Mild Plus

With Bangkok Dangerous, Nicolas Cage stars in another bland, formulaic action flick

The story of the conception of the new Nicolas Cage action film Bangkok Dangerous, a scenario in one part:

As the scene opens, we find ourselves in a small, flourescent-lit boardroom in Sacramento, Calif.

In the center of the room is a table, around which sit six men and two women. Each is 18-35 years old, most in their early to mid-20s. One of the men and one of the women are college-educated.

All present have a MySpace page wherein each has listed at least one of the following movies as a favorite: The Rock, Con Air, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Ghost Rider.

This could only be a focus group for Saturn Films, the production company owned by modern cinema's greatest disappointment, Nicolas Cage.

Nicolas Cage Fan 1: For my money, nothing looks cooler than a middle-aged, slightly overweight actor in a skintight leather suit sporting dangly, greasy The Crow-type hair.

Nicolas Cage Fan 2: Yeah, and a lone hitman's always a good subject, right?

Nicolas Cage Fan 3: I'm thinking I'd like to see, you know, an exotic location, but not tropical exotic. More like fast-paced exotic. The type of place that, when you look at it, you hear breakbeats in your head.

Nicolas Cage Fan 4: You mean like, a big Asian city?

Nicolas Cage Fan 3: (Makes gun with hand. Makes clicking noise.) That's the ticket.

And a treatment is born.

Luckily for Saturn, someone had already had the vision to put all these elements together nearly a decade ago, with the 1999 action film Bangkok Dangerous. All Saturn had to do was buy up the rights, hire the original directors (Hong Kong action duo the Pang Brothers), and translate the script. And all Cage himself had to do was phone in another half-assed performance.

Cage plays Joe, a cold, opportunistic gun for hire who, we're told, is among the best in the business. Joe, who has no backstory and no last name (to maximize his mystique or because the filmmakers are shamefully lazy?), does have some very obvious pieces of advice for any prospective hitmen out there, and those are used as the framework for the movie:

"(1) Don't ask questions; (2) There is no right and wrong; (3) Don't take an interest in people outside of work; and (4) Know when to get out and walk away rich."

Bangkok Dangerous begins as Joe is dispatched to Bangkok, the streets of which are shot entirely in dated, corny fast-motion and—in another throwback to a decade-old, overused style—with a blaring techno background, for a series of dangerous, high-profile jobs. There he meets Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm), a young pickpocket and a strutting, fast-talking tourist's nightmare Asian stereotype, whom he hires on as his assistant. He also meets Fon (Charlie Yeung), a deaf and mute young woman and an ethical counterpoint to the amoral Joe.

Everything is going fine for Joe at first. He pulls off his first two jobs with relative ease. Soon, though, he falls in love and begins dating Fon, and he takes Kong on as a protege.

These relationships are barely developed. And why Joe, who until now hasn't cared about another living thing, suddenly falls for these two is never really made clear, except that he has to in order to make the rest of the film work.

Fon and Joe become closer and closer until she learns the truth about him. She's heartbroken and she breaks down, sort of. Yeung, it seems, doesn't have the range for an emotionally mature breakdown, so it really looks more like a childish temper tantrum. Thankfully, though, she's written out of the movie at this point.

When Kong identifies one of Joe's targets as a "good man loved by all Thai people," Joe suddenly finds himself, for the first time ever, unable to pull the trigger. That, of course, leads to the inevitable shoot-em-up scene in the last half-hour between superhuman Joe and his mobster employers. But, this type of long climax only works when the audience, you know, cares about the characters involved. If they don't, as is the case here, it just feels like it drags on forever.

Bangkok Dangerous is an insipid, cliche-laden piece of trash. But that was to be expected. We've seen its type before, and it wasn't that good the last 20 times.

But what really sets this one apart is just how terrible it manages to be. From the warmed-over script to the are-you-kidding-me? casting and costuming choices to the completely unlikable acting to the forced and slick cinematography, there is nothing redeeming, not even shallowly entertaining, about this movie at all.