I know, I know, I’m as shocked to be writing this review as you are to see me doing so – after the scraping-through-the-bottom-of-the-barrel debacle that was Rage, I thought I’d finally managed to quit Nicolas Cage for good. But that I still ended up watching Outcast (some of it through my fingers, but still watching it, to my great chagrin) just goes to show that the actor is as damnably, despicably addictive as Twinkies or Doritos, with a slightly broader dramatic range. As amusingly bad as he is (and oh is he terrible) in all these direct-to-VOD pics, Cage is like a car crash in slow motion – as much as I want to, I just can’t look away.
Fortunately for the actor, Cage isn’t exactly the one false note in an otherwise euphonious symphony. A case could be made that the performer is simply playing to his surroundings. Outcast is filled with laughably atrocious scripting, dramatic moments that even a soap opera screenwriter would find unbearably overwrought and a handful of performances so silly that one has to wonder whether they signed on in hopes of breaking into the comedy business.
With that in mind, Outcast also has one key strength over comparable bargain-bin fare like Stolen, Rage, Left Behind and, perhaps most notably, Cage’s medieval actioner Season of the Witch – with its wackily propulsive mixture of furious action, cheesy dialogue and deliciously unhinged overacting, Outcast somehow coalesces into a so-bad-it’s-good B-movie perfectly primed for a drunken Saturday night.
Hayden Christensen, unlike the previews would have you believe, is the real star of this show, which gives you an idea of where irking thousands of Star Wars fans lands you. Cage is kept off-screen for close to an hour, and the story focuses less on his character, a legendary bandit known as The White Ghost, than on Jacob (Christensen), an opium-addled knight haunted by the terrible crimes he committed under the banner of God during the Crusades. When a blood-stained coup leaves the young heir (Ji Ke Jun Yi) to the Chinese imperial throne and his older sister (Yifei Liu) on the run from their murderous older brother (Andy On), it falls to Jacob to protect them from their pursuers. Christensen at least seems conscious of what frivolous fare he’s found himself in, sporting a ridiculous Justin Bieber hairdo and rarely missing an opportunity to turn his oh-so-sad bedroom eyes on the audience, even while slashing an opponent to bloody ribbons.
The quality of its writing and acting aside, Outcast is visually quite a riveting watch, having been shot on location in China and featuring a number of engrossingly beautiful backdrops. Though this is a far cry from epics like Ip Man, Red Cliff and 13 Assassins, there’s no denying the appeal of Outcast‘s setting, and that the production team and director Nick Powell do such a solid job of bringing the medieval landscape into being is reason enough to watch. Meanwhile, the costuming (credited to Yongfeng Zhu and Yongzhong Zhu) is superb, and the acrobatic swordplay (which possibly dominates a good half of the film) is overseen with gleefully herky-jerky abandon by Powell, a former stunt coordinator.
Honestly, it’s only once Cage appears on the scene out of nowhere, saving Jacob and his young charges from certain death by the blades of the imperial Black Guards, that Outcast descends into true absurdity. The actor screams his laughs like a dying hyena and keeps a snake wrapped around his hand as if still in character from a failed Pirates of the Caribbean audition – he’s a creation so luridly campy that nothing else in the film can be taken seriously with him present. Part of me thinks that’s a real shame. Christensen embodies his character with enough glowering (if unnecessary) gravitas that, even when utterly failed by the script, he does not embarrass himself, but with his shaggy-haired co-star in the background making crazy eyes and racking up new clips for the next “Nicolas Cage Loses His Shit” YouTube compilation, it’s damn near impossible to take him or the movie as anything other than a good laugh.
But that may be for the best. Outcast will never be thought of as a profound and impressive action-drama worthy of recollection a few years from now. With its fairly banal script, it was never going to reach those levels of acclaim. Instead, Cage administers the shot of howling-mad lunacy the film needed to make a decent case for itself as a campy guilty pleasure that’s action-packed, overcooked and kitschy enough to be worthy of consideration for a weekend night in with the boys and a six-pack of brewskies.
“I AM the White Ghost!” Cage announces at one point, unsteadily twisting the line as if swaying back and forth on some zip-zagging verbal tightrope. And on this particular occasion, I’m going to have to admit that I’m fine with him donning that guise, collecting his paycheck and taking obvious pleasure in continuing to baffle and bemuse film critics more than any other actor out there today.
With its wackily propulsive blend of furious action, cheesy dialogue and deliciously unhinged overacting, Outcast is a so-bad-it's-good B-movie perfectly primed for a drunken Saturday night.