Monday, November 30, 2009

If the world's ending, I want Nicolas Cage to take me through it

We attended back-to-back movies on Thanksgiving, forgoing turkey and choosing to fight the post-parade crowds that streamed through 42nd Street in Times Square. First movie, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Nicolas Cage plays a cop on the edge...yeah, already sounds like a movie to avoid. As always, though, I was entertained by a Cage film, a streak that's been intact since about 1995. Through The Rock, Ghost Rider, National Treasure, The Wicker Man, and even The Weather Man, I'm always up for a Cage fest. The preening. The shouting. The wide eyes. The hair.

His performances keep getting more and more bizarre, even though it seems like the roles don't always call for it. Bad Lieutenant does require it. From tripping out and seeing iguanas where there aren't any, to publicly banging a party girl while her stupefied boyfriend watches nearby, Cage manhandles every scene. He portrays a druggie detective who revels when he gets to play "bad cop," apparently believing subtlety is a sign of weakness in an actor.

Then we saw 2012, the apocalyptic movie extraordinarily loosely based on the extraordinarily ridiculous Mayan predictions about the end of the world (note: if the world does indeed end in a fiery mess on December 21, 2012, please feel free to leave a taunting comment on this post before you and your computer immolate and/or get crushed by shifting Earth crust or an asteroid). The movie fulfills its requirements of destroying notable cities and structures in impressive fashion, from D.C. to the Vatican.

John Cusack plays the down-on-his luck writer who fights for survival, his kids and the woman he loves. Or something. Mostly it's all about Cusack and his son and daughter avoiding falling LA buildings, collapsing runways (twice, in fact) and volcanic eruptions. And that's just in one day.

Cusack does his typical good work in the movie, although I'll forever claim that his career role came in one of his first movies, when he played Lane Myer in Better off Dead (Say Anything? If I was female, I might agree that was his best role). But as tolerable as Cusack is in 2012, it felt like the movie was missing something. And that something was...Nicolas Cage.

This was a role that should have been written for Cage, the somewhat-troubled middle-aged guy searching for hope in a world without a future. Actually, he recently played this role in Knowing and Next so perhaps he's done with the genre and would never have considered it. Still, while Cusack plays a good everyman, a movie about killer tsunamis, present-day arks, government conspiracies and exploding national parks (get to Yellowstone before 2012, if you're inclined to believe the Mayans) screams out for Cage's bulging eyes, weary expressions and half-crazed cackles. Cusack's acting past and well-known mannerisms make me think he'll greet the latest disaster with an aw-shucks grin and shrug. Cage would have defied the Mayans and Mother Nature, challenging each disaster with nothing more than his mane and machismo.

The movie's a two-hour hoot, even if I think the inspiration behind the plot is a bunch of nonsense. The packed house at the Thanksgiving Day showing erupted in cheers at the end of the movie (so I don't spoil the ending, I won't tell you if they were applauding the Earth's destruction, or its salvation).

I've written before about my skepticism of apocalyptic visions and predictions. They seem shakier than the sweaty, overexcited, overweight gamblers who used to hijack late-night TV and tout their predictions for that week's NFL games. I don't doubt that the world is someday going to end. It'll go out in a way that's probably quite uncomfortable for the poor souls here to witness it. Bill Bryson's superb book A Short History of Nearly Everything documents the countless ways Earth could heartlessly rid itself of humans and every other creature.

But I don't put much stock in apocalyptic religious texts written long ago by common men hoping for a destructive end at the hands of an unknowable but highly agitated god.

And I don't think an ancient civilization predicted the year or exact date it will happen. It seems like many of the people who are inclined to believe the Mayan 2012 call are the same people who are proud skeptics in every other facet of their life. They don't trust the government. They think The Man's out to get them. They refuse to listen to five-day forecasts because "you can't trust weathermen to get anything right." Yet they'll put faith in end-of-world predictions delivered by a group of people who lived thousands of years ago.

I think the Earth still has a decent future. And as long as Nicolas Cage keeps churning out movies, the world will be a better, crazier place. Get him in the 2012 sequel.

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