“YOU OWE ME!!!!”
Once upon a time, there was a crime thriller called Deadfall. No one saw it. And with good reason — it’s almost unwatchable. But nestled in this movie misfire was one of the very first instances of what would become the patented Crazy Nicolas Cage Performance.
Cage is an actor who can achieve greatness when he feels like it, but has now morphed into Human Meme status. While most turn to his easily annoyed detective in The Wicker Man or his yuppie would-be-bloodsucker in Vampire’s Kiss as prime examples of peak crazy Cage, they’re child’s play compared to the actor’s work in Deadfall. There, he played a card shuffling con man who randomly switches accents and moods from scene to scene. Yet, Cage’s gonzo work in Deadfall and Vampire’s Kiss and The Wicker Man have nothing on his latest “performance” in Stephen C. Miller’s ultra-violent work of what-the-fuckery, Arsenal.
Here, Cage is essentially playing the same character he played in Deadfall — sporting the same weird wig, bad mustache, heavy sunglasses and false nose. But Arsenal isn’t really a sequel to Deadfall — they just happen to share a character. And Cage takes the character’s otherworldly weirdness to the nth degree.
In Arsenal, Adrian Grenier and Johnathon Schaech play polar-opposite brothers JP and Mikey. Grenier’s JP is a hardworking family man; a pillar of the community with a profitable construction company. Schaech’s Mikey, on the other hand, is a perennial fuck up; an ex-con with a bad temper and an estranged daughter. When JP and Mikey were kids, Mikey ended up joining the gang of lunatic local gangster Eddie (Cage), and now that they’re adults, Eddie thinks Mikey owes him something (besides money). “I RAISED YOU!” he shrieks at Mikey (note: everything Cage says in this movie is in all-caps).
Always looking to get rich quick, Eddie decides to kidnap Mikey and bilk JP out of some ransom money — or does he? Since Mikey is such a shady character to begin with, things don’t go according to plan. When JP gets the ransom demand, a part of him thinks that maybe, just maybe, Mikey is in on the scheme. So JP enlists the help of a local sleepy cop (John Cusack, once again firing up his contractually obligated vape pen) to shake down some small time crooks to get the skinny.
As a thriller, Arsenal is a dud. As a story of tumultuous brotherly love, it’s lacking. But as a delivery system for Cage’s unique brand of weirdness, it has to be seen to be believed. Any moment Cage is on screen here becomes hypnotic. You’re drawn into every single bizarre choice the actor makes, completely uncertain of what he’s going to do next. In one of the film’s best scenes, Eddie’s brother Buddy (Deadfall director and Cage’s real-life brother Christopher Coppola) shows up to reprimand Eddie for his sloppiness. What follows is a slow-motion dance of carnage, with splashes of blood flying up into Cage’s glorious mustache.
Everything and everyone else around Cage comes up short. Grenier and Schaech are both trying their hardest, but they have almost nothing to work with here. Cusack, on the other hand, constantly looks as if he’s just been roused from an afternoon nap. Director Stephen C. Miller brings a certain gritty, heavily color-corrected style to the film, but his go-to directing choice seems to be bringing his action down into extreme-slow-motion and pray his audience won’t get sick of it (spoiler: we do).
If you’re curious to watch Nicolas Cage give one of the most bat-shit insane performances of a career peppered with bat-shit insane performances, Arsenal is worth your time. But you’d probably be better off waiting until someone uploads all of Cage’s scenes into a YouTube supercut, and call it a day.