Photo: Gustavo Figueiredo/RLJE Films

Space Rock

Nicolas Cage confronts cosmic evil in the sci-fi/horror thriller Color Out of Space

The following anecdote may or may not be totally accurate — I suspect it is, the source is reliable — but it doesn’t matter because it’s just tasty enough to have the ring of higher truth.

A good friend of mine worked at a video store in West Hollywood in the early ’90s where Nicolas Cage was a frequent flyer. One Friday night, Cage brought a stack of tapes up to the counter for checkout. My friend started scanning the titles. “Dude, you’re in all of these movies!” he finally said.

Cage looked around the store for a moment and then leveled his gaze at my friend. “Yeah,” he said. “So?”

I love this story. Can’t you just hear that “So?” — delivered in Cage’s trademark nasally drawl, equal parts petulance and shame, as if to say, “Don’t tell me you wouldn’t do the same thing if you had the balls.” I confess that I would, indeed, do the same thing, but I lack Cage’s exquisite Jungian balance, his madman courage that zigs and zags at breakneck speed between hero and ham, martyr and maniac, geek and stud.

I deeply suspect that, for Cage, being Nicolas Cage is enough. When you see an actor like Tom Hanks in a movie, you are watching Tom Hanks act a part, and he’s pretty damn good at it; but when you see Cage in a movie, you are watching Nicolas Cage act as Nicolas Cage acting a part for Nicolas Cage, an inside-out inversion of Hollywood stardom that transforms pathological narcissism into a kind of self-sacrifice. Overacting, for Cage, is the ultimate restraint. His tantrums beat at the walls of the ego-prison we all refuse to acknowledge.

Case in point: Cage followed his Oscar-winning 1995 performance as a dying alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas with a turn as the mullet-headed beefcake anti-hero in Con Air, a bit of absurdly hyped-up Bruckheimer action cheese. What looked at first like clueless career suicide now appears, in the Cage legend, as a brilliant flip of the bird to our — and maybe even his — expectations of what stardom should look like.

At this point, we’re all buying tickets to see Nicolas Cage movies because, first and foremost, they are Nicolas Cage movies, and he’s graciously obliging us by spitting out performances like a doughnut machine. Remember 2018’s Mandy, the revenge masterpiece where Cage, bloodied and insane, battled evil into the apocalypse itself? He’s been in seven movies since then, the latest of which is Color Out of Space, based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft and directed by Richard Stanley.

If it’s Cage who gets you into the seat for this one, good enough, but beyond his performance you’re in for a real treat: Color Out of Space is a fantastic sci-fi/horror film, a smart neo-gothic thriller that, like Mandy, is a legitimate entry into the Evil Dead pantheon of smart, scary cult films that walk a delicate balance between outright terror and darkly humorous meta-commentary on modern social malaise (with a devastating ecological and political message lurking in its interstices).

Cage plays Nathan, whose wife (Joely Richardson) is recovering from a recent mastectomy. He moves his family, including witchy daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) and younger son Benny (Brendan Meter), out to the country, where they try to set up a life so many of us are craving these days: something rural and uncomplicated, where organic is the norm, with maybe a few alpacas to raise as a side hustle (keep an eye on those alpacas). If you’re familiar with Lovecraft, such idyllic settings are ground zero for strains of evil that are primeval and otherworldly.

In this case, evil arrives in the form of a meteor that lands in the family’s yard one night, and which flares a cosmic shade of magenta that starts to infuse the landscape. In fact, the meteor’s powers begin to infect everything, body-snatchers style, slowly transforming all surrounding life into a grotesque cellular replica of itself — including Cage, whose slow, embattled possession is disconcertingly, and hilariously, Trump-like.

As in Mandy, the implications of Color Out of Space are nothing short of apocalyptic, albeit played out on a small domestic stage, at least in the beginning. Stanley, with tasteful precision, walks the finest tightrope between Lovecraftian grandiosity and grindhouse grit, resulting in a movie that is both really scary when it’s scary and really funny when it’s funny, and supremely in control of both poles.

In fact, the movie’s true brilliance rests in the way it seamlessly melds the mythos of Lovecraft with the mythos of Nicolas Cage, allowing each of these eternal dynamos to guide the proceedings as the yin/yang of good and evil. The result is a movie that is at once immediate and timely as well as metaphorical and vast — a meditation on creeping evil that is outside all human bounds and yet, in its destructive tendencies, human to the core. (Broadway Metro)

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