Sunday, September 7, 2008

Movie Review: Bangkok Dangerous

'Bangkok Dangerous' is stalled by inertia

What motivates Nicolas Cage to kill in "Bangkok Dangerous"? He's playing a mercenary on assignment in Thailand, but the notion of a payday doesn't thrill him. The killing isn't a turn-on, either; he offs his targets with unwavering lassitude. Assassin or sleepwalker, who can say? It seems like a nasty Ambien reaction.

Cage actually appears to be under the control of a game pad rather than Danny and Oxide Pang, the Hong Kong-born, Thailand-based brothers who've done a pitiful job remixing their own so-so 1999 action thriller. It's as if the Pangs themselves directed their remake via game console. "Bangkok Dangerous" is bad without lifting a finger toward interesting. The trouble with it is that the people who've made it don't appear to understand life enough to allow any of it into their movie. This is an airless affair.

The Pangs pour on the trigger-happy mayhem and manage to skirt moral considerations by staging a government assassination straight out of "J.F.K.," then implying that it was a figment of somebody's imagination - and not Oliver Stone's. A motorboat chase gives way to a clumsy motorbike chase. And sometime later we're left to puzzle over the erotic implications of Cage's decision to upend a framed picture of an elephant so that its trunk stands up like a phallus. He's just left his date. Maybe an act of displacement is underway.

But, really, who cares? By the time we've come to a genre-mandated abandoned-warehouse shootout it's unclear what's even at stake, besides 10 more minutes before we can leave. It's incredible how the anguish of all this mayhem and death has been bled out of the movie until there's nothing for an audience to feel. The movie watches us more than we watch it.

I don't know where the excitement here is supposed to come from. Is it in watching a freshly strangled body sink slowly to the bottom of a swimming pool or in watching Cage ask out a deaf woman who works at a pharmacy and enduring her giggle spasms? Is it in seeing how close an action movie can come to doubling as a karaoke video?

"Bangkok Dangerous" is built entirely out of other films - from Johnnie To's to Chuck Norris's. And there are certain filmmakers who can take a stack of movies and build an entertaining work of cinematic origami. There's not much real life in a Scorsese or Tarantino picture, but the movies are always inarguably alive. It's a matter of pastiche versus imitation. The Pangs can't seem to rip themselves off with any vibrancy or wit. They've even made Bangkok look bilgy. This feels very much like the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie that Mos Def and Jack Black would have remade with no budget in "Be Kind Rewind." But "Bangkok Dangerous" - in addition to demonstrating no interest in the art of storytelling, the art of suspense, or the art of art - has no charm. It's dismayingly comatose, a cynical exercise whose star can't even be roused to action.

Cage's face here is so tight that it looks incapable of expressing an emotion of any kind. All the character and charisma have been blasted away. He can't scowl or squint or snarl. He just looks in need of a nap. Usually in a terrible Cage movie - "The Weather Man," "Ghost Rider," "Next," "National Treasure 2"; I could go on - his weariness is the joke he plays on the material. Not anymore. All his features look permanently frozen in a scary rictus of boredom. He's now the Nicolas Cage Halloween mask.

Wesley Morris can be reached at For more on movies, go to

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