We’re getting used to seeing Nicolas Cage this way. He seems to always seems to be shaded by some vibrantly colored light, probably getting ready to dance or punch someone. Director Yuval Adler dials that up here, first offering a whole neon playground of the Las Vegas strip, then settling in for the “CHILI” and “MILKSHAKE” signs at a diner. Cage gets to do a disco song and dance. He sure looks great in this light.
Don’t be fooled by the grooves coming from the jukebox, this man will punch someone. The Passenger (Cage) is only in this roadside joint to further intimidate The Driver (Joel Kinnaman), a man he’s forcing to drive him around at gunpoint.
‘Sympathy for the Devil’ wants to be a vibey, nothing’s-as-it-seems revenge movie, with just a dose of razzle dazzle. (The stereotypically coolest amount of it.) The kind of entertainment we’ve seen Nicolas Cage nail before, to varying degrees of gonzo.
The attempt is at style over substance, but we wind up at net zero. The Passenger speaks in monologues, or more accurately, weird tales of fancy. One of those is a tale that doubles as a perfunctory explanation of what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. The whole of it is: The Passenger identifies The Driver as a man who did something really awful a long time ago. He needs to pay by way of a torturous, but mostly annoying joy ride. The only snag is there’s a new baby is on the way — The Driver’s wife is in the hospital right now! She’ll call from the delivery room every so often to create some contrived stakes. “I’m your family emergency now,” The Passenger says. Like a badass.
Aside from a few choice line deliveries, a bad man in a car, sticking a gun to a man in dorky glasses doesn’t feel particularly fresh in this telling. It’s a bit drab, with not a lot of dynamism flowing through the framing. Even a fistfight taking place between the beds of two big rigs, surrounded by the excitement of flames and yellow-tinged smoke feel static.
Besides,didn’t Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx one play their own car-based game of cat and mouse? I think Michael Mann and the Staples Center (RIP) were there.
The terror not the twist quite hold. Nice lighting isn’t a sub-in for high stakes. And with the mugging, The Passenger doesn’t have the menace he’s looking to bring from the backseat. He’s most interesting when he’s a man on the brink of doing something insane. Tearing packets of Sweet’n Low with his teeth and peppering them into his coffee, for example. It’s not so much the spitting out of the paper that makes it bizarre. It’s the selection of sweetener. Somehow screenwriter Luke Paradise knows: that’s the sugar this psychopath would pick.
On the other hand, you have to wonder whether the monologue about a Mucus Man who carries around a suitcase full of boogers is the product of a writer rubbing their hands together so their talented leading man can “do the thing.” I get it, though. A man’s gotta boogie.
‘Sympathy for the Devil’ hits theaters on July 28th.