Has there been a more hard-working performer in Hollywood than Nicolas Cage, whose films no one sees? The actor – and he is an actor, even if he reminds us of the fact all too rarely, in trenchant works like Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation – appeared in four films in 2011 alone: Season of the Witch, Drive Angry, Trespass and Seeking Justice. Do you remember any of them? Cage, then, has become one of stars whose motivations are infinitely more interesting than the movies. Why does he do it? Is it just the money? Does he fly out East, every month, and hand over a suitcase filled with bills to a dun-suited mobster, in aid of long-standing gambling debts? Or is he the Hollywood approximation of a shark – if he stops moving, will something in him shrivel up and die? How can someone keep feasting on low-hanging fruit like Simon West’s Stolen?
Entering the film, you expect that West, the low-rent auteur of such imperishable 4 a.m.-on-TV classics as Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, will at least keep things moving. As it turns out, that’s about the only thing he does. Stolen tells the story of a Creedence Clearwater Revival-loving thief (Cage), who completes an eight-year prison sentence and finds that his young daughter has been kidnapped by his maniacal former partner Vincent (Josh Lucas). This ground has been trodden so many times that all West has to do is follow the trail of Ransom or Taken, and exhort us to root for the father. Did I mention that the film is set in New Orleans, as Mardi Gras is underway? Cage trying to squeeze through heaving throngs, the villain using all that colour and atmosphere to make his getaways – the scenes practically write themselves. But there’s no wit, no pulse – nothing but dull proficiency.
It’s hard to decide what to be more exasperated about – all this waste, or the sight of a tired Cage trying to give an actual performance. Sitting nervously across his daughter, who blames him for abandoning her, he attempts to apologise for his past. He takes sips of water from a glass, whips out a piece of paper where he’s written a speech, and reads it out. The scene should have been heartbreaking, but the only heartbreak comes from Cage, whose drooping energy suggests that he realised, midway through the shot, that nothing he does can save this story. And can you imagine Josh Lucas as an incarnation of Robert de Niro’s psychopath from Cape Fear, prone to tattoos and terrifying quotes? (Like that film, this one features a watery climax involving a father, a daughter and the maniac keeping them apart.) An action film with a one-legged villain set on fire should have been way more fun.
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