Bangkok Dangerous

Director    The Pang Brothers
Starring    Nicolas Cage, Shakrit Yangnarm, Charlie Yeung, Panward Hemmanee, Nirattisai Kaljaruek
Release    5 SEP (US) 5 SEP (UK)    Certificate 18
2 stars


7th September 2008

They say don't judge a book by its cover. It stands to reason then, that you shouldn't judge a movie by its poster. In this case, though, it's really, really tempting. I mean... what the hell is that? One arm buried impossibly deep in the other's armpit, one arm clutching a non-existent firearm, while the poster's tagline reads simply: "It's all in the execution." It sure is. While there's no actual armpit-scratching or pretend gunplay in Bangkok Dangerous, the poster is indicative of the quality of role Nicolas Cage favours these days. Bangkok Dangerous is another misfire for a man who used to command audiences by the billion, but who now seems settled for a life of low-rent action and depressing mediocrity. At least he got a good holiday out of this one.

Cage plays Joe, a hired gun who travels to Thailand to carry out his next hit. As we've seen in countless other hitman movies, such a professional is laden with pitfalls, the biggest being a life of solitude - it isn't long before a never glummer Cage is making friends with street miscreant Kong (Yamnarm) and chatting up deaf mute pharmacy assisstant Fon (Yeung). As you might expect for someone who shoots people in the head with guns for money, a social life is a big no-no - it isn't long before the ones Joe holds near and dear to him are dragged into his murky world.

The Pang brothers direct this remake of their own 1999 thriller, and although I haven't seen the original, I'd imagine that if this is their second pass at the material, the first can't have been exactly been much better. Bangkok Dangerous is action filtered through arthouse - pretentious down to every last gunshot. Cage's new, younger audience will be expecting another Ghost Rider or National Treasure - whiz-bang visuals, smart quips and a pacey narrative. Instead, what they get is lingering shots of Thai scenery (spoiled by a unnecessary gun-metal sheen), a moody hero that never dares crack a smile and a story that crawls agonisingly from one predictable set-piece to the next. Dangerous? They should have called it Bangkok Ponderous.

At six foot plus, with his hair-plug mullet and his ice-white teeth, Cage sticks out like a sore thumb among the tiny Thai citizens, making for the most conspicuous hitman since Agent 47 rocked the bald head 'n' barcode combination. To paraphrase another ageing action star, Cage is simply too old for this shit. We can just about buy him as an action star, but as a romantic lead? Not a chance. As a lithe, athletic assassin? Think again. As a tortured soul whose life lacks meaning? Stick to punching out chicks while dressed as a bear, Nic. Cage mopes around like a grumpy toddler, wearing the same scowl on his face throughout - would it kill you to take some pleasure in your work, man?

It's not all his fault: the sparse, unsympathetic script seems unaware that the old 'hitman with a conscience' routine has been done to death: see Leon, The Matador, Road To Perdition, Ghost Dog etc. Never mind the fact that Joe is a terrible hitman - he breaks all his own rules and botches half the jobs he takes on. By the time the lacklustre ending limps round, there's no emotional investment in him whatsoever - the movie never gets over the obstacle that you're being asked to root for a murderer.

Cage has made worse movies over the years, but few as painfully average as this. If Bangkok Dangerous represents the route he's decided to take - style over substance and paycheque over integrity - then his time at the cinema might be coming to the end: his next fight seems likely to be a face-off against direct-to-DVD heroes Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Enjoy your holiday while it lasts, Nicolas. Ali

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