Cage puts on a familiar wig.
“Oh you think we’re even, you and I?”
2017 started out with a bit of a bang last Friday as Nicolas Cage had a new movie hit VOD platforms and limited theaters in the form of Arsenal. Given that I write about Cage on a weekly basis it made sense that I see this as soon as possible so last Friday I rented it via Amazon for a mere $5.99.
Arsenal is the story of two brothers that have taken very different paths in life. JP (Adrian Grenier), the younger of two brothers, runs a successful construction business and has settled down to start a family. Things haven’t gone quite as smoothly for older brother Mikey (Johnathon Schaech). No matter how hard he tries Mikey can’t quite seem to stay out of trouble. After a failed attempt at becoming a drug dealer, Mikey finds himself kidnapped by local crime boss Eddie King (Cage). King knows JP and Mikey are close and he knows JP has developed a small fortune so he decides to try and score some quick cash by holding Mikey was ransom.
If Arsenal were a house it would have great curb appeal. A fast that includes Cage, Schaech and Grenier is pretty solid. That grabs my attention. Even John Cusack pops in here and there. From the outside things look good.
You know how when you go to IKEA they have that as-is section up by the registers? Everything there is stuff that customers purchased, attempted to put together but couldn’t quite figure it out so they returned it. When you open the door to Arsenal you find out the contractors skimped out and decided to use those as-is materials on the interior of the house.
There’s a great foundation in place. The basic plot outline should work for an entertaining and engaging action-thriller. Once you dive into the finer details things start to get clunky. The script was written by first-time writer Jason Mosberg and it’s quite evident that he’s a first-time writer. It almost feels like the movie was shot using the first draft.
The dialogue in particular needed some major tweaking. I either want dialogue that reads very naturally or is so over-the-top that you get crazy, quote-worthy lines. The dialogue in Arsenal feels like it was written in as a place holder with plans to punch it up later with something better but that later never happened.
The characters don’t feel fully developed. Cusack’s character for example serves no real purpose. We know he’s an undercover cop of sorts but we have no clue what he’s doing. And as far as Cusack the actor goes, well he appears to just be going through the motions. Grenier gives a valiant effort with JP but he doesn’t have a lot to work with. Yes, JP cares about his brother and wants to save him but he’s kind of boring.
The most interesting character and performance (not counting Cage) belongs to Schaech. Schaech’s Mikey is a good-hearted screwup. He wants so badly to do what is best but continues to wind up in awful situations. Mikey is without a doubt the most layered character, but even with him they miss a huge opportunity. At one point in the film it’s suggested that Mikey could be working with King to set his brother up. Going that route would have been things a lot more interesting.
The film is helmed by Steven C. Miller, a director who has built himself a bit of a reputation with the direct-to-video market. Over the years I think Miller has grown and gotten better as a director. Just last year he released the highly entertaining Marauders, which starred both Grenier and Schaech. He handles Arsenal ok. Miller relies on slow motion way too much to give the film some style. I would have been ok with losing about two thirds of the slow motion shots. There are a handful of action scenes that are pretty cool and pretty violent but they suffer at times from too many digital blood sprays. And there’s just not enough of them. Them being action sequences, not digital blood.
And finally we have Cage, the reason we are all here. As it was discussed here and many other places, Cage is portraying a character that is inspired by a previous role he had in Deadfall. It’s important to note that this isn’t a sequel to Deadfall and he’s not the same character, despite looking the same and also being named Eddie. Personally I think it would have been a lot cooler if Cage was playing the same character and they gave a crazy explanation as to why he survived having his face shoved in a deep fryer, but hey, that’s just me.
Cage sports a ridiculously obvious wig, even for Cage, and an equally hilarious stache to go along with some interesting outfit choices. He talks using an accent (I guess?) that makes him hard to understand but that hardly matters. We don’t always need to know what words Cage is saying to be entertained. And boy are we entertained! When Cage is onscreen all is forgiven. The film’s flaws and mistakes matter not to me because I get to see Cage Cage-ing the place up!
Oh and Cage has a fake nose. An incredible fake nose that looks like he just slapped silly putty on his face.
What I love about Cage in this movie is that he knows how bonkers everything is. He knows how silly he looks. He knows you can barely understand a word he says. He knows that he’s calling back to one of the craziest, most absurd performance anyone has ever given. Cage is basically throwing a loving nod at the internet culture that has become obsessed with him. Cage is giving the internet what the internet wants. It’s a weirdly meta performance.
Over the years I’ve argued against that internet love Cage receives. I don’t like people liking him ironically. I find it to be stupid because he’s a great actor and we should appreciate him as such. I’ve made it clear that I don’t think everything Cage does works, but I believe he always gives 110% to every role he takes on and always tries to do something good and interesting. He doesn’t always deliver on the good, but never fails to be interesting.
With Arsenal I think Cage knows this isn’t exactly what anyone would call good but it’s his way of showing he gets the joke. Or maybe I’m giving him way too much credit and this is just another attempt that went south. Either way I think you should watch Arsenal even though you probably won’t like it. Why? Because I like you and also because it’s got some Rage Cage and who doesn’t love Rage Cage?