Joe, Tokarev, and Cage at the Crossroads

By Ygal Kaufman

JoeReviewAdvocate readers in the under-25 set probably only know Nicolas Cage as an Internet meme. Sure, he’s been in 75 movies in the last 33 years, but due to his on- and off-screen exuberance, most young’ns really know him best from the endless Internet hipsterism that has mangled his legacy.

A few points:

1) Nicolas Cage as ironic meme fodder is so, as they say, 2000 and late. The only thing more tired than Cage-isms are jokes about Insane Clown Posse.

2) Nicolas Cage is a wonderful actor who has had three sustained eras of popularity in different types of films in different decades.

3) He needs a new agent.

There are currently two new Cage joints in various stages of release: Joe and Tokarev. The two films couldn’t be more different, nor could they better serve to illustrate the odd crossroads his career is at.

Joe is the bittersweet tale of a grizzled contractor, played by Cage, who takes a young itinerant boy from a severely broken home under his wing. The film, directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, All the Real Girls), is a heartbreaking and beautifully shot story of growing up, both when you’re a teen and when you’re on the cusp of mid-life.

Cage brings gravitas and foreboding to the role of Joe, a ticking time bomb of resentment, who the viewer seems to know, right from the outset, is going to blow. The film, meanwhile, lopes beautifully from dark to darker, to lightly comic, and then back to the depths of darkness. This is Green’s stock in trade, as all of his movies seem to juxtapose serious and silly in wholly unexpected ways.

This is the kind of film Cage should be doing more often, where complexity pays off. He’s been in exactly three films of this kind in the last five years: The Bad Lieutenant (2009), Kick Ass (2010), and now Joe. The other 10 films he appeared in during that stretch have been more or less, unremittent trash.

And I can’t blame Cage for this; everyone’s had to cash in while they can. But his string of straight-to-Bluray action fare is definitely hurting his A-list bona fides.

Enter Tokarev, Cage’s yet-to-be-released new piece of forgettable garbage. What can I say about this stinker that hasn’t already been said about the Cover Oregon website? It sucks.

Cage plays an angry father (again) with an inexplicably attractive wife 20 years his junior (again) who have a daughter kidnapped/killed (again) forcing him to “take matters into his own hands.”

No, seriously, check out the plots of Stolen, Seeking Justice, and Drive Angry, some of his recent gems. Each has at least three of those four elements.

In Tokarev we’re helpfully clubbed over the head at every turn by terrible writing: “Let us do our jobs,” intones a hilariously old and bored-looking Danny Glover no less than five times in the movie. The acting is wooden, the art direction and lighting are almost embarrassing, and the payoff at the end, borderline insulting.

Interestingly, in both Joe and Tokarev Cage is playing this familiar role: brooding everyman with dark secret burns with rage, just beneath the surface, destined to burst forth. The difference, which one wonders if Cage is aware of, is in the writing. Joe has a unique and idiosyncratic script, while Tokarev… doesn’t.

Fortunately for you, I’ll be there to watch every clunker he churns out, warning you away from the Tokarevs and guiding you to the Joes.

Joe is available for streaming rental on Google Play, Tokarev will hopefully never be released in the U.S.