Kids are annoying. They ruin your life, they won’t shut up, they leech away your youth and beauty without being least bit grateful about it. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just kill them? That’s the basic premise of Mom and Dad, from writer/director Brian Taylor (one half of the team behind the Crank films), about a hysteria that strikes a small town and makes parents want to kill kids. Their own kids.
It’s an interesting premise… or at least… a bold one? Anyway, it’s a premise. It’s certainly a concept for a movie, no one can take that away. Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair play the main parents, Brent and Kendall Ryan, a punk rock dad who daydreams about naked ladies hitting him in the face with their boobs in his Firebird (a nice flashback), and a still-hot mom who works out all day and misses her job as a designer (a much less interesting flashback). The hysteria hits and they start trying to kill their kids — Carly (Anne Winters), a bratty teen in a schoolgirl skirt who rolls her eyes and hangs with her older boyfriend, and Josh (Zackary Arthur), an ur-child actor with a cereal ad face and a head full of dumb hair.
The plot doesn’t unfold or evolve so much as just sort of fall out the bottom of a box and wait to be collected by the garbage man at the end. Even at 83 minutes it’s too long, probably because the characters are all sort of stock caricatures from a commercial and the script does nothing to distinguish them. What the film lacks in adding nuance or detail or any kind of grounding specificity (what we’re really looking for over the course of this film is some idea of why the filmmaker made it, what about this story/concept spoke to him) it tries to make up for in volume.
As you’ve probably noticed by now, Nic Cage can be the best or the worst thing to happen to a movie, and a lot of what makes the difference is how the director handles him. Cage has never turned in a lazy performance, sleepwalking through a paycheck project like most actors. It’s just not how he rolls. Cage is more like a nuclear reactor. Utilizing him for good is not a matter of inspiring him to be energetic so much as a matter of controlling and focusing the inexhaustible energy he produces naturally. Do it right and you get Adaptation, or Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Do it badly and he melts the entire soundstage and you have to encase the set in concrete and move to a new town. (Sometimes you can do it badly and the chaos is mesmerizing, à la The Wicker Man).
Mom And Dad is the kind of movie that either wants Nic Cage to be “big” the whole time, or can’t keep Nic Cage from being big the whole time. Which means that pre-hysteria Brent Ryan and post-hysteria Brent Ryan are basically the same guy. (These character names are a bit of a tell, by the way, as smooth generic as everything else.) Why is he yelling at his car? Why is he smashing his pool table with a sledgehammer? Dunno, man. Dad stuff, I guess.
That’s not to say any of this is really Cage’s fault. It just feels like maybe someone thought Nic Cage screaming could paper over the yawning void that is act two. Mom And Dad feels like a concept that got pitched, sold, and shot without ever getting written. It’s premise and pantomime. It’s set-up, an hour of running and yelling, and the end. It doesn’t help that it’s shot in this herky-jerky style meant to imitate a glitching screen skipping frames. Again, it’s… definitely… a choice… which is… bold? But not… good. Largely because it cuts around the actual killings and violence in a way that you can’t really tell what’s happening. And in a movie about parents killing their kids, if I can’t enjoy the actual killings, what am I supposed to be enjoying?
Mom and Dad is a proof of concept, perhaps a resumé builder for the people involved with a few scenes worth putting on a reel. But it’s not a movie. Certainly not one you’d want to watch from start to finish. You can watch a few minutes and get the idea.