– Summary –
Director : Paco Cabezas
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Nicolas Cage, Rachel Nichols, Peter Stormare, Danny Glover, Max Ryan, Michael McGrady, Judd Lormand, Pavel Lychnikoff, Aubrey Peeples.
Approx Running Time : 100 Minutes
Synopsis: A former thief’s daughter is kidnapped and killed by a Russian mob boss, and he must gather his old gang together to seek retribution.
What we think : What begins as an involving crime saga yarn featuring Nic Cage, rapidly comes undone once “retribution” is sought for Cage’s character’s murder. Cage overacts again, albeit in a restrained manner this time, while the characters, plot and pacing all lack momentum, energy or involvement. In the end, Tokarev becomes something of a chore to sit through. It never rings true.
You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.
It’s hard to take a Nic Cage film seriously these days. I mean, Cage was a brilliant actor in his day, but through the perils of appearing in a number of horrendous B-movies and Z-grade crud through the years, since his mid-90’s heyday, as well as infamously notching up some serious debt and tax problems for which he seemed to spiral out of control, a Cage-led picture has slowly becomes yet another instance of train-wreck celebrity derailing even the most dramatic and creatively profound projects he puts his name to. It’s hard to take a man seriously when he’s all but created his own online meme industry (“no, not the beeeeeeees!” being the most prolific of them all), and although in recent times he’s sought to put his career back into the black creatively, the taint of his career’s joke status remains lurking just in the background, waiting to leap out and say “gotcha ‘gain” to willing audiences. Tokarev, another Nic Cage dramatic film, attempts to give the man some credibility by playing a character who isn’t black-n-white defined: here, Cage is a reformed career criminal whose past comes back to haunt him, a tragic film that asks a lot of both Cage, his fellow cast-mates, and us, the audience. if you’re reading this, you’ll be asking yourself one simple question: is this film one with Mad Crazy Cage, or Minimalist Reserved Cage hoping to pay us back for The Wicker Man?
Plot synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: Paul Maguire (Nicolas Cage) and his buddies Kane (Max Ryan) and Doherty (Michael McGrady) live a life of crime. One night, they ambush a Russian mobster, intercepting him when he’s on his way to drop off money to his boss. The take is much larger than they imagined; along with a Russian gun called a Tokarev, they get away with a briefcase full of cash. It’s enough for Paul to leave the life of crime and go legit, but their crime sets off a bloody protracted war between their Irish crime family and the Russian mob. Paul instructs his friends to hide the money until things calm down between their outfit and the Russians. In spite of several casualties on both sides, their plan works well; five years after stealing the money, Paul, Kane and Doherty meet to split up the take. Paul uses his share to slowly build a legitimate construction empire in Mobile, Alabama. He marries a beautiful, ambitious woman named Vanessa (Rachel Nichols) and is a doting father to his teenage daughter Caitlin (Aubrey Peeples). His former mob boss, O’Connell (Peter Stormare) has allowed him to go legit, but he remains friends with his former buddies who haven’t had his luck when it comes to reforming. One night Paul and Vanessa are heading to a charity dinner, leaving Caitlin at home to hang out with her friends Evan and Mike (Max Fowler). At the dinner, a detective approaches Paul, who is used to being hassled for his former life of crime. But Detective St John (Danny Glover) isn’t hassling him; something has happened to Caitlin. Evan and Mike tell the police and Paul that they were watching TV with Caitlin, when several Russian men barged in and took her. They fought – but the Russians overtook Mike and Evan. Convinced the kidnapping is long-overdue retaliation for the crimes of his youth – specifically his run-in with Ivan, Paul ignores the police and mounts his own investigation.
