Too often I write about films I love. And that's because I mostly don't waste my time watching stuff I don't love. The problem there is that I don't wind up taking as many chances as I used to. I remember being a kid and going into the video store and just picking up whatever was new with little concern for who was in it or what it was about. That's gone. I've got a forever expanding list of films I need to see. Which is not to say that I'm not occasionally disappointed. I am. But I miss that wild card feeling of picking up a recent release and wondering if it'll be one of my favorites or if I'll barely be able to make it through.
In searching for a fairly new release to review for this week, I came across last year's Stolen. I hadn't heard anything about it somehow (even though it was shot just down the road from me in New Orleans). With films like Con Air and The Expendables 2 under his belt, director Simon West is not someone whose career I've really kept up with. But I will say this: I love Nicolas Cage. I get defensive about him all the time. It's true that I love the Cage of Wild at Heart and Red Rock West most of all and that I don't see many of his newer films (though Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a favorite of mine from the last few years). I laughed at The Wicker Man remake; I watched clips from it on YouTube, that was enough. Aside from Bad Lieutenant, Adaptation is the last film I can think of where Cage truly ruled. Still, even in the worst shit, he can be damn fun to watch.
All this to say: I'm glad I had Nicolas Cage to latch onto here. He seems to float through movies like this, making fun of them as he goes, twisting them into something almost worth watching just for his mere presence. It's a form of performance art really. Anyone who doesn't love Cage can probably detect in him a batshit wildness that allows him to enjoy the making of totally shitty films. But what the hell's wrong with that?
|Cage as "master thief" Will Montgomery.|
In the first scene of Stolen, we meet Cage's "master thief" Will Montgomery. He's on a job in New Orleans, listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival in the car as part of his pre-job ritual. It's early, just past 4 am, and he gets a call from his daughter. "When I get home," he tells her, "I'm gonna make you those happy face pancakes you like so much!" That's the kind of ridiculous shit Cage can pull off that almost no one else can. I paused it at that point and watched him deliver that line several times before being able to move on.
The FBI, of course, has set up a sting to catch Will and his crew during the heist. "It doesn't make sense," head FBI guy Agent Harlend says. "It's too easy. This crew doesn't do too easy." Christ.
And he's right. The FBI thinks Will's crew is robbing a diamond exchange, but they're actually robbing a bank around the block. After scoring ten million from the vault, things go wrong. Will shoots one of his partners, Vincent, in the leg to stop him from killing a janitor who witnessed their escape into a shadowy alley behind the bank. Will carries Vincent back to the van, leaving the money behind in the alley. When he goes back for the money, his crew takes off in the getaway van and two cops show. Then something great happens: Will throws the bag of money at the first cop and knocks him down. Ha ha ha ha ha . . . ? Then he overpowers the other cop and steals the police cruiser.
Will gets caught but burns the money in a conveniently located burn barrel before turning himself over to the feds, knowing that he'll get more time if he's caught with it. Fast forward: It's eight years later, and he's served his sentence. Harlend and his sidekick, Fletcher, pick Will up and tell him they'll be watching, waiting for him to go after the ten million (they think he's stashed it somewhere). "Happy Fat Tuesday," Fletcher says after dropping Will off at his ex-wife's. Of course it's Fat fucking Tuesday! So, well, you know exactly what to expect. Action unfolding during Mardi Gras. Not the stuff of Treme or James Sallis's Lew Griffin novels but instead the Hollywood tourist's vision of New Orleans.
Then the movie changes gears and becomes the all-too-familiar kidnapped daughter tale. Vincent, who drives a cab and has one leg now (!!), seeks revenge and money. He snatches Will's daughter (who is very angry with him for being a crook and going to jail) and demands the ten million, which he doesn't know has been burned. Since the feds also think Will still has the money, they don't believe him when he tells them Vincent's kidnapped his daughter and wants money that doesn't exist. We've seen all of this before, and there's nothing new here. The rest of it plays out just as you'd expect, too. Chase. Blah. Music gets faster. Vincent shoots a cop. The daughter makes desperate faces. Still, nobody believes Will, blah blah blah. Third act showdown. Blah. It would be more interesting to watch Cage scrape human shit off his shoe in Jackson Square for ninety minutes.
As in Walter Hill's Bullet to the Head, New Orleans is one of the only things the movie has going for it. Even the lowliest presentation of a city with such great character is compelling. The colors are vivid, not because of anything West does; more because New Orleans is simply a city where color matters. It's a great city to see, whatever occurs there. Great use is made of the abandoned Six Flags New Orleans, I will admit. The chase scenes are boring and predictable. The score seems to lift a riff from "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes. The dialogue is fucking awful ("That guy needed to get laid... like yesterday" is one of the more prominent examples). Josh Lucas, as Vincent, tries to channel Ryan Gosling (I think) and he's hilariously bad ("The only thing with any balls to come through this town was the hurricane!" he screams at one point). The female characters are weak beyond words. Riley, part of Will's old crew, is now a bartender in a cop bar where she doesn't wear bras and gets ogled by married cops. Alison, Will's kidnapped daughter, gives a terrified-daughter-by-numbers performance straight out of the Alyssa-Milano-in-Commando playbook. Sami Gayle, the young actress who plays Alison and spends much of the movie in Vincent's trunk, isn't terrible in the way that some kid actors with roles this thin can be, but she doesn't have any sort of real presence either (Milano she ain't).
|Josh Lucas as Vincent and Sami Gayle as Alison.|
The real question for me as I got further into this movie was: is it gonna be bad bad or good bad? Ultimately, I guess it's mostly bad bad, though there's a lot to laugh at here and it's a relief that it's set in New Orleans. If you can't sleep or you're too drunk to watch anything meaningful, Stolen might be the movie for you. If you have a TV in the can and you like to sit there until your legs go numb, Stolen is built for shithouse viewing. It's better than that snoozer Bullet to the Head, which is probably the best thing I can say about it. If I wrote for Hustler or some magazine that rated movies with little boners (they do that, right?), I'd give Stolen 3 out of 10 boners. One of those boners would be for Nicolas Cage (who should really just wear a necklace of boners), one would be for the great city of New Orleans, and one would be for Josh Lucas who, in total joker mode, just about outCages Cage.