Nicolas Cage’s approach to accepting roles, which might charitably be called “unbothered” throws up some interesting results. The actor’s prodigious body of work cuts across genres and budget levels incorporating everything from mega-blockbusters to niche indy gems. It’s a laudable approach to work – let’s not forget it is a trade after all – which throws up unexpected hits as well as some utter stinkers. For every treat like Mandy or Bringing Out the Dead there are clangers like Looking Glass.
Running with the Devil fits very firmly into the latter category of shocker, it’s sad to say. It seems to exist with Cage’s input because of some act of chance. One assumes, that while co-stars Barry Pepper and Laurence Fishburne probably didn’t have much else on, Cage has popped up in this simply because it was the first offer of a job on his answering machine.
It’s a supposed deep-dive into the cocaine production, smuggling and distribution businesses, with Cage playing a middle man sent to Colombia to oversee transport of the latest shipment. It’s difficult to know what Writer/Director Jason Cabell, was trying to achieve with this. Is he looking to lift the flagstones covering a business whose tendrils creep into many facets of Western life, from South American farmers to middle-class America? Or does he merely wish to spend some 90-odd minutes in the company of posing, powder snorting gangsters and prostitutes?
It’s constructed entirely out of cliches collected from a dozen movies where you’ve already seen this done before and done much better to boot. Lumpen tropes: nameless, suited criminals waltzing through nightclubs; cheerfully naive South American peasantry mixing with ruthless gangs; and earnestly harassed Federal Agents furrowing their brows into coffee cups all make up the drama.
This paint-by-numbers approach to writing is, perhaps, not a crippling disability in terms of undermining your enjoyment, but the movie’s inherent resistance to rising above the cliches certainly is. Running with the Devil never revels in its second-rate writing, but it does feel hobbled by it; like a man wading through mud unable to keep his head above a rising tide of tedium. At times it displays a slightly smug sensibility too; an undergraduate sense of entitled cool as if it thinks it’s wearing the sharpest suit you’ve ever seen – one you could never afford yourself. Its characters all go by monikers such as “The Man” or “The Snitch”, with the irritating air of a cocksure, teenage Tarantino fan
It also has a slightly slapdash approach to narrative consistency which throws up jarring cuts and out-of-place-looking fades. If you were in a good mood, you might pass this off as a stylistic choice, but in the sober light of morning, you’d suspect it was a side product of the ineptitude that seems to flow through this thing.
Dir: Jason Cabell
Scr: Jason Cabell
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, Barry Pepper, Leslie Bibb, Adam Goldberg
Prd: Michael Mendelsohn, Jim Steele
DOP: Cory Geryak
Runtime: 88 minutes
Running with the Devil is available on digital now.