D: Paco Cabezas / 98m
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Rachel Nichols, Danny Glover, Max Ryan, Michael McGrady, Peter Stormare, Pasha D. Lychnikoff, Max Fowler, Aubrey Peeples, Jack Falahee, Ron Goleman
Paul Maguire (Cage) is a successful property developer with a beautiful wife, Vanessa (Nichols), and a precocious teenage daughter, Caitlin (Peeples). One evening, while Paul and Vanessa are out to dinner with the mayor, and Caitlin is at home with two friends, they’re interrupted by Detective St. John (Glover), who tells them that Caitlin has been kidnapped. Her two friends, Mike (Fowler) and Evan (Falahee) tell Paul and the police that three armed men broke into the house and took Caitlin; the men were brutal, efficient and said nothing. St. John warns Paul to let the police do their job and not use the skills he has to track the men down (it turns out Paul was part of a criminal gang but got out and has been straight ever since). Paul pays lip service to St. John’s advice and enlists the help of old friends Kane (Ryan) and Doherty (McGrady) in searching for his daughter.
Their own enquiries reveal nothing; no one knows who is behind the kidnapping. Then, after a few days, Caitlin’s body is found in a nearby river; she’s been shot in the head. At her funeral, Paul is stopped by his ex-boss, Francis O’Connell (Stormare), who warns him not to stir up any more trouble than already exists between O’Connell’s gang, and that of the Russians, led by Chernov (Lychnikoff). The warning brings back memories of a heist Paul and his two friends carried out nearly twenty years before, and which ended with them killing Chernov’s younger brother. Having kept their involvement a secret all these years, Paul wonders if someone now knows, and Caitlin’s death is a form of payback. Convinced this is the case, Paul, Kane and Doherty begin to target the Russians’ drug business, shutting down distribution houses and killing anyone that gets in their way.
Soon enough, Chernov begins to retaliate. He abducts Kane and tortures him, while at the same time, Paul begins to suspect that Doherty has told someone what they did to Chernov’s brother. With St. John doing his best to keep Paul out of trouble, and Chernov getting ever closer to finding out what happened to his brother, a sudden realisation leads Paul to the truth about Caitlin’s kidnapping and murder.
Tokarev, with its slipshod script and lacklustre mise-en-scène, re-confirms the downward spiral that seems to be Nicolas Cage’s career. Since World Trade Center (2006), Cage has appeared in twenty-one movies before this one, and the number of genuinely good movies he’s made can be counted on the fingers of one hand*. It’s also hard to believe Cage is an Oscar winner, such is the decline in quality of the movies he’s made since then (only Cuba Gooding Jr’s post-Oscar career contains more poor choices). Either Cage has some serious bills to pay, or his critical faculties are all burnt out, but either way, Tokarev is an out-and-out turkey.
None of it makes any sense, from Paul’s having been able to walk away clean from his criminal past, to the hackneyed “secret-no-one-knows” subplot, to St John’s leniency in the face of Paul’s flagrant vigilante behaviour, to O’Connell’s warning to Paul to let it go. Expediency is piled on top of artifice which is then topped off with preposterousness, and it all comes complete with a large side order of implausibility. The truth behind Caitlin’s abduction and murder is so unlikely even Cage can’t make it work (not that he’s trying very hard; his performance isn’t so much phoned in as faxed in from a different decade). It’s all so much nonsense it’s almost insulting, the script by Jim Agnew and Sean Keller adding up to a series of barely connected scenes and events that operate separately from each other, and sometimes, in complete isolation (the two or three scenes where Paul tries to persuade Vanessa to find somewhere safe to be while he does the things she’s asked him to do but really doesn’t want to know about).
Adding to the disappointment doled out by the script is the leaden direction courtesy of Cabezas, an amazing combination of apathy towards the material and disinterest in the characters, leaving the cast adrift and having to fend for themselves. What acting there is in the movie is mostly unexpected, as Cage et al. deliver their dialogue with all the capability of people for whom English is a second language. Doherty, in particular, seems unable to say anything without mangling the content, and even when he does manage a clean delivery, there’s no emotion or heart there; he’s like a robot who’s stuck in neutral. Nichols plays the upset second wife and stepmother as if she’s grateful to be there, while Stormare (in a glorified cameo) attempts an Irish accent with all the purpose of a man who knows he’s probably not going to be called back for redubbing. As for Glover, he’s hamstrung by a character so vapid and ineffectual (as a policeman) that he might as well be invisible.
It doesn’t help that the movie is also drab to look at, with uninspired lighting and camera movements, and pacing that kills the movie stone dead just minutes in (editor Robert A. Ferretti has the same problem as the script writers: he doesn’t know what to focus on or for how long). Scenes that should be powerful and dramatic are regularly stopped from doing so, and thanks to Cabezas, any potential interest in the story is quickly abandoned, leaving the viewer to count the minutes until the movie ends.
Rating: 3/10 – with the action sequences providing a bare minimum of excitement, Tokarev – the make of gun that kills both Chernov’s brother and Caitlin – has little to recommend it; fans of Nicolas Cage might give it a go, but otherwise this is one quasi-revenge movie that should be avoided completely.
*Those genuinely good movies: Kick-Ass (2010), The Croods (2013), and Joe (2013).