Is Nicolas Cage The Worst Movie Star Alive?

by The New Republic | March 24, 2009

In the five years I've been writing about film, I've reviewed just one Nicolas Cage movie (2005's Lord of War) and it wasn't awful, which is pretty much the cinematic equivalent of emerging unscathed after tap-dancing through a minefield. It's not merely that Cage makes many, many bad films--though he does--it's that so many of them are very, very bad. I didn't see his latest movie, Knowing, which opened over the weekend, but the review-aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes tells a familiar tale: Only 24 percent of reviews were positive, and a mere 14 percent of those by what the site considers "top critics." These numbers may not seem that awful, but given the number of reviewers who a) like everything; b) like everything they think will make money; or c) want the free publicity of their blurbs being used in promotional materials, they actually represent an impressive negative achievement.

Remarkably, they also represent a major step up from his previous flick, Bangkok Dangerous, which scored a 9 percent rating from Rotten Tomatoes (8 percent from top critics), and they're basically on a par with a 23/18 average over his last six films (also including National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Next, Ghost Rider, and Wicker Man), every one of which was certified "rotten" by the site. Indeed, since Cage won his Oscar for 1995's Leaving Las Vegas, just 8 of the 23 films he's starred in (6, according to "top critics") have been certified "fresh." This is entering the territory of stopped clocks and monkeys with typewriters. Moreover, this dismal record isn't limited to a single genre, a la Dolph Lundgren or Pauly Shore; rather, Cage has stunk in superhero flicks (Ghost Rider), war movies (Windtalkers), romances (Captain Corelli's Mandolin), caper films (Gone in 60 Seconds), gritty thrillers (8 MM), and horror-mysteries (Wicker Man). He is truly a man who can do all wrong.

What makes this perhaps most irritating is that Cage is by no stretch an untalented actor. He showed years of idiosyncratic promise before The Rock and Con-Air sent him spinning off on his current trajectory, and he was nothing short of terrific in Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation. Yet he continues to roll out, at an astonishing rate, what even he must recognize to be wretched movies. Has anyone in contemporary Hollywood done less with more?

--Christopher Orr

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