At some point we’re going to have a talk about how gimmicky camera tricks are ruining B-movies. Nothing drove this home like watching some Dolemite movies on Amazon Prime this week (inspired by Netflix’s delightful Dolemite Is My Name) and then watching Primal, Nic Cage’s new simultaneous theatrical and VOD release from Lionsgate.
On paper, this film should be a home run. Primal stars Nic Cage as the great white hunter, a crusty ex-military tracker who got sick of taking orders and decided to go off on his own, trapping wild animals to sell to zoos, which is definitely a real job. In the first scene, he takes down a badly CGI’d white jaguar with a home-made tranq dart shot from a blowgun. The superstitious locals don’t want anything to do with the rare cat (but señor, he embodies the spirit of our dead ancestors or something!) so Nic and his parrot sidekick are off on their own, trundling down to the docks with a one-man circus caravan of captured exotic fauna. But not before Nic slips the local an extra wad of cash to buy something nice for his kids, just to show us that he has a heart of gold.
Down at the docks, as Nic loads his menagerie onto a freighter and overacts, he runs into a team of humorless commandos fashioning a cage for their dangerous prisoner, Hannibal Lecter-style. The prisoner is played by Kevin Durand, a medium-hot heavy in the earlier 20-teens whose main skills seem to be being physically large and always looking like he’s trying to gleek tobacco juice through his front teeth. Durand hams it up as much as Cage, with an equally off-putting face. His handlers include a shady Fed played by Michael Imperioli, aka Christopher from The Sopranos, and a military doctor lady played by Famke Janssen — Nic’s love interest by default, as she’s the only woman.
So essentially we have a boat in which there’s a government-trained-assassin-turned-terrorist on the loose, along with a CGI white jaguar and an assortment of other dangerous CGI animals, including venomous snakes and face-ripping monkeys. And the only one who can stop them is a drunk animal wrangler played by a tertiary syphilis-era Nic Cage. Objectively speaking, that is a fucking brilliant B-movie premise, a mash-up of First Blood, Snakes On A Plane, Life Of Pi, and Plan 9 From Outer Space (with a screenplay by Richard Leder).
At times, watching Nic Cage over emote every single line and bad guys get iced by killer monkeys is as sublime as it sounds. But I do wonder if we would even remember Ed Wood or Dolemite movies at all if they’d been shot in the age of digital. Film stock costs money, and back then, the aspiring B-movie magnate had to try to squeeze as much entertainment value as they could out of every individual shot. That meant setting a camera up on a tripod and letting it run while a former Army entertainer like Rudy Ray Moore did bad kung fu or one of Ed Wood’s starlets fought off giant rubber octopi. Now that the cost of extra footage is negligible, we get blurry, split-second shots of chopsocky shot by stunt coordinators hacked together in a misguided attempt to evoke “production values” (Primal was directed by Nick Powell, stunt coordinator on X-Men: The Last Stand and The Bourne Identity, among many others).
There are so many great B-movies with singular plots out there, but we barely get to see them. Instead, we’re assaulted with this uniform blur of energy drink sizzle montage. Nic Cage’s face, blurry swish pan to a gun on the floor with a loud THWACK! sound. What even happened? Why don’t I get to see it? Shouldn’t Nic Cage doing bad stunts be half the fun?
This is terrible and it has gone too far. I miss being able to enjoy silly movies. The government should institute a high tariff on smash cuts. Make schlock great again.