Monday 27 February 2023

Honeymoon in Vegas (1992)

Director: Andrew Bergman
Writer: Andrew Bergman
Stars: James Caan, Nicolas Cage, Sarah jessica Parker and Pat Morita

Index: The First Thirty.

So I’ve seen a bunch of Nicolas Cage movies, even before this project, and now I’ve seen a bunch more and I’m only now starting to learn that the man is a comedian. Who knew?

Thus far in this First Thirty, my favourite of Cage’s films is Raising Arizona. This is now the second on the list, because James Caan handles the acting and Sarah Jessica Parker looks good and that leaves Cage to provide the fun, which he does in spades because he’s on the run for a majority of this film, trying to catch up to the rich and powerful and get his girl back, failing at every step but succeeding in the end. Like it wasn’t obvious from the synopsis?

He’s Jack Singer here, who promises his mad mother—a brief but memorable Anne Bancroft cameo—the moment she dies that he won’t get married. Ever. Fast forward four years and he loves Betsy Nolan to bits and she wants to tie the knot. What’s a poor sucker to do?

Well, what he shouldn’t do is take her all the way from New York to Las Vegas to take her hand in holy matrimony, but get distracted by a clearly crooked poker game for new guests at Bally’s and lose to the bigshot pro gambler Tommy Korman. And I mean lose and lose big. He doesn’t just drop the $500 in spare change he came in with. He’s into Korman to the tune of $65,000 when he lays down a straight flush to the jack and Korman shows him the same to the queen. Oh deary dear. What’s a poor man to do?

Well, Korman offers a way out because he’s caught sight of him with Betsy and Betsy is the spitting image of Donna, Korman’s dead wife. So he suggests that he’ll cancel every bit of that $65,000 if Jack will give him Betsy for the weekend.

And now we have a movie because, as wild as this idea is, what other options do this poor couple have?

Caan is fun as Korman, schmoozing Betsy in style, flaunting his wealth and being quite the gentleman. By the time he proposes marriage to her, in Hawaii, she’s actually considering it. Sure, he sneaks a few outright lies in there to keep himself way above Jack in her estimation. It wasn’t $65,000, he says. It was a mere $300. And it wasn’t his idea. Jack suggested it. Yeah right, dude, but Betsy doesn’t know any better. And Tommy Korman knows how to read and play people. It’s his livelihood.

Parker is fun as Betsy too. I’ve never been a big fan of hers, but she has a light and breezy approach here and it works. It’s far from the most substantial role she’s ever played and it’s hardly asking much of her talent, but she does a good job nonetheless.

And, with quick praise for supporting actors Robert Castanzo, Seymour Cassel, Peter Boyle, Pat Morita and especially Burton Gilliam, that leaves Cage as the young man who suddenly finds himself without the love of his life on the very weekend he’d finally decided to commit himself to her and, very possibly, about to lose her for good. How can he compete?

Well, for a while he doesn’t have a clue how to compete but eventually he decides that he has to go and find her, wherever she is right now, and be himself, which is very likely the best choice. If he can catch up with them. And there’s no guarantee that he will with Korman tasking a large entourage with keeping him as far away from them as possible.

But he tries, which is endearing. I felt more for Cage’s character in the first scene of this film than I did in the entirety of Zandalee, with Fire Birds thrown in for good measure. I loved his goofiness in Raising Arizona, but he’s more sympathetic in this picture while being just as dedicated to his goal.

Oh, and did I mention the theme that’s been floating around behind the leads? The theme of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll? It’s clear that Cage is a big fan and I didn’t need to revisit Wild at Heart to notice that. There were nods in Peggy Sue Got Married and Zandalee too and I’d swear on oath that he’s performed the patented Elvis kung fu kicks in others as well.

So, when we realise that there’s some sort of Elvis competition going on at Bally’s, it isn’t too hard to figure out that Cage is going to get himself into an Elvis jumpsuit at some point in proceedings. Sure enough, he does, but in the most memorable way imaginable. We can’t not pay attention at that point in the movie, even after a succession of unlikely Elvises, many of them performing the hits, from Asian Elvis to eight year old Elvis via Black Elvis. There’s an Asian Elvis right there at the poker table with them, watching Jack get fleeced. The buggers get everywhere. And yes indeed, they do, but I’m not going to spoil where we end up, even if the poster kind of does that before you ever get round to pressing play.

Cage is at his most watchable here, the film outrageous but him not so much. He’s willing, very wisely, to let the surreality wash over the screen and just play along with it. The laughs are going to come, because the script is good enough to pull them out of us. He doesn’t need to force anything.

And that script is by Andrew Bergman, who also directed the film. He’s not a name I knew, but I knew his work. He wrote one of the best comedies of all time, possibly the very best, in Tex X, though we know it better in its eventual form as Blazing Saddles. No wonder there are a number of Mel Brooks regulars here. He wrote Fletch (but not Fletch Lives), The Freshman and others. I should seek out more of them. This is lesser to those but still wildly surreal and very funny. The man knows his stuff.

I’ll see another of his films soon, because it’s It Could Happen to You, another romcom drama starring Nicolas Cage, this time from 1994 with Bridget Fonda as his romantic lead. Cage must have realised quickly how well this worked, as there are only four other pictures in between this and that. At a rough guess, none of them are this funny.

All this makes me wonder how many coms Cage ended up making, with or without a rom prefix. This isn’t the greatest ever made but it works and it works very well indeed. It’s light and fluffy, but it has depth and heart and the imagination to remain fresh throughout. I’m well aware that there are great Cage roles and great Cage films to come that don’t play in this ballpark, but right now I don’t care.

No comments: