Even though you might not being paying attention anymore, the Legend of Nicolas Cage continues to grow.
The Oscar-winning actor has developed an odd reputation in recent years, thanks mostly to appearing in virtually every movie he’s offered. People seem to love his over-the-top antics more than ever, though many of these apparent fans have skipped the movies themselves in favor of repeat viewings of “UnCaged” YouTube supercuts.
Unfortunately much of his recent performances have been limited to lousy direct-to-video procedurals — the kind of stuff people rent when they’ve seen everything else in the Redbox.
As a longtime fan of Cage, it can be disheartening to see him slum in lousy material, but every now and again he provides a glimpse of the man who once delivered the angriest version of the “ABC’s” in cinema history (“Vampire’s Kiss,” still an underrated Cage performance).
His willingness to star in almost anything leads us to 2018, where Cage has already delivered two of his more bonkers roles in recent years. In “Mom & Dad,” available to stream on Hulu, he plays a mild-mannered father who is suddenly infected by a mysterious affliction that causes parents to violently attack their own children.
It’s an uneven mix of horror and dark comedy, but Cage serves up enough Capital D-Deranged ravings to make it worth a late-night stream.
Where “Mom & Dad” spills its genre thrills in economical fashion (it clocks in under 90 minutes), his latest, the psychedelic revenge thriller “Mandy,” takes its time before unlocking the Cage. ? Even when the actor goes big with the performance in the second half (and wields a self-forged battle ax), “Mandy” roots the character in enough humanity that it never becomes too much of a joke.
Consider it Nicolas Cage Unchained rather than Nicolas Cage Unhinged, and in this period of his career, that distinction matters.
Directed by Panos Cosmatos, “Mandy” centers on a lumberjack (Cage) and his wife, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) living in peace in a remote wilderness cabin. Things get nuts when the leader of a religious cult (Linus Roache, creepy) notices Mandy walking along the side of the road and decides he wants to recruit her into his madness.
Cage appears sparingly in the first half, with focus instead on the dynamic within the cult and with Mandy’s initial contact with them. While Cosmatos takes his time with the plot, he turns every second of the film into a rich onslaught of color and sound (with a memorable score by the late Johann Johannsson). “Mandy” is a consistently gorgeous film where the color, music and cinematography announce itself in every frame. Reality, at least on a compositional level, is not Cosmato’s intent.
The back half gets extremely violent, and, sure enough, Cage gets to howl in his tighty-whities and wield a chain saw in battle. But his actions are rooted in genuine anguish, and Cage is still a good enough actor to make the insanity seem believable and justified, at least given the situation.
Even for those who can admire the craft separate from the content, “Mandy” certainly isn’t a movie that’s easy to love. The methodical pacing, the fever-dream visuals and the bursts of gore appeal to seemingly opposite sets of moviegoers. It should be noted that Cosmatos’ first film, “Beyond the Black Rainbow” from 2010, has a reputation for being a movie often enjoyed by, um, medicinal partakers. “Mandy” certainly has enough wild imagery that it could also gain a similar notoriety.
Knowing all this may convince you to pass on “Mandy” entirely. That’s totally OK, so long as you remember Nicolas Cage is still out there, capable of delivering a real performance even while creating new material for the latest wild Cage supercut.
“Mandy” is available to rent now on digital VOD platforms. It releases on Blu-ray on Oct. 30.
Tyler Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org