Movie Review: It's Cage Over Substance in 'Arsenal'

Movie Review: It's Cage Over Substance in 'Arsenal'

Arsenal seems to have one thing going for it: the presence of Nicolas Cage, reprising his role from the 1993 cult item Deadfall, a movie where the star’s off-the-wall schtick provided the only moments of fleeting interest. Among the star's early cinema, Deadfall is only second only Vampire’s Kiss in gonzo Cage performances.

While Arsenal doesn’t appear to be a direct Deadfall sequel, Cage seems to have the same hairstyle, sunglasses, mustache and prosthetic nose (all of which threaten to fly off the actor’s face with each violent head spasm) as his earlier character.

He bears the same name, and even violently confronts his real-life brother (and Deadfall director) Christopher Coppola in one scene here. We get it: he’s the same guy, the only thing anyone might remember about the earlier film.

Here, however, Cage’s Eddie King is at odds with an otherwise straightforward and serious-minded little B-movie; instead of being the strangest thing about an already-strange movie, he the only strange thing in this modest, if graphically violent, thriller.

Arsenal has a simple-but-workable plot, something that keeps the film just barely afloat without the Cage eccentricity. Down-and-out war vet Mikey (Johnathon Schaech) has been kidnapped, and it’s up to blue-collar little brother JP (Entourage’s Adrian Grenier) to both save and vindicate him.

Cage’s King is the man behind the kidnapping, and so overshadows the screen that the rest of the movie struggles to compete. It’s not only the flamboyant performance that’s over-the-top; his scenes are drenched in violence and lit in deep reds. He spends most of the film in a strip club, and beats two characters to death onscreen, in slow motion.

Grenier and Schaech, at least, commit to the material; it’s their characters that might keep us interested in what happens during the film.

John Cusack, co-starring as an undercover police officer (or a character claiming to be one) and friend of JP’s, takes a more low-key approach compared Cage’s repellent villain. But he’s so low-energy that he seems to fade into the shadows by the film’s predictable shootout conclusion.

The prospect of both Cage and Cusack in a movie might once have been exciting in 1997 (Con Air), but 20 years later it should set off warning bells; Arsenal is about as successful, if much less ambitious, than their previous teaming, 2013’s The Frozen Ground.

Former horror director Steven C. Miller, who adeptly rebooted Silent Night, Deadly Night back in 2012, seems to have settled into assembly-line actioners featuring aging stars, Arsenal coming off the back of the Bruce Willis-led Extraction and Marauders. It’s about as good as you could reasonably expect.

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