This column has been a long-time coming, at least since I first started doing these Career Therapist columns six months ago. Actually, it’s probably been even longer than that, as I’ve watched Nicolas Cage’s career go through a huge shift to the point where most of his movies are being snuck into a few theaters across the country while at the same time released On Demand. And most people don’t even know that half these movies exist, and in some cases, that’s probably for the better.
For instance, this week, Cage has a movie called Looking Glass, released by Momentum Pictures which stars Cage along with Robin Tunney and Marc Blucas. I haven’t seen the movie nor would I have ever even heard about it if I didn’t do a bit of research for this week’s movie preview. It doesn’t look very good but it somehow managed to get 15 reviews, mostly negative ones, on Rotten Tomatoes. (Kind of a shame since director Tim Hunter directed one of my favorite ‘80s films River’s Edge, but directors have a tougher time maintaining a career without a hit than actors.)
Anyway, here’s the trailer:
Looks pretty cheesy and low budget, right?
I’m not sure how much Cage got paid to make that movie, but it probably wasn’t nearly as much as he deserved, because the filmmakers are totally using his name to sell the movie to those looking for something to watch at home. Looking Glass is the latest in a long series of mostly straight-to-VOD movies that includes the likes of Vengeance: A Love Story, Arsenal, Army of One, The Trust, Inconceivable and many more, movies that were released and forgotten before Cage moved onto the next one. And the thing is that he rarely has to do press for any of them, so there’s probably a bonus there as well.
Mind you, I’ve met and interviewed Cage a number of times, been to a couple of his sets, and I really like the guy a LOT. Whatever thoughts you might have about how he ended up with his financial problems, which has probably led to him making so many bad movies, he’s a guy who is passionate about comics and music— two things I also enjoy—and I’m sure he generally has his own best interests at heart when making these decisions, but it’s sad to see how far the mighty Cage has fallen.
Remember when Cage starred in some of your favorite movies of the ’80s and ’90s whether it was Valley Girl or Con Air or Honeymoon in Vegas, Raising Arizona, Moonstruck and so many more? Disney’s National Treasure and its sequel should have been the movies that solidified Cage as an A-list star. That blockbuster sequel was ten years ago, but it was surrounded by schlock like The Wicker Man remake, the action movie Next (remember that piece of crap?) and of course, Ghost Rider, which came out a year before Marvel Studios showed everyone how to truly make a great superhero movie with Iron Man. (I think many people are still surprised Sony made a sequel to Ghost Rider with Cage, clearly to keep the rights, for whatever that was worth.)
Walt Disney Pictures
Cage’s last high-profile film was co-starring in Oliver Stone’s Snowden more than a year ago, and he hasn’t made a studio-produced film since the DreamWorks Animation film The Croods, for which he just provided his voice. Supposedly, they will make a sequel to that film but it’s now been five years and who knows if that will happen?
It’s pretty easy to see the trajectory of Cage from an A-list star in the ‘80s and ‘90s to where it is now, and much of that comes down to flops like Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and that superhero sequel Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance. It isn’t that uncommon for a hot star one decade to be forgotten the next but Cage was making higher profile movies like Kick-Ass less than ten years ago. The Croods was one of Cage’s more successful voice roles, but he hasn’t been able to convert that into better live action roles.
Cage is 54 years, which is far from over the hill when you consider that Liam Neeson is still making action movies well into his 60s, but even some of Cage’s more interesting choices like Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant and David Gordon Green’s Joe haven’t made much of a mark outside of film festivals. I kind of liked Cage’s recent reunion with Brian Taylor for the dark comedy/thriller Mom + Dad, but that was never going to do big business outside VOD, which is a shame.
How can Nicolas Cage get out of his seeming slump?
There’s the obvious, which is to say “no” to a few of the bad movies he’s doing— and as a recent freelancer, I know how tough it is to say “no” to work, even if that includes reviewing one of Cage’s recent movies. The other option is to maybe try to find better scripts and get more involved as a producer in getting those better movies made. There are all these high school and coming of age movies being made, and why can’t Nicolas Cage be a teacher or a parent, like he was in Mom and Dad? (That’s a good example of one of Cage’s previous collaborators thinking outside the box when casting him.)
We also have to remember that Cage has worked with quite a few filmmaking auteurs like David Lynch, Spike Jonze, John Madden and even Martin Scorsese (probably his worst movie?), but he also was nominated for an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, which was now over twenty years ago. He has the ability to play more serious and relatable roles for sure, but he also brings so much to a film like Adaptation, playing an everyman put into odd circumstances.
Sure, we all love Cage when he goes a bit nuts on camera, but he needs to tone that back and give stronger dramatic performances that will allow people in Hollywood, particularly studio execs and producers, to take him seriously once again. In order to do that, Cage needs to start finding younger filmmakers who respect him enough to want to work with him, and that’s really the key to get those sort of roles. Many people thought David Gordon Green’s Joe would have been the movie to put Cage back in the limelight, but the movie came and went and barely got much attention outside its festival run, mainly because it was such a hard movie to market.
It’s good that Cage does those films, but now he seems to be doing whatever comes his way, which has led to so many bad movies that barely get a theatrical release, let alone reported box office. Cage isn’t anywhere near the point of being Eric Roberts appearing in 50-60 movies a year, but the five or six movies he’s making aren’t particularly memorable, and even the journalists/critics who still like him (myself included) are having a tough time justifying our support.
Here’s hoping a prominent filmmaker, either a veteran or newcomer, realizes that they get a lot more than just an actor reading lines when they cast Cage, so that we’ll see him appearing in more film festival offerings, and not just genre fare.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor