Nicolas Cage is the gift that keeps on giving.
He’s famous for never turning down a role (except for that one time he passed up playing Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. Yes, you read that correctly). He’s had his ups and downs over the years, plenty of epic roles (see the independent film Joe, which has been touted as one of Cage’s best performances) peppered with a good handful of camp-fests and snooze-worthy action films (Bangkok Dangerous, anyone?), but never fails to provide entertainment value, whether intentionally or otherwise.
Currently, Cage is gracing the big screen in the propaganda pamphlet film, Left Behind. If anyone were to agree to portray protagonist Ray Steele–who is, fingers crossed, NOT related to Anastasia Steele–it would be Cage (my guess is that there weren’t a whole lot of A-listers lined up for that audition). Surprisingly enough, and contrary to his usual habit of going full-on Nic Cage, critics have panned his performance as unexcited and straight-faced. The Chicago Tribune even bemoaned the lack of standard Nic Cage antics, calling his performance “sadly becalmed”.
What’s that, you say? What does it mean to go “full Nic Cage”? Allow me to explain.
Webster’s dictionary defines–no. I’m only kidding. Really all you need to do is to open up YouTube and search “Nic Cage freak out” to get the picture. A friend of mine once described his performances as being a “stage-production within a movie film”; all of Cage’s facial expressions and intonations are more fit for a Broadway play about an incensed 30s boardwalk mobster than a complex film about the frailty of human existence… or whatnot.
If you need a further explanation of what it means to go full Nic Cage, observe the following five examples.
If there was ever a movie moment fit to become a pop culture meme, it’s this one from the 1988 black-comedy horror flick Vampire’s Kiss. Cage portrays anti-hero Peter Loewe, a terrifyingly dedicated literary agent who spends all his free time at clubs and having one-night stands. After taking home a woman who later reveals herself to be a vampire, she bites him, causing him to slowly spiral out into madness for the duration of the film. In the scene above, he torments his secretary, Alva, contorting his face in ways that only Picasso could fully appreciate. If you’re perusing Cage’s resume for an example of “full Nic Cage-ness” to show off to your friends, this is it.
Leaving Las Vegas
Cage’s turn in this dark dramady eventually earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1996, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any outrageous moments. The story follows Ben Sanderson, a disgraced, alcoholic screenwriter who makes his way to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. There’s no proper way to put your finger on any scene in particular that can best be described as “full Nic Cage”, as the entire film centres around Ben’s drunken escapades and embarrassing displays. The only thing to do here is watch the film in its entirety and brace yourself for a wealth of Cage gold.
The 2003 comedy Matchstick Men centers around conman Roy Walter and his long-lost daughter Angela. In the film, Cage plays a smooth-talking scammer who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, trying to come to terms with the idea of parenthood. At one point in the story, Roy runs out of medication and storms into the local pharmacy demanding more pills without a doctor’s prescription–only to find out that what his psychiatrist had been giving him were actually (wait for it) menopause supplements. Chaos and a total Nic Cage freak-out ensue. View at your own risk.
In this hilarious 2010 superhero/vigilante flick, Cage plays co-star to the tiny powerhouse that is Chloë Grace Moretz and the sensational (and devastatingly handsome) Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Affectionately (and darkly, depending on who you’re talking to) referred to as “Big Daddy”, Cage’s Damon Macready trains up his daughter Mindy to become a successful hitman/crusader by doing things like dressing her in a bullet-proof vest and shooting her with a handgun. You know, normal father-daughter activities. In terms of raging tantrums, this one is sort of muted–making all of Roy’s outbursts ten times funnier.
In 2007, before Marvel had hit the feeding frenzy jackpot, a little-known comic book character named Johnny Blaze was given his own film in the hopes that he might open the door for a larger comic book audience. It must have contributed something: One year later, Marvel released the first in the now beloved Iron Man series, closing out at a gross total box-office sum of over $585 million. Of course, this isn’t to say that the film is without flaws. The script was a bit of a mess and the CGI was historically dreadful. Most of the acting was hammy and useless. Wrote Time Out London’s David Jenkins, Ghost Rider “manages to notch up a level of camp that makes Batman and Robin look like it was directed by Bergman.” Still, most critics purposefully gave Cage a pass, calling his performance “comfortable” and “subversively comed[ic]”… which one should take with a grain of salt, considering who we’re talking about here. Check out the above clip to watch Cage’s unintentionally hysterical Johnny Blaze in action.
Nicolas Cage may never receive another Oscar. That’s okay. In fact, given his track record, it stands to reason that all of that Nic Cage-ing may actually be his saving grace. So long as Cage continues to take cheesy movie roles and camp them up for our entertainment, it seems we’ll be there to buy those tickets by the handful.
Honorable Mentions: Gone in Sixty Seconds, Con Air, National Treasure, and, most importantly, Wicker Man. How could I forget that?