Arsenal Wastes a Perfectly Nutty Nicolas Cage on Weak Drama and Weaker Action
And no, it’s not a sequel to 1993’s Deadfall.
Every movie is a crap shoot until you see it, but direct to video (DTV) titles typically have the odds stacked a bit higher against them. Lower budgets, a lack of recognizable faces, and the hard truth that a film couldn’t secure a theatrical release don’t often bode well. Director Steven C. Miller knows the game well, and across eight features (plus one TV movie) he’s built a reputation for delivering a consistent level of DTV thrills. Some fall below the median – sorry Submerged – while others raise the DTV bar in their respective genres (Silent Night, Marauders).
Miller’s latest, Arsenal, teases something more akin to the latter thanks to a game cast, but as the minutes tick by it sinks deeper and deeper below average.
JP (Adrian Grenier) runs a small but successful company and has a loving wife and newborn child, but there’s a dark spot in his life in the form of his older brother, Mikey (Johnathon Schaech). A divorced war vet, Mikey’s a troubled man, and his latest scheme – attempting to get into the drug dealing business only to have his recently bought stash stolen – lands him in a bigger world of hurt with a local gangster, Eddie (Nicolas Cage). Toss in the brothers’ friend, a cop turned Steven Seagal-impersonator named Sal (John Cusack), and you have the makings of a potentially fun slice of DTV action.
Unfortunately, that fun is short-lived.
The drama never lands as the script and characters fail to convince us of their importance, and the action scenes are muted by tightly-cropped shots and the world’s most egregious use of slow-motion outside of a Zack Snyder movie. Miller goes to the slow-mo well repeatedly (I counted more than a dozen instances) including one shot of Grenier walking in a door – the feeling that it goes on forever is encouraged by the odd choice to shoot it head on meaning his already slowed motion appears even more minimal. Miller wants to have some fun with the final shootout – we get a nice, splattery shotgun blast to a head – but slow-motion bullets, CG blood, and childish sound design choices deflate the tension and cool-factor.
Jason Mosberg’s script creates a small world, but instead of working to build feelings of claustrophobia or a tight community it instead lends a feeling of a cheap lack of consequence. His dialogue fares no better – “It’s my turn to protect you big bro.” Ugh.
Grenier is the lead here, but while he’s shown he has the chops to succeed with the right material (the recent Trash Fire is a fucked up delight) he’s stuck as a pocket of dullness here. He’s outshined by the presence of the three other familiar faces, but even there it’s due more to their mere presence than their actual characters/performances. Cusack is simply reciting lines – it’s clear he once again brought his own wardrobe – for his fifteen minutes or so of screen time, while Schaech shows promise as a troubled guy who can’t stop digging a deeper hole for himself. Miller’s far better Marauders gives both Schaech and Grenier more interesting characters and more room to play them, but here they’re stuck with overly serious characters lacking in personality.
And then there’s Cage. Not even sunglasses, a wig, and a fake nose can cover his nutty charm when he turns the dial to eleven, and he does so here every chance he gets. His character and look are a nod to Christopher Coppola’s 1993 thriller, Deadfall, an effort enhanced by a brief cameo from Coppola as well. Cage is mesmerizing whether he’s talking, sobbing, hissing, or ranting – his War of the Gargantuas reference is especially endearing – but it’s minor entertainment in the end.
Arsenal offers up some minor Cage-fueled laughs, but as an action movie it’s firing blanks. Skip it and go rent Marauders instead.