PLOT:A washed-up Crusader must help a young prince - the rightful heir to a kingdom's throne - flee from his evil older brother, who wants to claim what he feels is his birthright.
REVIEW: A movie starring Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen as 12th-century crusaders in Asia seems to have about as much promise as a particularly intense bout of electroshock treatment. The former, as we well know, went off the deep end long ago and is now slumming it in a string of morbidly unimpressive direct-to-VOD flicks; he's not even fun to poke fun at anymore. Meanwhile, Christensen will never shrug off the shroud of "Ani," the actor's horrendous turns in the STAR WARS prequels have left him with little legacy other than a place in the "where are they now?" file. These two together as fearsome warriors? What punishment is this?
Well, it's to my surprise (and perhaps disappointment) that OUTCAST is not an exceptional disaster. It's not good, mind you. It's a barely adequate time-killer; blandly directed, unimaginatively written and boringly acted... except Cage, who does bring the crazy a little bit, just like he did in the good old days. But, sadly, Cage is only a supporting character in the film, leaving Christensen to shoulder the load. And even he's not as dreadful as we might expect. No, OUTCAST won't go in the Annals of Bad Movies; it'll merely be forgotten.
The film does strike an amusing chord early on, where we're introduced to Cage and Christensen as sword-swinging warriors on a "holy" mission of cleansing during the Crusades. Christensen's Jacob has pretty much gone 'round the bend, blood-thirsty and unwavering, killing everything in his sight, while Cage's Gallain has had enough of the Church's hypocrisy and is content to lay down his weapon. The two have a falling out and go their separate ways (Gallain of course knew Jacob's father, so there's bigtime history there), Gallain to who-knows-where and Jacob to whatever opium den he can find. The two actors give off "what the hell am I doing here?" vibes and, like a masochist, I prepared myself for a hellish journey of my own.
A subplot emerges: as an emperor dies, he gives his throne to a gentle young prince (Bill Su Jiahang) instead of his eldest son, a power-mad brute (Andy So). In a development right out of GLADIATOR, the bad son kills dad and declares himself the ruler, while his younger brother runs off - with kindly sister Lian (Liu Yifei) - now an enemy of the kingdom. (It should be noted that the country is never specified; the film was shot in China.) The hunted siblings find themselves in a shady bar, searching for help, and come across a groggy and disgraced Jacob, who agrees to aid them after fending off some royal guards. He's in it for the gold, of course, but ultimately becomes their reinvigorated protector. Redemption unlocked.
All very run-of-the-mill, all very ho-hum. Christensen, utilizing an accent of indeterminate origin (British? Irish?), makes for a very uninteresting hero, though it must be said his performance is not completely awful (compliment!).Rather he's just insipid, the hero's journey written for him carries no weight because the actor is simply a commonplace screen presence and not a dynamic one. He can't build much chemistry with his Chinese co-stars and he isn't very convincing during the action scenes. He's not helped, admittedly, by director Nick Powell's rudimentary handling of the material, nor James Dormer's lazy script. (It's basically a western, structurally.) No one's bringing their A-game here.
Except for Cage. He shows up again around the 60-minute mark, as a drunken shell of his former self with a scarred eye and slurred growl. Ahh, this is the Cage we want to see: over-the-top, howling his every line in an accent no man has ever used before. It's a relief when Christensen and company have the good fortune to run into Cage, because the movie was at that point on the verge of falling asleep. Cage brings bluster and unintentional hilarity, sparking some life into the proceedings. His reemergence doesn't make the movie much better - the last act is just as undemanding as what came before it - but at least our eyes aren't glazing over anymore. This is the Cage we need, the one we deserve; sure it's just another paycheck job, but at least he's really singing for his supper now instead of phoning it in.