In Bangkok to shoot some bad guys, steely assassin Joe London (Cage) gets an attack of self-awareness. Therefore things dont go to plan.
Nicolas Cage clearly needs a rest. He’s knocking out films at such a neurotic rate, and with such mixed results, that you wonder whether Samuel Jackson challenged him to a race. Jackson, at least, is able to handle the back-to-back slog of indiscriminate filmmaking, while it’s catching up with Cage. He looks so weary, his long face drawn and pale, his bulked-up body slumping through this emaciated assassin-finds-a-heart-in-sweaty-Bangkok twaddle as if shaking off an anaesthetic. Hell, even his hair seems to have succumbed to gravity.
Remember his petulant youth? For good or bad, he was like a Method hand-grenade: the volcanic spurts of Wild At Heart, the suicidal jags of Leaving Las Vegas, the near-dementia of Vampire’s Kiss. Here, you get the suspicion is he’s aiming for tormented loner, but has arrived at a flaccid sulk.
As a fan of the chic violence of modern Eastern cinema - after all, he had a ball on John Woo’s crackpot Face/Off - he was understandably drawn to the Pang Brothers: identical Hong Kong twins with a flare for heady visuals and a thing for sensory deprivation. This is a near-enough remake of their much better 1999 debut where the lonely killer was so detached from humanity he was actually deaf and dumb. They also invented slick ghost story The Eye with its blind heroine, although the pair had nothing to do with that particular crummy remake.
Now, though, they have a big star to play with - this is a case of Cage heading East, not the Pangs coming to Hollywood - and they seem confounded. The muteness motif has been relegated to Joe’s love interest, a cute shop-girl who smiles in his gloomy direction, leaving behind the kind of DTV guff about fat gangsters turning on their hired killers that’s been funding Steven Seagal’s alimony payments for years. Amid burps of disappointingly docile action, Joe is found struggling to maintain his assassin’s credo like a freelance Bourne without the memory lapse.
While evidently skilled, even the Pang’s visual flourishes feel outmoded here. It’s all murky, humid streets glowering with angry neon, or the patronising travelogue of soon-to-be-demolished tourist spots teeming with chattering locals. Without the blunt warning of the title, it could be anywhere shiftily Asian, the exotic energy of Eastern stylists flattened by Western ennui.
Remove Cages moody presence, and you could pick up this kind of action tat at your nearest service station.