Tuesday 7 March 2023

Deadfall (1993)

Director: Christopher Coppola
Writer: Christopher Coppola and Nick Vallelonga
Stars: Michael Biehn, Sarah Trigger, Nicolas Cage, James Coburn, Peter Fonda, Charlie Sheen and Talia Shire

Index: The First Thirty.

Oh dear. Oh deary dear. From Red Rock West, an underseen gem of a film noir that you owe it to yourself to seek out and devour, Nicolas Cage then acted for his brother, Christopher Coppola, in an attempt at a film noir that falls as flat as a pancake. It’s outrageously bad and, of all the countless bad things about it, Cage somehow manages to be easily the worst.

Because there is no god, he ended up acting in a prequel/sequel focused specifically on his character, but that was in 2017 when he had to take every role anyone would pay him to take. This was 1993 and he had no excuse.

It’s a Michael Biehn movie, made the same year he made Tombstone, and he’s described it to Ain’t It Cool News as one of the five worst films that he’s appeared in. It’s so bad that “I always have this mental Freudian block and I can never remember the name of it.” I’d say he’s lucky. The only reason to see this is to see just how off the rails Cage gets. It was all him too. Biehn pointed out, “That was Nic Cage undirected, because his brother directed him and I think he just said ‘Nic, do whatever you want.’” I can totally believe that suggestion.

It’s not a good film even before Cage shows up, but it still has promise early on. Biehn is a conman called Joe Donan, who works for his dad, Mike, one of two roles for James Coburn. They stage a sting and successfully get away with a whole lot of drugs, but there’s a catch. Mike’s to be shot by Joe, who’s using blanks for safety. Except Mike’s dead. Somehow, Joe’s gun suddenly contains real bullets. So, after a funeral, he heads out of town, with the vague mission Mike left him with his dying words in mind. He needs to go to Uncle Lou and get the cake from him.

Now, Joe didn’t know he had an Uncle Lou, though he’s entirely believable, given that he’s played by James Coburn too, and he hasn’t any idea what the cake is (neither do we), but he settles into a new life in a new crew because Lou is a conman as well and Joe seems capable.

So far, so good. Well, not really. Everything feels off. The sets feel empty, as if we’re seeing empty sets with things in them rather than locations. It also feels like it really wants to be a comedy but it doesn’t want to be funny. So there’s a kind of lightheartedness that feels a long way out of place in a neo-noir in which everyone’s a crook or a conman.

And then there’s Cage. He plays Eddie, who is Uncle Lou’s right hand man, except that he’s completely unstable and immediately jealous that Joe is suddenly there and family. Frankly, he’s a cheap con who thinks he’s a lot better than he is, and the best moments in the movie are when Joe shows him up as the fool he is.

For instance, Uncle Lou lets Eddie give Joe a serious test. That’s Baby, a huge black dude at a strip club where the dominatrix stripper is a true vision. Baby owes Lou money and Eddie’s been unable to get him to pay up for months. So Eddie takes him there, shows him Baby and walks back out to wait for the new fish to get beaten to a pulp. Instead, Joe aces the test and doesn’t even break a sweat and that just pisses off Eddie even more.

There are good moments. But not many and there are a lot of bad moments, not only those featuring Cage. Everything about him is awful. He has a bad wig, dark glasses and a fake nose, albeit not quite as outrageous as the one that he wore in Never on Tuesday. He sports a loud Hawaiian shirt under a dull jacket.

He also has a bizarre accent but it’s one that constantly changes. Initially, it seems like he’s attempting to mumble like Marlon Brando as Don Corleone, which does at least make sense to a mad conman with delusions of grandeur. Then he seems to be simply asthmatic and not just due to him huffing rush like he’s a sixteen year old adolescent.

He also throws tantrums, which become the other defining aspect to his character, which means that he ends up like six year old Fred from Fred the Movie pretending to be Inspector Clouseau, who’s pretending to be a gangster. It isn’t anything that anyone should ever choose to do on film. I kind of dug Vampire’s Kiss as an oddly surrealistic statement and I think Never on Tuesday had quite a charm to it. This is just embarrassing to all involved.

At least he’s not boring. He’s everything else at once but he’s never boring. The film, while it’s trying to figure out if it wants to be funny or not, does suddenly become boring. Even a sex scene with Biehn and leading lady Sarah Trigger is boring and both of them are damn good looking actors. Nobody knows who they want to be, whether they’re on screen or off and that just leads us to put a list together of the worst things about the movie.

Cage is easily the worst, even if he isn’t at all boring, with the out of place score by Jim Fox next and then Gigi Rice as bubblehead bimbo Blanche. We could all conjure up a few dozen items for this list and then debate the virtues of each to rank them accordingly.

But what’s the best thing about the picture? That’s a much tougher question. That stripper who has absolutely nothing to do except wear a cool leather outfit that bares her breasts and dance suggestively on a stage? She might well be the best thing about the movie and she has nothing to do with it.

OK, James Coburn’s as good as we expect as identical twins, and I learned that he actually was a twin in real life. Charlie Sheen does a good job of playing Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby, even though that didn’t happen for another twenty years. He’s a very good and very polite billiards player. Angus Scrimm is a blast as always, even if he seems to believe he was cast in a horror flick as a mad doctor with an evil prosthetic arm. They’re all fun, even if we wonder what films they waltzed in from.

But the best thing about this movie for me was when Joe rips off Eddie’s bad wig to stick his head in a deep fat fryer. The visual effects are superb and the whole scene is catharsis on a stick. It firmly draws a line in the sand after which Cage will stop his shenanigans and the film can start to recover.

Spoiler: it never does.


Karen said...

After reading your write-up, Hal, I certainly won't be checking this one out, but your post was certainly entertaining!

Hal C. F. Astell said...

Sometimes I watch these movies so you don't have to!