Wed, 21 Mar 2018
IS this Nicolas Cage’s most Nicolas Cage role in years? Somewhere around the turn of the 21st century, tagging the Cage’s name onto the poster was bound to guarantee your middling adventure-thriller flick (cough) ginormous box office takings.
Yet the evil uncle of Hollywood has since cultivated a reputation for himself as a less nice, more demented John Cusack, biding his time between an onslaught of genuine atrocities (Ghost Rider, USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage) and rare, provocative detours where he’s liable to let slip his old talents (see his deliciously delirious turns in Kick-Ass and Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant remake). Pairing him with Brian Taylor, the oddball adrenalin junkie behind bad-taste Jason Statham vehicle Crank, was either a recipe for genius or for fiery disaster (lest we forget, their last collaboration spawned the Ghost Rider sequel). Somehow, filicide-com Mom and Dad falls short on both counts. This critic is at loss to pinpoint what, exactly, Taylor is trying to do here – a panther-black satire on suburban family life, it initially pans out like a bonkers mashup of Home Alone and George Romero’s The Crazies, yet it’s one of those choice few movies which, for all its sleaze and ultraviolence, you almost feel guilty attempting to read for meaning. It’s like intellectualising a disembowelled pig.
The Argentine psychoanalyst Arnaldo Rascovsky found repressed murderous desires in the mundane rituals of modern parenting – from bottle-feeding infants to dispatching the sprogs to school. Few could have predicted, however, that this
abrasively Oedipal vision would find artistic realisation in a claret-soaked 2018 B-movie. Mom and Dad’s titular twosome (played by Cage and Selma Blair) have been reduced to ravenous zombies by a rogue TV transmission; their disgruntled kids (Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur) will soon find themselves locked in a witless battle of wits with their folks, dodging a machine saw-wielding Cage and dead-eyed mother in a succession of bloody, cheapo spectacles. Even before the doo-doo hits the fan, this is clearly a family pushed to the brink, with Cage channelling his inner Patrick Bateman to superb effect – amid early scenes of no-frills domestic tension shot with a video-game eye, we’re already primed for Dad’s going ape on his offspring. While Taylor’s no great filmmaker, he might have passed for a faintly competent provocateur had he been churning out this sort of picture two decades ago. Certainly, there’s an obscene poetry at the heart of Mom and Dad (witness a disturbing flashback to a maternity ward), a la Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down, though the casual viewer will have to cut a swathe through a jungle of trash to find it.
More traumatising than its endless spasms of violence (even infants aren’t spared the marauding parents’ wrath) is the film’s sheer, schlocky datedness – from its throbbing brostep soundtrack to its Videodrome-esque hook (we’re all supposed to have missed the boat on the advent of the internet, apparently), Taylor confuses archaism for iconoclasm. Still, Cage delivers a twitchy, popeyed performance that, while hardly among his best, should serve as a gleeful reminder of why, nearly two decades out of his prime, the guy keeps getting work.