At what point does Nic Cage crossover from actor to Internet meme?
Cage’s distinct brand of emotional overdosing, that would send Lee Strasberg himself into a coma, has been fueling the web for the past few years like gasoline on a steadily burning wildfire. Every film that sees release (barely) continues to showcase what the man does best: send reality into the stratosphere. He’s a walking, talking grindhouse film.
That doesn’t mean it’s not serious art. Far from it. For every Wicker Man, Vampire’s Kiss or Season of the Witch, movies easier digested in two minute YouTube clips than in their full theatrical glory, Cage spins his explosive techniques into watchable films, like Kick-Ass, Bad Lieutenant and Adaptation. Whether his latest, Drive Angry 3D, fits into the first or second categories, there’s no doubt the man has had successful run thus far.
This success puts Cage in the spotlight, but frankly, he’s not the only one (or the craziest) to make a career out of acting nuts. That’s right: I believe there are people more outlandish than Nic Cage in the world and, dagnabbit, the Internet needs to start acknowledging them for the loony performances they deliver:
Pulls a Nic Cage in: Top Gun, Born on the Fourth of July, A Few Good Men, Mission: Impossible, Jerry Maguire, Magnolia, Tropic Thunder, Knight and Day
Forget for a second, the baggage that comes with calling Tom Cruise a crazy man. To me, the man has two personas: whacka-doo Scientology Tom Cruise and serious movie star Tom Cruise. Both nuts, but in different ways. The latter was around from the beginning of Cruise’s career, balancing sharp movement, screaming and crazy eyes with a smug demeanor that had ladies swooning from the theater. The early ’90s marked the beginning of the lunacy, with Knight and Day last year nearly spoofing his previous manic performances. Cruise turned vein-popping hollering into an art, a snippet seen here in Born on the Fourth of July:
Pulls a Nic Cage in: Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail, Goin’ South, The Shining, The Witches of Eastwick, Batman, Hoffa, Mars Attacks!
When a Batman movie finally went into development, there was only one man creator Bob Kane could see playing the crime fighter’s arch-nemesis Joker: Jack Nicholson. Jack’s calmed down in recent years, sticking with grumpy old men roles to pay the bills, but there was a time when Nicholson was the guy you went after for over-the-top gravitas. Yeah, Nic Cage punched a woman in the face. But between 1970 – 1990, Nicholson disparaged every race and gender with his colorful palette of characters, and managed to squeeze in chasing his family down with an axe. Eclectic, perverse and, yet, still cool. Watch Jack question women’s existence in the world in this clip from The Witches of Eastwick.
Pulls a Nic Cage in: Sid and Nancy, Dracula, True Romance, The Professional, The Fifth Element, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
A great actor is often referred to as a “chameleon,” able to slip into any role without a trace of resemblance to their actual self. Nic Cage is not that actor. That said, it is possible to hit the same chords of insanity as Cage while embodying drastically different personas each time. See: Gary Oldman, who mystifies by continuing to bring over-the-top characters back to Earth without the audience ever slapping their knees and cackling “OH, THAT GARY OLDMAN!” Watch Oldman, not simply play Sid Vicious in Sid & Nancy, but live him.
Pulls a Nic Cage in: Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Where Sleeping Dogs Lie, Casino, Catwoman, Basic Instinct 2
If a higher power bestowed WTF-ness on Earth in the form of Nic Cage, then I believe he accompanied it with the female equivalent: Sharon Stone. Perhaps it’s the influence of camp auteur Paul Verhoeven, but Stone’s filmography indicates her range as always being somewhere between “hushed neurotic” to “blaring psychotic.” As if each movie was Mommy Dearest, Stone piles massive weight on to every word, a commitment to her characters dangerousness, whether appropriate or not. It’s not like watching a car wreck, but rather a car with no tires driving the Daytona 500. See her attempt to hide her Nic Cage-like behavior in a clip from Basic Instinct.
Pulls a Nic Cage in: The Deer Hunter, A View to Kill, Pulp Fiction, The Prophecy, Poolhall Junkies, Suicide Kings, Hairspray
The “Nic Cage” is slowly becoming a go to for impressionists, but there’s a reason it will never hold a candle to the Christopher Walken. The actor was born in Queens, New York, but I’m still not sure from where his bizarre accent and rare speech patterns truly derive. No matter – his signature style opened the door for some of the greatest, nonsensical monologues film will ever capture. From Heaven’s Gate to Pulp Fiction to The Rundown, the cadence always takes precedence over the content, making Walken one weird cookie who we’ll never get tired of watching. And then there’s the dancing…
Here’s some magical wordsmithing form 2002’s Poolhall Junkies:
Pulls a Nic Cage in: Leathal Weapon, D.C. Cab, Bulletproof, Tommy Boy, Under Siege, Black Sheep
Before Gary Busey was roasting himself on Comedy Central’s I’m with Busey or HBO’s Entourage, the character actor portrayed countless unbalanced folk on the big screen. While his 1988 motorcycle accident may have permanently screwed with his head, his roles that predate the crash are equally off-the-wall. Chalk it up to that giant grin and anti-gravitational hair; the man had an off-kilter presence, one that made him perfect as the crazy villain, or playing it straight under the strangest of circumstances. Prime example, this gem from Under Siege:
Pulls a Nic Cage in: Apocalypse Now, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Blue Velvet, Hoosiers, Super Mario Bros., Speed, Waterworld
I was disappointed a few years ago when Nic Cage dropped out of Michel Gondry’s Green Hornet, passing on the main villain role. Nic Cage, for all the loony antics, rarely plays the bad guy and by avoiding those roles, he may never make the impact of such legendary crazy actors as Dennis Hopper. This isn’t to say Hopper hasn’t played some stand up gentlemen in his day – but the man was at this craziest (and in his element) as demented villains. Whether he’s throwing Bob-ombs down ooze traps in Super Mario or gnashing his teeth, waiting to blow a speeding bus, the man never let reservation stand in his way of sadistic pleasure. His aptitude for twisted characters may have hit an all time high when he collaborated on Blue Velvet, the classic neo-noir that ruined the word “mommy.”
Pulls a Nic Cage in: Serpico, The Godfather: Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, Scarface, Dick Tracey, Heat, The Devil’s Advocate, Any Given Sunday, Righteous Kill
Al Pacino has won one Oscar (after eight nominations), two Emmys and two Tony awards. Few would dare to question his charisma, veracity and raw performing power. That said, I’m not sure anyone would call him quiet or subtle either. When Pacino is on, he’s ON, unleashing his fury in spouts of exclamatory statements or overly expressive hand gestures. He transcends goofy and goes straight to sublime. Nic Cage is growing into an Al Pacino, whose earliest films like The Panic in Needle Park continue to raise eyebrows.
Director Taylor Hackford immortalized Pacino’s deranged energy in The Devil’s Advocate, where his monologue literally starts a fire.