Tokarev is one of those films with a whole heap of potential that squanders itself in trying too hard to be profound, dramatic, and powerful. It takes characters who are by rights largely unlikeable, sets us up to eventually find them appealing, before tugging the rug out from under us and hoping we’ll follow the descent into madness. The film begins with style and a nice hook – who kidnapped a former criminal’s innocent daughter? And how far will said ex-criminal go to find her, and her kidnappers? At some point, though, Tokarev deviates from a fairly benign, harmless crime thriller into a wannabe action flash-snap, amping up the brawlin’, the gunnin’, the running and chasing, the car crashin’ fun, all with a lethargic, tone-deaf approach from director Paco Cabezas. Oh sure, there’s style here, with the film lensed by one of my personal favorite DP’s in Andrzej Sekula (Pulp Fiction, Cube 2 [also directed], Vacancy and For The love Of Money), but Tokarev’s uneven story and inconsistent characterizations make for frustrating viewing.
Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. This is a Reserved Nic Cage – albeit for the first half of the film, before he unleashed the wild-haired crazy-eyed version we’ve all become accustomed to expecting. Sure, there’s a reason for his crazy antics here, and in most aspects the film warrants this turn, but it’s the kind of performance one might label as schizophrenic were it not insulting to people with actual schizophrenia. Paul Macguire is a rigidly in-control figure. His shady past and his often temperamental nature make him a volatile creature were the pressure to be applied – it’s fair to say that the kidnap and murder of his daughter (yeah, that’s a spoiler, but it’s pretty damn obvious if you look at the trailer for this one) invites pressure of the highest order. Cage makes Macguire inherently likeable in that Marlon Brando Godfather kinda way; tough, fair, demanding of honor and yet ready to snap if you look at him the wrong way. But when the film derails late in the piece, and we’re expected to follow Macguire’s downward spiral back into that kill-or-be-killed pursuit of revenge, the film can’t handle the weight of such responsibility.
It’s not that the characters aren’t well defined, or particularly deep in terms of their resonance on the screen, but Paco Cabezas often stylish approach doesn’t have the energetic effortlessness to capitalize on the rather grim plot. Cage out-acts everyone else on the screen – even poor Danny Glover, who must surely be hoping his policeman pension comes in, because as Detective St John, I really expected an “I’m too old for this shit” riff…. it didn’t happen, more’s the pity. The story relies on just about every mafia-driven film trope you can imagine, as well as horrendous stereotypes of Russians, corrupt cops, dedicated “friends” who are in it “for life”, and even the unwilling willing-wife, who urges her husband to do “whatever it takes”, as long as it doesn’t take murder, violence, emotion or even actually doing anything. Peter Stormare does a twitchy impression of a Russian mobster, although he feels like a poorly written caricature in an otherwise bland and uneventful movie.
Yeah, I say uneventful because as much as there’s plenty of violence and action along the way, it all feels too generic to really matter. A car chase through the streets of Mobile is clumsily handled, all shaky-cam and uber-closeups and whatnot, and several key plot moments (such as the police letting Macguire go after said chase which caused untold property damage) stagger logic and confound comprehension. Also, a large amount of contrivance in coincidence leaves the latter third of the film almost a laughable joke, as if the budget didn’t allow for key linking scenes to explain how Person A might know about Event B and why we see Action D as a result – it’s like they couldn’t wait to wrap it all up. Cabezas’ preponderance towards the violence within the story isn’t without merit – these are violent people and their actions, regardless of intent, have violent consequences. Well duh. But there’s no emotional core to what transpires, we never feel Macguire’s rage and fury in the way Cage personifies it, it’s all just… there, without context. The story is a basic “whodunnit” to a large degree, and although the final confrontation is itself rather enthralling (if not somewhat trite) it comes too little, too late, to make much sense of the rest of the film.
Tokarev isn’t so much an action film or a crime film as it is a reason for Cage to try transitioning from bad internet joke to relevant and interesting actor. The film at least tries to make us feel something, it tries to make these characters interesting or at least empathetic, and it tries damn hard to give us something different in this genre entry: it doesn’t succeed entirely, nor does it fail utterly. It sits somewhere in the unspectacular middle, a piffle of a film with delusions of grandeur that never materialize. The going gets tough, especially as Cage’s character is forced to apparently revert back to his criminal, thuggish ways (a change which is never earned by the by) and things start to spiral out of control, making Tokarev at least cursorily interesting if not entirely memorable. Worth a look for Cage fans (if there are any of you left) but otherwise, it might pay to skip this.