“Outcast”: Two White Guys Make an Ancient Chinese Epic

Nic Cage big yawn now

EntertainmentOne

I entered my viewing of Outcast with fear. Nicolas Cage and the former Anakin Skywalker decided it would be a great idea to make a movie together. It would take place in ancient China, just two humble white men, perpetually drunk, high, and changing the course of a helpless people’s entire history. What could be more respectful?

Outcast was so good that China postponed its release a full year without explanation, and America shoved it to DVD with no fanfare. Even Drive Angry got a theatrical release. It’s OK. Two hours. That’s all I have to sacrifice. I grabbed a beer (Yuengling Black & Tan) to steel myself and decided that, if this was my last act as a critic, I would at least write down the experience of watching one of history’s very worst performances. My sacrifice could warn future generations. Here we go:

Hayden Christensen and Nicolas Cage are Crusaders. Hayden is all about killing some Middle Eastern folk, but Nic isn’t on board. “Let’s go east,” he suggests. “No one goes east,” Hayden responds.

Here’s the thing – 30 seconds in and already Nic Cage can’t manage to hold his accent. What is that? English? Canadian? I think it’s Canadian. If someone walked up to Hayden and quietly informed him that Nic Cage suffers a condition where the end of every word left his jaw swinging open, unable to close or stop making sound, it would explain a lot. Maybe that’s in the director’s cut.

We’re in China now. That there’s a monk in this movie who beats people up with kung fu is perfectly predictable. I would’ve been disappointed if there weren’t. I’m only disturbed by the fact that his most impressive moves are accompanied by trills of Chilean panpipe music.

Three years later, Hayden Christensen is high on opium. His character, too, I think. He’s in China and he encounters the Princess and the young King. They’re running from assassins sent by their evil, older brother. Despite being so tripped up on downers he can barely stand, Hayden beats the assassins up. I think he confuses them by alternating between Tatooine Bronx and some form of Irish brogue. Ironically, Hayden is actually Canadian. I mean, if I were Canada, I wouldn’t admit that. I wonder if he tutored Nic Cage how to be a Canadian Crusader.

Oh, now the panpipes accompany every new scene. Awesome. Got an establishing shot? Panpipes. Hayden performs a special skill? Panpipes. Did the Chinese invade Chile in the Middle Ages and I’m just now finding out about this brilliant historical note?

Hayden’s got the princess and the preteen King in tow. Now he rescues a villager. They have a fight over whether she should join the party. Finally, Hayden relents. She’s in! Why do I feel like I’m watching the worst Bioware play-through ever? Am I going to have to decide between rescuing Hayden and Nic at some point? Can I choose neither?

This movie is 40 minutes in and they could’ve covered everything that’s happened in the first 10.

Oh no, the princess just threw Hayden’s opium in the fire! Given how well he’s fought while high, including a sniper shot with a shortbow at 200 paces, I’d have bought him extra. She actually follows it with a pretty good monologue about feminism in a male-dominated society. Of course, Hayden replies with this brilliant rejoinder: “I’m sorry. A princess is a woman, too.” Good job, Hayden. How are you still single?

Hayden takes his shirt off to bathe in a lake. As a great warrior, he’s covered in battle scars. But…why are they all on his back? Shouldn’t they be on his front, where he’s fighting, or does he just turn tail and run in that many fights?

The princess just slipped as she mounted her horse. Hayden catches her. There’s a longing glance. Clearly, this princess who has a clear vision for her country and detests men who can’t take care of themselves can only find love with this drunken, European drug addict.

They were in the forest when that happened. The next day, they’re in a desert. This is a metaphor for Hayden’s acting career.

They sneak into a town and tell their entire story to complete strangers who run a brothel. I’m sure this won’t backfire. Just a thought, but maybe this bunch shouldn’t be running a kingdom. Evil older brother seems to know what he’s doing. He’s a lot more organized. Hayden’s drunkenness has, of course, gotten them all screwed over, but it’s OK – he wakes up, punches a woman in the face, and tells her unconscious body, “I already have a mistress.” What a catch!

Hayden’s not bad at the fight choreography. I only wish the same could be said of the editor. Someone should have given him some downers.

