I don’t take 1-star reviews lightly, but Army Of One is borderline unwatchable. The story itself – while factually true – feels like an out-of-date Mad TV sketch (funny that Will Sasso co-stars), while Larry Charles directs a coked-up Muppet version of Nicolas Cage. We know the dire professional straights that Cage constantly navigates, but has Russell Brand really fallen so hard to play an angsty God who makes a “holy shit” pun upon his introduction? Charles’ brand of stupidity is never comical, nor is Cage’s zany portrayal of a real-life nutjob (with a sweet heart) ever endearing. Cage may be on a mission from God, but don’t you dare lump a classic like The Blues Brothers in with this tone-deaf mess of reality.
Crazy-ass Cage stars as Gary Faulkner, a Colorado native who said God tasked him with single-handedly killing Osama Bin Laden. To do so, he makes numerous recon trips to Pakistan, trying different methods of attack. First Gary tries on foot, then he attempts to hang glide stealthily – you get the gist. High school flame Marci Mitchell (Wendi McLendon-Covey) attempts to sway her new lover, but Gary is determined. Armed with his trusty samurai sword, Gary sneaks around Pakistan for days trying to locate Osama Bin Laden. We all know how the story ends, so Gary never does capture his bearded whale, but his quest is still worthy of cinematic representation – just not this one.
Cage’s performance is an absolute joke, and not in a way that benefits Army Of One. Neurotic tenancies and the most annoying accent you’ve ever heard make for a stammering buffoon whose charms are simple. Gary never hides his mission. No matter who asks, Gary remains upfront about his patriotic orders. Visa officers, airline attendants and hang glider salesmen alike all get the same holy-rolling explanation, and even after hearing the whole “I’m on a mission from God to kill Osama Bin Laden” thing, they still – in good judgement – permit Gary’s blessed charade.
At one point, a high Gary Faulkner wanders around Pakistan waving a samurai sword, belittling the nation’s cultural norms. He’s part social justice warrior, part cartoon character, but always disastrous in how grating his awkward over-enthusiasm plays without restraint. Admittedly, this is the most unhinged Nic Cage to grace cinema is quite some time – Charles just has no idea how to channel Cage’s “energy” for good.
Army Of One wants to be an extended episode of Arrested Development so bad it hurts. Michael Yurchak’s narration imitates Ron Howard’s tone, acting as a meta voice adding more than just guidance during Gary’s journey. Private journal entries are read that further Gary’s perspective while Yurchak reacts to actions on screen, resembling Mitchell Hurwitz’s vision with impeccable similarities.
That’s without mentioning how Cage’s detached wisdom – while based on truth – still only seems possible in a comedy-first world like Arrested Development, where supporting characters remain disenchanted by preposterous plans. Like, how is Marci able to continually tolerate Gary’s NUMEROUS trips to Pakistan – after he confesses to being homeless and believing he can see God? Because the story needed a romantic element, I guess? If they ever do get around to that next season of Arrested Development, don’t be shocked to see Gary Faulkner pop up. Waving a weapon and calling himself “The G” for seemingly no reason at all.
If anything, Army Of One will make one hell of a YouTube compilation video. In separate instances, the following occurs: Gary hallucinates an episode of Cribs starring Osama Bin Laden (portrait of G.W. Bush on the wall and everything), Gary contests a request to pack his samurai sword before boarding a flight to Pakistan, Gary sword fights Osama Bin Laden, Gary hang glides dressed in frat-bro “MERICA!” gear while blasting boombox tunes, Cage plays Fruit Ninja in real life – sounds like a gift from the B-Movie gods, right? Maybe it would be, but Charles’ vision is so vapidly one-note in execution. Every single set-up and joke formulates around Cage’s constant proclamation of divine intervention, with Gary rambling on about how God chose him to kill Osama Bin Laden and there’s nothing he can do about it. In other words, a dumbfounding address looped for an hour and a half.
Russell Brand offers no support as God, only appearing for brief spurts on TV screens or in IV bags. Humor only cares to pull surface-value jokes about being all-seeing and whatnot. God only exists in Gary’s mind, but Charles does nothing to exploit encounters between man and hallucination. Be it Gary talking to an empty barstool or climbing into a non-existent 18 wheeler, we never see from a perspective other than Gary’s hazy mind, diving even farther into the deep end of reason. Matthew Modine appears as a doctor, Paul Sheer and Sasso play Gary’s handyman buddies (one named Pickles, because?), and Rainn Wilson shoots one passable joke about an old movie title – none of whom can compensate for Cage’s ship-sinking act.
Army Of One is a waste of talent across the board. From the very first scene where Cage opens his mouth, I was pulled out of a movie so ludicrous I’d never return. For what seems like an eternity, Gary Faulkner defies reason while preaching the words of a homeless prophet, while not a single person tries to get in his way. You’d imagine this whole scenario ripe with satirical comedy – frankly, it should be – but Larry Charles embraces absurdity over storytelling only to sacrifice sanity beyond recognition. There’s a reason you haven’t heard about this movie until now, and it’s a pretty damning one. Honestly, I didn’t laugh once – a lower tally than Keeping Up With The Joneses, Masterminds, and even Central Intelligence. Let’s leave it there and never pray to Russell Brand for forgiveness, eh?
Army Of One contains one of Nicolas Cage's worst performances to date, which is a pretty damning feat.