Army of One, starring Nic Cage in an adaptation of the real-life tale of Gary Brooks Faulkner, a kook who traveled to Pakistan on a self-described mission from God to try to capture Bin Laden, presents Hollywood with an interesting conundrum: How do you heighten a story for dramatic/comedic effect when the truth is already barely believable? You might say, maybe don’t heighten it, but that’s what Hollywood does. It’d be like telling a dung beetle not to push around spheres of feces.
Other works have dealt successfully with this difficulty. In Silicon Valley, the series compensates by underplaying the ridiculousness of the world that inspired them. (I would argue that the real-life antics of tech guys like Shingy and Mark Benioff are crazier than anything the characters in the show do, which keeps it believable.) At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Selma, in which Ava Duvernay dropped footnotes from FBI surveillance of MLK every time something in the movie seemed a little too Hollywood. It was a simple, elegant way to affirm, “No, this really happened.”
In Army of One, director Larry Charles does basically the opposite of that, and with a story twice as outlandish. The result is an over-the-top nothing balloon of disconnected manic episodes. I don’t… really know what this is. And neither did the studio, judging by the fact that Weinstein/Dimension snuck it into a couple theaters with all the fanfare of junkie leaving a party, 11 days before the DVD release. If nothing else, Army of One is a landmark of kooky Nic Cage performances, a reminder of just how Cage Cage can be when no one’s around to tell Cage no.
The film opens with a narrator delivering some background on Cage’s character, Army of One‘s protagonist, Gary Faulkner, aka the Rocky Mountain Rambo, a nonsense-spewing sometime handyman from Greeley Colorado who was found in Pakistan armed with night-vision goggles and a samurai sword he’d bought on the Home Shopping Network as part of mission to kill Osama Bin Laden he said he’d been sent on by God.
I should point out that I’ve already given you more facts about Gary Faulkner than the movie does. As Cage glides over Pakistan in a stars-and-stripes hang glider and matching outfit that would’ve embarrassed Evel Knievel, with boombox blaring Army of One‘s jaunty theme, the narrator intones: “As strange as it is compelling, this is a true story. Or, a story that has truth in it. Or maybe… elements of truth.”
Which always makes me wonder: Why would you option an outlandish true story only to take special pains to make it less true? Truth is the main selling point of an outlandish true story. Without the truth it’s just a coworker describing the pointless dream he had, with no beginning, end, character arcs, foreshadowing, or denouement. “Oh, so then your sister was in the bathtub with the wolfman, huh? And then what happened?”
“Nothing, dude, it just ended.”
“Oh, okay, cool, I’m glad I listened to that.”
Wearing a goofy hippie wig that actually does resemble the real Faulkner, Cage plays him with one of cinema’s all-time silliest voices, a bizarre blend of Dave Chappelle’s white guy voice and the Micro Machines guy, which would’ve had Adam Sandler saying “Gee, Nic, I dunno, maybe dial it down a notch?” A choice made even crazier by the fact that it sounds nothing like the real Faulkner, who shows up later in the movie. Cage just chose this voice, apropos of nothing, and Larry Charles said “perfect, run with that.”