STARRING NICOLAS CAGE, JULIANNE MOORE, JESSICA BIEL, TONY KITTEN AND MICHAEL TRUCO. DIRECTED BY LEE TAMAHORI. RELEASED BY PARAMOUNT. RATED PG-13; 1:36
Can anyone answer the question, “Why is Nicolas Cage a big star?” Can anyone answer the question, “Why, if one dislikes Cage’s movies so much, does one continue to review them?”
The first answer: the 1995 masterpiece “Leaving Las Vegas,” which won Cage an Oscar. The second: only because very few good movies are being released in this season before the arrival of the summer blockbusters. This one, directed by Lee Tamahori, looked like the best of the bunch. Besides, Cage got his start in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” right? And he’s Francis Coppola’s nephew, right?
Plus, this film is based on a story by Philip K. Dick, whose brilliant short stories and novellas have provided the basis for many a great sci-fi film (“Blade Runner,” “Total Recall,” “Minority Report,” and so on).
Many, if not most, of Dick’s plots concern a twisting of the time-space continuum. This one, based on “The Golden Man,” is about a guy (Cris Johnson) who can see a few minutes into the near future.
Tamahori is an estimable artist. He has crafted a number of unforgettable films (“Once Were Warriors”) and some that were entirely forgettable (“xXx: State of the Union”).
This one, marred by preposterous plot twists, overbearing high-contrast shaky-cam visuals and shallow character development, will be considered one of his lesser efforts and one of the worst Phil Dick adaptations ever (alongside “Paycheck”). The contemporary all-purpose villains (“the terrorists”) are pathetic stand-ins for true bad guys. The heroes, including Cage, fail to inspire much sympathy.
Nevertheless, Cage (or maybe Keanu Reeves) is the only logical choice to play this hapless protagonist, embodying as he does the surreal angst of the post-post-modern everyman. People relate to him as a flawed hero; his endless supply of quirks has served him well. Realism is not Cage’s strong suit, and that is perhaps why we consistently wonder about the odd film choices he makes.
Still, directors like him because he’s just normal enough to play the guy next door and just weird enough so the casting decision seems adventurous.
His Johnson is living in (not leaving) Las Vegas in an attempt to dodge the government spooks who are searching for him to tap into his aforementioned clairvoyance. Cris is slumming as a sleight of hand artist, a low-rent magician with a big secret. Julianne Moore plays the FBI agent (Callie Forrest) who needs Johnson’s help to prevent the explosion of a terrorist bomb in nearby Los Angeles.
The striking Jessica Biel plays the love interest and is given about as much important dramatic work to do as the average Bond girl. That is not her fault but rather the fault of the writers and the director.
Cage has made so many of these color-by-numbers thrillers (anyone still think “National Treasure” was a great film? This one is as bad) that, if you like this sort of thing, you’ve surely seen it before more than once. And so you will probably enjoy it again.