Here’s a basic lesson in Hollywood business: If a film is the sole wide theatrical release opening on the first weekend of a new year, it’s probably bad. More often than not, were the movie at least somewhere between passable and worth watching its releasing studio would find some way to get it to its audience during the prime holiday season. We’re still waiting for the exception to the rule and Season of the Witch is not it.
This long-delayed, family-oriented action fest is so heavy on the CGI and supernatural mumbo jumbo that it’s virtually indistinguishable from Nicolas Cage’s last movie, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. This time the crazily-coiffed star of, well, just about every recent piece of schlock plays crusader-with-a-conscience Behmen, who alongside best pal Felson (Ron Perlman) abandons his holy slaughtering when women and children become involved.
Sometime later, circumstances force the renegade pair into bodyguard-escort duty, transporting a suspected witch (Claire Foy) to a monastery. And so, the film embarks on a stock, age-old fantasy movie journey, sending the characters across a sweeping Middle Ages terrain, engaging them in scary run-ins with wolves and a rickety suspension bridge, and subjecting the audience to plenty of stock bickering.
Volumes of words have been devoted to pondering why Cage, an Academy Award winner and formidable Hollywood force, has in recent years so openly taken on such an immense quantity of cinematic junk. Not long ago, for this very site, I wrote a piece defending him and his choice of roles.
There’s no writing off Season of the Witch, though, no matter how badly its star wanted to reunite with director Dominic Sena (the pair previously worked on Gone in Sixty Seconds), ride a horse or brandish a sword. That’s because the movie is not only bad in predictable ways – an over-reliance on cheesy special effects, a clunky, cliché ridden plot – it’s obscenely lazy.
Cage and Perlman sleepwalk through the picture with such gusto that you wonder if it might have been less effort to actually, you know, act. Their bored line-readings and one-dimensional affectations scream wooziness, as if the SOTW set were submerged in an anesthetic haze. If there were ever an example of actors flat out not giving a damn, and not caring who knew it, this is it.
Save for the impressively mounted, surprisingly tense sequence involving the aforementioned suspension bridge, Sena seems to have joined his stars on their extended nap. There’s simply not a risible moment in the entire rest of the chaotically-staged movie, which chugs and meanders through its paces before reaching the same artless, supernatural conclusion of so many effects-laden family movies before it.
In other words, Season of the Witch welcomes us to the barren wasteland that is January at the multiplex. Same as it ever was.
The Upside: There’s a compelling scene or two.
The Downside: This is one of the laziest movies I’ve ever seen.
On the Side: The film was originally to be released last March, which – when combined with its early-January opening – spells serious trouble.