For an A-list actor with an Oscar, serious acting chops and a franchise worth at least $1 billion behind him, Nicolas Cage certainly does a lot of B-movies. Some, like Ghost Rider, you can understand. It's a comic book. It'll be a hit and raise the salary.
Others, like Next and Wicker Man and the new Bangkok Dangerous, are harder to explain. Was he looking for the next John Woo out of Hong Kong, and thinking he'd found him in the Pang brothers? Did he like their perfunctory little 2002 actioner, Bangkok Dangerous, enough to want to remake it?
Bangkok Dangerous isn't the worst thing Cage has done of late. It gives us another taste of the most formidable narrator of his own stories since the golden age of the detective movie. Here, Cage is a hit man on assignment in Bangkok, a hit man with rules.
"Rule 1: Don't ask questions. ... Rule 4: Know when to get out."
Ah, the hit man/bank robber/jewel thief/con who needs to do "one last job." Where have we heard that before? This week?
"Joe" is in town to do four hits, get paid and vanish. He has a habit of hiring a local to be his runner, and then erasing that "trace" at the end of the gig. He finds his Thai helper in Kong, a street hustler blandly played by Shahkrit Yamnarm. Joe starts whacking people and collecting briefcases full of cash for doing it.
Then something makes him discover his conscience. He is instantly touched by the open-faced compassion of the deaf pharmacist (Charlie Young) who helps him treat a scratch. He promptly starts dating her, without knowing her name or having to tell her anything about himself.
And Kong makes him break another rule. "Teach me," the kid says. Joe does.
The Pang brothers stage a couple of good action bits, one being the obligatory Thai river boat chase with those car engines mounted on long prop-shafts, promising somebody a grisly death (they always do). And Cage manages some nice moments with Young, one being his comically genuine reaction to hot Thai food.
But this is as stale as Tuesday's pad Thai, from its exhausted mythos of the surgically efficient, omnipotent hit man to the training scenes in which Joe explains the trade to the new guy, to the inevitable betrayals of the third act.
Cage, in a jet-black dye job that looks like a wig, and looking as if he can afford a better class of surgeon than Joan Rivers (he gets younger, film by film), adds nothing new to this genre. He's made his share of failures in recent years, but most, such as The Weather Man or Lord of War or even The Wicker Man, seemed to be gambles worth making, a chance to do something interesting. Here, aside from the over-familiar Thai scenery surrounding him, he's got nothing to say or do.
He has more interesting films in the works, although one suspects that he'll do plenty more projects that establish him as the American Jason Statham. If you've ever seen his best work, you know he's a lot more than a National Treasure. If only he'd act like it.