A friend recently made a comment to the effect that Nicolas Cage is great in everything, that the problem with Cage's career is that he's great in a whole lot of terrible movies. While the degree and consistency of Cage's performances are endlessly debatable, that statement does carry with it an unarguable corollary — that his manic scenery-chewing has often been the only thing to make a truly terrible movie watchable.
It's enough to make one wish that standard revenge thriller Rage was a truly terrible movie, thus providing the possibility of another Cage-driven guilty pleasure. But it isn't; Rage is simply cliched and banal, and in it, even Cage seems wearied by its relentless mediocrity.
Cage plays Paul Maguire, a successful "legitimate businessman" with an, ahem, history of violence. When his daughter (Aubrey Peeples) is, er, taken, Maguire returns to the, well, the edge of darkness in his efforts to find and punish those responsible. He takes off his business suit, puts on his old bad-ass clothes, gets his old bad-ass muscle car out of the garage and rounds up his old bad-ass crew to slash, shoot and torture their way through the city's criminal elements in a quest for answers.
Does Maguire's picture-perfect family life — there's a barely-there wife, played by Rachel Nichols — begin to crumble under the weight of Maguire's inability to escape the past? What the hell do you think?
Rage is clearly an effort to coattail-ride the success of films like Taken on a fraction of that thriller's budget. Without that budget — and the European settings and uniquely stylish creative chutzpah of Luc Besson and Pierre Morel that come along with it — the movie settles for what director Paco Cabezas probably considered a new take on classic noir elements: a brooding tone, bleak establishing shots of soulless cityscapes, and a ton (seriously, a freaking ton) of expository dialog.
One of the problems here is that, in the context of a violent movie, Nicolas Cage is wholly unbelievable as brooding. He might shine in an over-the-top Boondock Saints type of scenario; here, he just seems tired, even when screaming or threatening or losing his mind. Cage is just not right for the movie's feel, and as a result, his talents are wasted — as are those of a favorite crime-flick regular, Peter Stormare, stuck here in a wheelchair and very questionable Irish accent. Danny Glover's quiet, slow-burn menace fares better in this environment, but in a semi-peripheral role as the cop investigating the kidnapping, he makes a minimal impact.
Cage, Glover, Stormare and the rest of the cast aren't to be too heavily faulted, however. They were quite obviously stuck with a bad script. Jim Agnew (Game of Death) and Sean Keller (Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep) are credited for a plot packed with tired tropes, bad lines and elements better used by better films. It may have read like Dennis Lehane on the page; on the screen, it all comes across as so familiar it's tiresome. The handful of potentially compelling scenes are drowned in a sea of predictable and downright amateurish ones.
Diehard Cage fans will, of course, seek out Rage, and possibly find something to appreciate within it. Pulp-cinema aficionados will find nothing new, though, and even mainstream action-movie fans are likely to be frustrated by its almost willful refusal to offer anything more than cheaper knock-offs of moments they've already experienced many times before.