Boat chase! Man, there aren’t nearly enough boat chases in movies. Despite a five minute head start and their pursuers wearing enough armor to sink their own canoes, a minute later the princess is only seconds ahead of the assassins. Did she accidentally paddle backwards?

NIC CAGE IS BACK, EVERYBODY. With snakes! Like, his hands are snakes! And has he lost an eye or is it really bright in that candlelit tent? What’s with…what’s with everything that’s going on right now? He’s talking like a pirate. He’s scratching his beard with a snake. Is he going to join the party? I bet his companion quest sucks, though.

Quick note: Jackie Chan would’ve got this shit done by now.

Preparing for imminent battle, Nic Cage and Hayden have a sit down to discuss philosophy and God. This is the big “acting” scene between the two of them. Like most major moments in film history, I can only wonder what’s going on in the actors’ heads. Is Hayden thinking, “Man, Canadian pirate Nic Cage is so good. He’s enunciating every word like Captain Kirk!” Or is he thinking, “Oh my god, I’m a better actor than Nic Cage. And he has an Oscar!” Or maybe Hayden’s just having a frightening vision of his own future.

Turns out Nic Cage did lose an eye, despite the facts that there’s almost no makeup, he’s clearly squinting the whole time, and you can occasionally see the missing eye in some shots. His snake powers must’ve allowed him to regrow the eye! Oh my god, that explains the accent, too! Whenever he hits a vowel, Nic Cage’s jaw unhinges and he struggles to snap it shut again. Sucks for acting. Awesome for eating rats.

Every shot in this movie is straight-ahead, except for those with Nic Cage. Every time a camera looks at him, it tilts wildly to the side, like he’s some sort of Medusa that doesn’t work quite right. Not only is Cage single-handedly ruining this movie, director Nick Powell’s shots of him are exacerbating it. Is he trying to hide Cage’s acting? Because there’s something we like to call the editing room floor. Did anyone, at any point, pull Cage to the side and explain that the rest of this mess is actually a passable B-film, so please stop ruining careers? Did they plead with him? Did Cage look back and cackle and demand they guess his real name or they’d owe him their firstborn? How did that go down?

If this all ends in a panpipe battle for the empire, I will be so happy. I will forgive everything. I will file for Chinese citizenship tomorrow.

There’s a difference between shooting a fight scene and shooting a battle scene. A fight scene is orderly and straight ahead. Every piece of information is on-screen at once. A battle scene demands translating chaos into something sensible. You select moments that symbolize the direction of an entire conflict because there’s too much information to communicate to a viewer at once. This director can shoot a fight scene. He cannot shoot a battle.

Nic Cage’s rebel wife is hurling area-of-effect grenades at the bad guys now. This is officially the worst Bioware game ever.

The bad guys surround Nic Cage with dozens of soldiers, a perfect time to send soldiers at him one-at-a-time. They’re shocked they can’t overwhelm this great warrior. It’s OK. He dies. The long international nightmare is over. Nic Cage’s dying words are, “I see you, woman.” Classy till the end. Oh, spoilers.

Now the Chinese villain is speaking in an Irish accent. And the pan pipes keep on going. And despite having everything he wants and an army at his back, he still challenges Hayden to single combat. Just shoot him! Oh no, this is dangerous. Hayden has a signature move composed of swinging his sword wildly over your head, making you duck under it, and kneeing you in the face. He’s put all his skill points into it. It’s his only move – well, no, that and punching women in the face while describing how awesome his totally-not-fake mistress is – but it’s REALLY effective.

Pretty much everyone just died. This is like Hamlet but worse. Unless it’s the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet. That shit’s four hours. Is Hayden now Emperor of China? OK, no, but we’re three seconds from Derek Jacobi walking up to him and asking, “Who will help me carry him?”

All in all, this is a halfway decent B film. Halfway. But then Nic Cage comes in, eats the scenery, sometimes has snakes for hands, occasionally has an eye, and tips all the cameramen over with a glance. He ruins everything in sight, but that’s just what Canadian Irish Crusader Pirates do. Is there precedent for getting someone’s salary back?

Oh, and they’ve planned a sequel.

Comments

comments

Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel is a movie critic who's been a campaign manager in Oregon, an investigative reporter in Texas, and a film producer in Massachusetts. His writing was named best North American criticism of 2014 by the Local Media Association. He's assembled a band of writers who focus on social issues in film. They have a home base.