One would think that Nicolas Cage has enough money in the bank to buy a screenplay at least half as good as Bringing Out the Dead. Cage steps behind the camera for the first time in his career to direct the soulless Sonny, a rotten-to-the-core hookers-have-feelings-too dramedy written by John Carlen, whose previous credits include scripts for Rebecca De Mornay and John Ritter TV thrillers. Sonny (James Franco) returns to his mother’s home in New Orleans after a brief stint in the army. He knocks on his mother’s door just as the city is recovering from yesterday’s bacchanalia (a stripper refuses to let go of her last dance and a pair of hookers air out their legs in the morning sun). A recovering hustler, Sonny wants to go straight but discovers he has no discernable talent beyond penetrating horny older women. He goes to Texas hoping to score a job at an army buddy’s bookstore only to get the moral beatdown from a suburban blonde hooked on cough syrup. Just in case you’ve forgotten we’re dealing with rootlessness in 1981 New Orleans, unusually large copies of Camus’s The Stranger exchange hands and a local Madame name-drops “mint julep.” The best thing going for Sonny is that it actually looks like the carving block from which Pat Benetar’s “Love Is A Battlefield” video was chipped. Then again, Benetar’s hookers had an easier time asserting their independence. Possibly the best young actor to hit the scene since Edward Norton, Franco repeatedly freaks out to fabulous effect during a series of otherwise colorless and degrading encounters with the film’s many women. He gets cozy with Mena Suvari’s bug-eyed whore, who curiously decides to go clean with a lascivious dinosaur rather than sell her body alongside her pin-up boyfriend. It’s only a matter of time before a shocking disclosure sends Sonny over the edge and straight to a gay bordello operated by a Big Gay Willy Wonka played by Cage himself. Cage’s performance is the least of the scene’s homophobic offenses. The filmmakers evoke gay subculture via lines of cocaine, pink poodles, drag queens, Michelangelo’s David, repressed business executives with S&M fantasies and hacking coughs. It’s as if a bored Cage spent the duration of the film’s shooting schedule waiting to scream: “Got AIDS yet?” That Franco still manages to evoke compassion for Sonny amid the steaming piles of shit is a testament to his powers as an actor.
- Samuel Goldwyn Films
- 110 min
- Nicolas Cage
- John Carlen
- James Franco, Brenda Blethyn, Mena Suvari, Harry Dean Stanton, Brenda Vaccaro, Scott Caan, Seymour Cassel, Nicolas Cage
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