Sex & Celluloid: In Defense Of Nicolas Cage

Who’s looking forward to the Werner Herzog re-imagining of “Bad Lieutenant,” which has gotten good reviews but has a laughable trailer in which Nicolas Cage talks about his lucky crack pipe? Anyone?As someone who watches that “Wicker Man” Redux version on YouTube at least a couple times a year (it never gets old!), I know what many people think about Cage: He’s a hammy overactor who made it in show business out of sheer nepotism. But I don’t, I think Nicolas Cage is one of the finer actors of our generation, and comparable to, if not better than, Johnny Depp, who is approximately the same age, overacts in 90 percent of his roles, and, yet, still gets critically lauded, while the guy who got Depp his first role in “Nightmare on Elm Street” is now broke and had to sell his castle. I know, tear shed. But face it: Nic’s got some talent.

I’ve always been the devil’s advocate of my generation when it comes to the big-nosed Coppola. I’m not a huge fan of his performances in “Raising Arizona” or “Wild At Heart,” two movies people always reference when they talk about Nic’s “good roles.” Nor do I find him to be that much of a sex symbol, except maybe in “Moonstruck.” The game-changer for Cage, in my opinion, was “Vampire’s Kiss,” perhaps the most underrated comedy film of all time. A pre-“American Psycho” tale of an American psycho, “Vampire’s Kiss” stars Cage as an affected (really, REALLY affected) ’80s yuppie who was either bitten by a vampire or has started to go crazy. Anyone who is a fan of Cage punching women and screaming about bees but can’t be bothered to actually watch “The Wicker Man” should definitely take the eight minutes it takes to get through this incredible “Vampire’s Kiss” mash-up. Watching the film, you’re never quite sure how crazy the character is, or Nicolas Cage, which is to say, who talks like that? And this is the film where Cage infamously ate a live cockroach three times, as part of his “method acting.” Which doesn’t make for an argument that Nic is very good, rather that he just thinks he is. But that movie is, in a nutshell, incredible. Cage is pure comedy genius, although sometimes you aren’t so sure he’s in on the joke.

After all, he’s got a string of commercial schlock against him that makes Keanu Reeves look positively Shakespearean. There’s the “National Treasure” franchise, “Gone in 60 Seconds,” “Bangkok Dangerous,” “Knowing,” and “Ghostrider,” and that’s just in the last five years. But in between there have been little gems, little bright spots of juicy roles that play to Cage’s strengths, not his movie-star bankability or sex appeal (neither of which has a very good track record). There was his role as Charlie and Dennis Kaufman in “Adaptation.” There was his tic-ridden, OCD portrayal of a con man with a daughter in “Matchstick Men.” There was “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Lord of War,” and, God help me, “Face/Off.” So, don’t roll your eyes at Nicolas Cage because the man is ridiculous: Unlike some of his sexier contemporaries, the man knows what it means to make choices in his roles. And, as a fellow blogger and Cage fan pointed out of these films, ” … one is reminded of how colossally good he is and it suddenly puts his ‘slumming’ movies into perspective. This, more than anything, is what probably inspires all the anger and hatred: the sense of wasted potential.” So next time someone hates on NC, remind them that before “The Godfather” revitalized his career, Marlon Brando did a lot of crappy movies as well.