Anakin Skywalker and Ghost Rider to the rescue! Hayden Christensen and Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage star in Outcast.
Director – Nick Powell
Screenplay – James Dormer
Producer – Alan Zhang, Jeremy Bolt, Christopher Milburn, Karine Martin, Gary Hamilton, Ying Ye, George Mizen, Leonard Glowinski, Tove Christensen & Xun Zhang
After the Chinese king names his youngest child Zhao (Bill Su Jiahang) heir to the throne, he unfortunately raises the ire of his oldest, Shing (Andy On), who kills his father in anger. In an attempt to further secure the throne for himself, he dispatches his guards to hunt down and kill Zhao and their sister Lian (Liu Yifei).
Escaping their brother’s wrath, Zhao and Lian seek the protection of Jacob (Hayden Christensen), a former warrior turned opium addict. Although he is hesitant at first, Jacob eventually takes the two under his wing, training Zhao to defend himself. Knowing he needs more than just Jacob’s help to defeat his brother, Zhao turns to Jacob’s former fellow Crusader, Gallain (Nicolas Cage), aka the White Ghost, to help return him to his rightful place on the throne.
It’s never a year in film done properly without an IRS-mandated crappy film from Nicolas Cage.
Originally meant to be a spaghetti western, Outcast is 47 Ronin meets True Grit meets Pirates of the Caribbean without the talented Japanese cast (really the only redeemable aspect of the Keanu Reeves dud), the Oscar-winning performance from John Wayne and the big budget action extravaganza of the Capt. Jack Sparrow films.
Outcast comes to us by way of stunt coordinator Nick Powell, in his feature-film directorial debut. Last year we got the highly entertaining John Wick, which not only served as comeback vehicle for Keanu Reeves, but also a strong filmmaking debut for longtime Matrix stuntmen Chad Stahelski and David Leitch.
Well, that’s not the case here.
Powell deserves much praise for his work as a stunt choreographer, having done work on Batman, Braveheart, The Bourne Identity, The Last Samurai and Cinderella Man. As a director, though, he’s made such a mess of a film that drags through its narrative so tiresomely if you can keep your eyes open through just the first 5-10 minutes, you either have the perseverance of a warrior, or are just a glutton for punishment. It should be obvious right from the start that this is a stuntman’s movie, judging from how every other scene is either a battle or a fight, and each one of them will require about two Ibuprofen just to make it through the scene. From the shaky camerawork, the choppy editing to, for whatever reason, Powell needing multiple shots to depict one mundane action, this is evidence that you may be a proven stuntman, but choreographing a fight is one thing; calling the shots on how it’ll be captured on film is a whole new ballgame.
Thankfully, though, the shoddy filming will have you distracted enough to where you won’t even notice the crappy production design.
Although, there’s no excuse for the poor execution of the action sequences, even if they were handled just a tad bit more competently, the lack of character depth would still have them feeling flat. The Asians are painted in all black or all white broad strokes, serving as either a saintly victim or coldhearted bastard for the film. The only characters with any room for flaws are the two white saviors played by Hayden Christensen and Nic Cage, but even their blemishes are glossed over.
Of course, you shouldn’t expect much in character development when the most in-depth characters are Christensen’s funky Justin Bieber doo and whatever floppy haired rodent died on top Cage’s head.
With the exception of Cage, everyone else stumbles through this film showing barely any sign of a pulse as they do so. It’s almost too easy to knock Christensen’s performance. He went from starring in one of the biggest film franchises to… well, this. Although I have and will continue to defend the prequels, I still admit Christensen, while having a few effective moments, was mostly stiff in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. But watch any movie of his (and, yes, I’m counting Life as a House and Shattered Glass), and you’ll notice it’s not George Lucas’s fault either, even though Lucas isn’t an actors’ director at all (exhibit A & B: Carrie Fisher and Natalie Portman’s on-and-off performances). He’s always been stiff and this performance is no exception. That said, as much as he mumbles through his dialogue here – sorta like, despite being medically fine, he seemingly has lost the will to live – stiff would’ve been an upgrade.
That finally brings us to Cage, who could’ve sleepwalked through his scenes, and still chewed the scenery twice as hard as everyone else. Sporting a hairpiece so ratty it could sever your fingers if you ran your hand through it, one squinting eye and a Cockney hybrid accent indigenous to a country that probably has yet to be found, Cage is in full-on manic Cage mode, and it’s quite a sight to behold. Even in a film that has just half a functioning brain (which is still twice as much as what this one has), an over-the-top performance such as what he gives here would be a distraction. As painfully dreary as Outcast is, however, Cage is a welcome presence whenever he appears onscreen.
I would almost tell you to see Outcast just for Nicolas Cage’s looney performance, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s not in the film as often as you expect him to be. When he’s offscreen, which is for roughly 40-45 out of the 90 minutes of screen time, the film suffers greatly from hokey production details, and a severe lack of energy which is ironic for a film that is comprised mostly of action scenes. That this film actually has you dying to see more of Cage’s hysterically bad performance shows you just how awful everything surrounding it really is.
I give Outcast a D- (½★).
REVIEWS COMING LATER NEXT WEEK…
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