the performance is less important than Nicolas Cage’s presence; performing what the viewer believes to be Nicolas Cage – screaming, making strange faces, and dialing up the madness to eleven for the sake of potentially self-aware comedic action. The latest film in this genre is Nicholas Powell’s Primal, a movie which totally forgoes the suggestion that it is anything but Cage self-parody, making Snakes on a Plane look earnest in the process.
Primal follows Frank Walsh (Cage), a big game hunter who gathers wild animals for zoos. On his latest expedition, he finds a white jaguar that he plans to smuggle back. At the same time, a political assassin (Kevin Durand of Devil’s Knot) is caught by American forces and to be brought back to the US to face charges. For some reason, both are transported on the same shipping freighter with a bunch of animals, where the assassin escapes and releases the animals, setting up a dangerous situation for our hero. When the plot is this convoluted, you have to realize that the narrative will be thin on detail or nuance.
At first, it may seem that Powell is attempting to suggest a grand political statement about animal rights or armed forces – who knows. But, it is pretty obvious five minutes into Primal that the filmmaker’s real purpose is to tell a bonkers, brainless story and give the audience a fun escapist experience. This is where the film commits its biggest crime: it simply isn’t fun because it’s so boring. It seems that Powell thought that one unhinged Cage performance was enough to drive the film, so the director simply didn’t pay much attention to anything else. Durand and co-star Famke Janssen (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) do what they can with what little they are given, but neither are truly given a chance to shine.
In a world where unhinged Nicolas Cage performances are a dime a dozen, and appearing in much better films, this one becomes just another forgettable brick in the wall. My suggestion: save yourself 97 minutes and watch Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans instead.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam