The Tao of Nicolas Cage: Despite All His ‘Rage’ He’s Still Just Nicolas Cage

It took longer than any of us expected, but Nicolas Cage did in fact make a movie called Rage. And yes, he does get angry.
By  · Published on July 29th, 2017

It took longer than any of us expected, but Nicolas Cage did in fact make a movie called Rage. And yes, he does get angry.

“I killed a man, when I was seventeen. Caitlin’s age. I got into a fight. Someone handed me a knife. Sometimes I dream about that night. In the dream I see myself, and I try to stop it, but I can’t. Then I wake up, and I wonder what would have happened, if no one handed me that knife. What my life, what our lives, might have been.”

Iit was only a matter of time before Nicolas Cage made a movie titled Rage. That time came about three years ago when he actually made a movie called Tokarev that was eventually re-titled as Rage. There are a lot of things about this movie that are not great — the title may be the not greatest.

Titling a movie Rage feels so lazy and generic. Action would be just as good of a title and Action would be a terrible title. There’s one scenario in which choosing Rage as a title works and that’s if the movie is off-the-wall bonkers in the vein of Crank. That would actually be pretty cool. Rage is not that.

In this movie Cage stars as Paul Maguire, an ex-con that turned his life around and became a respectable business man. Removed from his violent past, Paul now owns and operates a very successful construction business, has a beautiful wife (Rachel Nichols) and a smart teenage daughter (Aubrey Peeples). One evening Paul and his wife go out to dinner leaving his daughter home with two friends. The dinner is interrupted when a police detective (Danny Glover) brings Paul horrible news — his daughter has been kidnapped.

The theory is that someone from Paul’s shady past has resurfaced to get revenge. The problem is Paul left the game years ago, he’s gone clean. Detective Danny Glover tries to convince Paul to let the police handle this one but that won’t cut it. It’s time for Paul to get back into the game. He’s going to find the men that took his daughter and he’s going to murder them.

Eventually Paul’s daughter is discovered and it’s not good. She’s found dead in a pond and this pushes Paul over the edge. He teams up with a couple of old cronies and they begin to shakedown anyone they can think of. They soon discover that Paul’s daughter was killed with a Russian handgun — that’s where the film’s original title comes from — and so the natural conclusion is that the Russians are to blame. Paul starts killing Russians and kicks off a gang war.

I’m about to reveal a major spoiler in the film. If you’re upset with me spoiling a straight-to-video action movie that is now three years old I suggest you stop reading. Also that’s a weird thing to be upset about so why are you upset?

As it turns out the Russians didn’t kill Paul’s daughter. No enemy of his did. She was killed by accident by one of her friends and they staged it to look like a kidnapping. While Paul and his wife were out to dinner his daughter and friends got into his booze and guns. After screwing around she was accidentally shot in the head by one of Paul’s guns. It never clicked with Paul that the gun was his because when he was still in the game he preferred to use knives. As a result he knows very little about guns and when he learned the name of the gun he didn’t realize it was one he owned. No lie, that is the film’s twist.

Wait, what?

The basic premise in Rage is fine. Ex-killer’s daughter is kidnapped and he has to resort to his violent past to save her. Not the most original, but it works. I can and have been entertained by that story. I’m even down with the twist, but the execution here isn’t great. If you’re going to do this story with this twist that reveals the daughter died by accident and Paul forgot he had a gun then you have to do so in darkly humorous way. At the end of the day all the violence occurred for nothing. That should be funny in a weird Coen Brothers-esque way. It’s not.

Moving beyond the poorly executed twist we find a script that struggles with the details, most notably the dialogue. Cage, Glover and Peter Stormare — yes, Peter Stormare is in this as well — all have scenery chewing moments of meaty dialogue but it all feels like something from a first draft. Cage and Stormare have one scene together that should be great because it’s Cage and Stormare but I’ve already forgotten what they’ve talked about and I just watched this movie a few hours ago.

Despite the poor dialogue there is one amazing scene where Cage just loses it. At this point in the film things have gotten really out of hand and Paul takes it out on the screw-up of his group. The scene is embedded below and I highly suggest everyone bask in its glory. Two things to watch for — the way Cage says “head” early on and then when he goes nuts and starts screaming “Rat! Rat! Rat!” Ignore the overly dramatic music.

Rage isn’t all bad. The action sequences are handled well and with a bit of flare. This credit goes to director Paco Cabezas, who has proven over the years that he knows how to handle action. Cabezas is most known for his TV work, directing a number of episodes of shows like Penny Dreadful and Into the Badlands, but he also has a few features under his belt with his best being Neon Flesh. Neon Flesh is a wild Spanish action-comedy starring Mario Casas that put Cabezas on the map and actually caught the eye of Cage. Word on the street is that Cage liked Neon Flesh so much that he actively pushed for Cabezas to get American work and that’s how the two ended up doing Rage together.

Unfortunately Rage doesn’t take full advantage of Cabezas’ skillset. The action is good, but there isn’t nearly enough of it. How one makes a movie called Rage and doesn’t make it nonstop action is beyond me, but here we are. Another possible issue could be that Cabezas did not write the script like he did with Neon Flesh. Last week I talked about how we could get a Nic Cage renaissance if he started pairing up with the right young directors. Cabezas could be one of those directors, but I think he needs to be working with his own story and be allowed to fully spread his wings.

Rage isn’t terrible, but it’s pretty bland. It’s like cooking but failing to use salt. If chef Alex Guarnaschelli were to taste this she would lose her mind at the lack of flavor and immediately chop the contestant responsible for this plate. I’m a little nicer than Guaranschelli and I can see the potential between the Cage-Cabezas combo. I’m hopeful that the two get to work together again using a script of Cabezas own writing. If they don’t I may just react the way Cage does when he sees a Russian mobster.

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Chris Coffel is a contributor at Film School Rejects. He’s a connoisseur of Christmas horror, a Nic Cage fanatic, and bad at Rocket League. He can be found on Twitter here: @Chris_Coffel. (He/Him)