Nicolas Cage is in wounded dog mode for Bangkok Dangerous, a listless, unimaginative and unexciting “diary of a hitman” movie that does little more than extend Cage’s suck streak.
Cage plays Joe, a somber hitman visiting Bangkok to complete some jobs for a shady businessman. He hires an errand boy named Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) after he sees him steal a wallet on the street. He’s mean to his new employee and even gets set to kill him with a knife. Facing down death, Kong beseeches the wise hitman to teach him, so things go from near death to an awkward slap fight with a lot of elbows. When it’s over, Joe growls, “That was your first lesson,” and the tutelage is on.
During training, Joe imparts some big time killer wisdom, such as “Don’t pull the trigger … squeeze it.” (Holy crap … I’d never heard that one before!) The series of Joe’s contract killings lead up to a big time government official, which sends Joe into a moment of crisis. We know it’s a crisis because Cage moves around real slow, says little and employs the sad puppy eyes.
Along the way, Joe meets and falls in love with Fon (Charlie Young), a deaf pharmacist who shares a moment with Joe as she recommends topical ointments.
He asks her to dinner, and she accepts, not knowing that he could take out her trachea with a teaspoon just like that. We know Joe is in love because Cage moves around real slow, says little and employs the sad puppy eyes.
After meeting Fon, and clearly getting tired of the profession, Joe starts himself on the road to redemption and quitting the trade. He also kicks his heroin habit, a habit which I was not totally aware of while watching the movie. Sure, packets of the stuff showed up in the job packages, but he hardly behaved like a junkie. His moment of quitting comes when he throws a packet into a river. He suffers no withdrawal symptoms, but we can see he’s generally in pain. We can tell this because Cage moves around real slow, says little and employs the sad puppy eyes.
Cage is stuck in a rut. Movies like this, Ghost Rider, Next, and, oh God, The Wicker Man aren’t doing much to forward his career, and he’s damaging his actor’s rep with every mope-faced performance. He’s also not helping things much with his choice of hairpieces. Black and stringy to go with his pale white complexion, Cage seems to be going for that mid-1990s Trent Reznor look, but the result is something more like Christina Ricci circa Addams Family Values. Just shave your head like Bruce Willis does and call it a day!
The film is directed by Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang, who are remaking their own Thai film from 1999. In that film, the hitman was deaf and had a hairstyle similar to Cage’s, so that at least partially explains the stupid wig. Chun and Pang do a decent job staging some action scenes, including the final gun battle and a swimming pool killing sequence. But they employ a murky, muddy look that takes all of the vitality out of Bangkok and makes it look washed out and dull. This is another case of the Americanization of a movie lessening it.
Cage needs to give David Lynch, the Coen brothers or somebody with substance a call and get back in the serious game before he becomes nothing but a joke. It was only six years ago that he started a pretty good roll with Adaptation, Matchstick Men and The Weather Man. He’s done decent action hero work in the past (most notably Face/Off), but his insistence upon staying in the genre with one lackluster film after another is getting tiresome.