Nicolas Cage is one of the most widely reviled major stars in Hollywood. From a distance, it's easy to understand why. Leveraged badly because of issues with the IRS, Cage hardly says no when a project comes his way. That explains his involvement in movies like the upcoming Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengenance and, just going back over the last two years, Trespass, Drive Angry, Season of the Witch, The Sorcerer's Apprentice and G-Force. If you've seen a bad movie in the last half-decade, it seems like there's at least a 10 percent chance Cage was prominently involved.
Thing is, I'm just not sure why this makes him so detestable. Cage is doing what any of us would do if the tax man came knocking -- taking any paycheck that comes his way -- and it's not as if he's the one responsible for the cheesy lines he's charged with delivering or the flimsy plotlines his characters must advance.
I'd argue that Cage is actually capable of being quite good and, if anything, he makes many of the lousy movies he's in marginally more enjoyable, but I'm an admitted Cage enthusiast. So take it from someone else -- MTV VJ and movie reviewer Kurt Loder, who wrote the following about Cage in his new book The Good, the Bad, and the God-Awful:
“The man is a genre unto himself,” Loder insists. “Such a fine actor, and yet ... Bangkok Dangerous? Ghost Rider!? I know he’s had IRS problems, but his project choices are still baffling: Season of the Witch is a movie that has ‘January release’ written all over it. On the other hand, it has to be said that Cage never just phones in a performance -- he’s always entirely present and giving it his full attention. Unfortunately, in many cases this only adds an element of queasy humor. I’ll definitely be there for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. ... Can’t muster the same certainty about National Treasure 3, though.”
When I shared Loder's sentiment with several of my friends, the reaction from some was indignant. Cage has been in some brutally bad films, and as one of them said in reference to 2000's The Family Man, "you don't ever come back from that."
Cage's career is quite inconvenient if you're making that argument, and you don't have bring up The Rock, Face-Off or Con Air -- three movies I loved, but will probably be unwatchable if you weren't, you know, there.
Just two years after the release of The Family Man, he starred in Adaptation, one of the best films of the last 10 years A little over a year ago, he was in Kick-Ass, one of the more acclaimed films of 2010 (and a personal favorite).
Most inconveniently of all if you're ready to cast him off because of one of his many cinematic atrocities, Cage was the star of Raising Arizona, one of the first movies by the brilliant directing duo of the Coen Brothers, or as we'll call them for the purposes of this article, Cage-Haters' Kryptonite.
I'm not trying to pretend that Cage's contributions to film have been tremendous. I'm not even saying he's not representative of some of Hollywood's worst qualities -- uncreative, cookie-cutter concepts with wildly overexposed leading men and women. What I am saying is I don't understand why he's the focus of such a disproportionate amount of ire. Maybe it's because he simply appears in more films than his peers in mediocrity. Maybe it's the hair. (I really think it might be the hair.)
But if you start to compare him rationally to those peers in mediocrity, you see that Cage isn't really committing any more sins than other actors in his class.
Take John Travolta, who has, since 2005, starred in only three movies rated above 80 percent by critics on Rotten Tomatoes and appeared in duds like Be Cool, Lonely Hearts, Wild Hogs, Old Dogs, The Taking of Pelham 123 and From Paris With Love.
Or glance over Samuel L. Jackson's filmography. Were it not for his relationship with director Quentin Tarantino, which basically guarantees he's in a good movie twice a decade, some of his most noteworthy films lately would include Soul Men, Jumper and Lakeview Terrace.
How about Johnny Depp? Everyone loves him, right? Only he's been a part of twice as many mostly lamentable Pirates of the Caribbean films as Cage's National Treasure franchise. Let's not let him off the hook for his role in The Tourist, either.
The point here is that honing in on Cage is misplacing your rage. It should be directed at a system that props up stars like Cage based on the flimsy premise that his face and persona will move more inventory than, you know, originality or complexity or basically any of the things that made Inception a blockbuster hit.
You should be fighting the proverbial man (Hollywood), not the literal man (Cage). Or as another of my Cage-hating friends put it:
I'm actually all for taking a lot of the so-called "great" actors out of the pantheon. I think the tendency should always be to shit on actors until they've proved themselves. They make millions pretending and have the world's biggest elitist, circle-jerk establishment on the planet.
Maybe all it will take is a better haircut for folks to stop slamming Cage and see the big picture.