Unceremoniously dumped in scant few cinemas last September, Stolen finds its rightful place as an early-January, home-video dump. It's the feature-length answer to those Nic Cage "supercuts" that have cropped up on YouTube in recent years—not just a mish-mash of Cage's greatest hits, but of cinema's.
Stolen's various indexes, incidental and otherwise, include: Cage carrying an oversized Con Air-vintage stuffed animal, the ludicrous piss-yellow wraparound sunglasses from Trespass, the flaming motor vehicles and scorched flesh of the Ghost Rider films, Josh Lucas adorned with EVIL and BAD MOTHER hand tattoos in a one-upping of The Night of the Hunter, the ticking-clock, missing-daughter plotting of Taken, two generically derivative bank heists—of the same bank, no less. And Danny Huston wears a Popeye Doyle-styled porkpie hat. That an effectively straight-to-video Nic Cage film—or "Cager," a nifty term coined by web-based "outlaw film critic" Vern—proves highly imitative and unoriginal is no real surprise. That it proves so thoroughly enjoyable, modest ambitions and all, is refreshing.
The film opens on a murky heist, which sees Cage's William "Gum" Montgomery and his predictably rag-tag crew—the grizzled trouper (MC Gainey), the loose canon (Josh Lucas), and the woman (Malin Åkerman)—foiled by Huston's hard-boiled FBI head, leaving Lucas's Vincent presumed dead and Cage jailed for an eight-year stint, having burned the nicked $10 million stack to duck a longer sentence. After running out his term, Cage returns to New Orleans to reconnect with his daughter (Sami Gayle), only for her to be swiftly abducted by the not-so-dead, and now ludicrously deformed, Vincent, who attempts to leverage her for the loot his ex-partner doesn't even have. From there it's a series of fetch-quests as Cage traces GPS signals and chases stolen cabs across New Orleans—and on Fat Tuesday no less!—to track down his daughter, simultaneously ducking pursuing FBI agents eager to bust him on the various parole violations he leaves in his wake.
As rote as it all sounds (and is), Stolen approaches high-camp stupidity while retaining its genre-movie chops. And astoundingly, it's no thanks to Cage, who phones in a relatively subdued performance, despite a few typically Cagey character peccadilloes (like listening to full Credence Clearwater Revival songs before each heist) and some faithfully explosive bits of dialogue, including one about "happy face pancakes" and Care Bears coloring book. If anything, Lucas out-Cages Cage, playing his amputee-cabbie kidnapper as a cross between Peter Stormare's nihilist porn star in The Big Lebowski and Robert De Niro's tatted-up Max Caddy in Scorsese's Cape Fear: a grease-ball Bond villain driven unsuitably insane by Gum's betrayal. (Even before he transitions into the film's growling baddie, Vincent lights up a heist scene drooling over a pile of gold bricks, howling about how much he loves "bright, shiny things.") Likewise, Huston's roughly sketched, old-timey super cop invests the proceedings with a degree of humor that can't reasonably be written off as accidental.
Even better are genre vet Simon West's swiftly directed action sequences. Whether staging a late-night bank robbery, a close-quarters shootout between Cage and Gainey, or a congested nail-biter that has Cage stomping across car rooftops to the percussive click-clack of nearby kids scoring Mardi Gras with their foot cymbals, West pulls things together with a patience and measured visual wit. Under-the-radar, entirely serviceable actioner that it is, Stolen nonetheless expresses West's maturation as filmmaker. It's a far cry from the director's arrival as a hyperactive hack from the school of Michael Bay when he first teamed up with Cage for Con Air in 1997. Given the ascent of its director's talent and the decline (however debatable) of its star's, it's hard to know if West is calling in a favor from Cage, or vice versa. Maybe it's well enough to know that the results are so entirely agreeable.
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Stolen's transfer to home video is entirely sufficient, though does it count as a "transfer" if the film feels like it always belonged there in the first place? t. Save for one glaring exception. The opening nighttime bank heist is incoherently dark, even after futzing with various settings. Having not seen the film in theaters, it's hard to tell if this is intentional, with Simon West keeping the characters' faces shrouded in darkness so as to occlude the eight-year time lapse between the prologue and the film proper, or a matter of conversion. Either way, it's a bit of a mess, with the actors appearing as dimly lit figures in the undifferentiating blackness. The 5.1 audio track is, however, uniformly superb.
Little here other than the usual behind-the-scenes and cast-interview stuff, though Nicolas Cage's presence invariably enlivens the latter. In one sit, he talks about why he likes doing his own stunts: He's not a great driver, but he works well with fire, because he "respects it." The other notable extra is the trailer for Lee Daniels's Millennium-distributed The Paperboy, a film that probably tried to be a proper movie, but feels right at home packaged along with a New Orleans-set, Nic Cage B movie.
Though entirely derivative and undercooked, Stolen nonetheless proves a proficient "Cager" and suitable excuse for wasting half an afternoon.