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DIRECTED BY: Yuval Adler
FEATURING: Nicolas Cage, Joel Kinnaman
PLOT: A father-to-be is waylaid at gunpoint while en route to the maternity ward, and instead spends the evening surviving his kidnapper’s increasingly odd and desperate outbursts.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Idiot that I am, my initial thought was, “Nah. This is exactly the kind of movie Nicolas Cage would star in these days,” only to recognize some moments afterwards that, oh yes, that necessarily means it’s a weird ride.
COMMENTS: There’s an honesty to Yuval Adler’s film. It’s in the title, where we’re told up front just what emotion to succumb to. It’s in the song playing under the opening credits, heralding both a plot point and a celebration who this movie is for. (Hint: it’s for you, but not just you…) And it’s in the first, murky appearance of Sympathy for the Devil‘s raison d’être, the old man himself, Nicolas Cage. This is a vehicle for weird cinema’s favorite high caliber nutjob, and it appropriately takes place in a literal vehicle. Sure, sure, there are some segues: an amusing gas station aside, an extended diner freakout, and a Dantean expository oratorio in a labyrinth of big rigs. But this is about Nic Cage, in a vehicle, with his red hair and red lounge-jacket and assorted weapons and intermittent Boston accent.
Knowing the star and the premise, you know whether or not you’re going to watch this already. But I would like to take a moment to highlight two ancillary, but still important, elements. First, allow me to share the good news. This is a deliciously gleaming film. In case you’re not aware, it begins in Las Vegas, and though driver and passenger leave the Strip early on, they bring the colors with them.
Cage’s “passenger” does the heavy lifting (never has red hair looked so doofy, frightening, and appropriate as in this movie), but the film’s palette does its share of overtime to complement the bright, bright shock above the his maniacal face: the cool blues recurring around the bamboozled driver; the dreamy electro-greens during an inspired performance of Alicia Bridges’ “I Love the Night Life“… Frankly, it’s a visual delight, particularly when the flames burst during Cage’s operatic rant.
Second, as you have probably guessed, is the bad news. But bad, well, that’s somewhat too strong. With an experience like Sympathy for the Devil, it’s borderline ungrateful to opine about the ending. We’ve had the pleasure of riding with a nutso Cage for ninety minutes, so damn the whys and wherefors! But an esteemed media colleague suggested that it may have been better—certainly more (which, we know, is a synonym for “better” in this case)—if the inverse had occurred. At the time I agreed, and still, for the most part, do. I got to thinking this past day, and began to wonder if there was any “ideal” way to wrap up this evening trapped in a car with Nicolas Cage. Presuming you can sink your teeth into his particular brand of ham, the only disappointing part is the meal’s completion. Mandy managed to end the dinner with a masterful touch of psycho-cutesy. But Yuval Adler just kinds of stops the car, turns the ignition key, and leaves us to wander off with a mere “oh, okay” after an evening of “oh dear Lord!”
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: