My face when I was assigned this movie was somewhere between
with a dash of
thrown in. Willfully submitting myself to Left Behind wasn’t bad enough—now I have to watch Nicolas Cage and the “edgy, dangerous, dark and still soulful” Hayden Christen cavort around saving 12th century China? Damn that straight to Mustafar!
We start with Jacob (Christensen) and his mentor Gallain (Cage) fighting in the Crusades for the gloooooory of Jesus. They’re also fighting for the twin titles of Worst Hair and Worst Accent. Both of them have this weird Irish/Scottish hybrid going on, while Cage’s manky dreads are eclipsed by Christensen’s Medieval Times Hipster Faux-Hawk. It’s established that the fun of the Crusades is starting to fade for Gallain with stunningly stiff dialogue as:
Jacob: You’re not the man you once were.
Gallain: None of us are.
There’s some fighting, there’s some blood. Then we cut to three years later, where the Chinese King has decided that his younger son Qiang (Lixin Zhao) will be his heir, because the oldest son Shing (Andy On) is a warmongering asshole. It’s up to Qiang’s older sister Lian (Yifei Liu) to get His Teenage Majesty to their father’s generals so he can be crowned before Shing and his deadly Black Guards track them down and kill them both. Naturally, Qiang and Lian need someone to serve as their guide and bodyguard on the journey, and they choose Jacob, who’s been hanging around at bars getting high on opium ever since the Crusades.
The movie goes exactly where you think it will. Christensen does his best Han Solo, pretending to be only it for the money while he’s actually being ~~won to the side of righteousness~~ by Lian, who looks past his gruff exterior and sees the hurting, sensitive soul within. Vomit. Nicolas Cage isn’t in the movie all that much—one gets the sense that he collected a check to show up for a few days so he could make some headway on his multiple mortgages, which is 100% what happened—but there is a single short scene of unbridled Cage craziness that starts at around 1:09:00. With one “But the.. guuuAARRRRDS!… CUT! OUT! HER! TONGUE!,” Cage reaffirms his status at the OG scenery chewer against upstarts like Jupiter Ascending’s Eddie Redmayne.
First-time director Nick Powell—previously a stunt coordinator for films like X-Men: The Last Stand, The Last Samurai, and Dustin’s favorite movie Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever—tries to jazz up a boring story told by staggeringly bad actors (even Cage is sleepwalking most of the time) spouting wooden lines of dialogue (“My brother is the kingdom’s only hope! If you don’t help us, we will be killed!”) with unusual visual touches like Drunk-O-Vision, High-On-Opium-O-Vision, and a shot where we see Hayden Christensen dunk a bowl of water over his head from the POV of the bowl of water. Surprisingly, the cinematographer is not a first-year film student.
If I have to say something nice… the scenery’s pretty. Some of the clothes are good. A Chinese co-production, Outcast’s theatrical run was cancelled in China by the government mere hours before it was set to debut. Said government isn’t generally very open about its censorship decisions, but it’s believed that the cause was the movie’s graphic violence (which really isn’t even all that graphic). Congratulations, Chinese government. You accidentally did something good.