When it comes to Nicolas Cage performances these days, goofier is infinitely better. Once a compelling comedic actor (Raising Arizona, Moonstruck) and, at his dramatic peak, an intensely off-kilter leading man (Wild at Heart, Leaving Las Vegas), Cage has detoured his career into big-budget action spectacles ever since The Rock, becoming a thoroughly phony presence whenever striving for subtlety, introspection, and recognizably authentic human behavior. Wild, bombastic, and severely self-serious are modes that now suit him far better, and not simply because they afford plentiful material for viral YouTube highlight packages; rather, Cage’s affectation-overloaded turns bring idiosyncratic, electric personality to his B-grade genre vehicles.
Such is certainly the case with Season of the Witch, a relentlessly ineffective, often unintentionally amusing supernatural Crusades saga. Like last January’s The Book of Eli, the film is a bit of disposable nonsense that melds tepid comic-book carnage with flimsy ideas about God, the Church, the role of religion, and the nature of good and evil. Yet in its favor, it’s a throwaway animated by its uniquely bizarre headliner, who—sporting a scraggly goatee and long, dirty-brown locks that are more mid-’90s than mid-1300s—exerts most of his energy spouting ludicrous one-liners and trading contemporary-colloquial barbs with equally hammy sidekick Ron Perlman.
Directed by Dominic Sena with unnecessary color filters (everything’s orangey! Now blue! Now black!) and Ridley Scott-ish blurry-battle cinematography, Season of the Witch concerns Behmen (Cage) and Felson (Perlman), holy warriors who desert the army over moral objections to killing women and children, but wind up being called back into church duty after arriving at a town besieged by a mysterious black plague. Suspecting that a girl (Claire Foy) is a witch causing the pestilence, the godly powers-that-be force Behmen and Felson—and some cipher companions—to transport her to a far-off monastery which houses a book that will destroy her and lift the curse.
As far as legendary odysseys go, Behman’s is pitifully uneventful and lethargic, marked by a fleeting run-in with hellish wolves as well as what may be the cinema’s all-time least thrilling rickety bridge-crossing sequence. Along the way, Cage’s hero wrestles with guilt over the accidental murder of an innocent woman, indiscreetly leers at his caged young hottie cargo, espouses his disgust for organized religion’s earthly leaders, and decapitates possessed monks with the aid of pitiful CG effects. In other words, it’s The Crucible, except with real magic creatures, copious Cage bon mots (to Felson during one clash: “Whoever slays the most men buys drinks!”), and the incomparably ridiculous sight of Perlman head-butting Beelzebub.