If it’s 2015 and you’ve made a movie starring Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen, it’s either a parody or something went horribly wrong. While ‘Outcast’ definitely has a handful of laughs, none of them are deliberate. Make no mistake, this movie is absolute garbage. It’s not even worth a look for irony lovers except for a handful of hysterical Ragin’ Cage moments, and those should be compiled into an easy-to-consume YouTube montage soon enough.
The movie wants to be an East vs. West epic combining lost medieval knight mumbo jumbo with ancient Chinese mumbo jumbo. Hayden Christensen (yep, he’s still working) stars as a lost warrior who slaughtered his way through the Middle East with his mentor (Cage, who I’ll get to a little later) and now lives an opium-addled shell of an existence in China. At the same time, the Chinese Emperor has died and his chosen heir (Ji Ke Jun Yi) is on the run with his protective sister (Liu Yifei), fearing for their lives. Forever on their tale is the heir’s older brother (Andy On), who wants the kingdom for himself. Eventually, the running heroes find Christensen’s antihero, who agrees to help them and just might save his soul in the process. Cue a bunch of hiding, bonding, growth, unrequited love and sword-based fight sequences with none of the entertainment or excitement that those elements suggest.
‘Outcast’ is yet another knockoff of Akira Kurosawa’s classic ‘The Hidden Fortress’, which has been getting its bones sucked dry for inspiration ever since George Lucas used Kurosawa’s style and structure as one of his many jumping-off points for ‘Star Wars’. Hidden royalty, evil conspiracy, heroes on the run, reluctant warrior partners… you know the drill. You’ve seen it all before, and if you’ve even seen it once, it’s safe to say that you’ve seen it done better than ‘Outcast’.
The film is the directorial debut of longtime stunt coordinator Nick Powell, which should give viewers some indication of how desperate the producers were to find someone to helm this stupid screenplay that they’d somehow gotten a stack of Chinese money to make. Powell’s skill with the subtleties of cinematic storytelling are pretty much nonexistent. Maybe it was just the script that he got saddled with, but ‘Outcast’ has no real sense of pacing or even any satisfactory narrative arc. It’s just a bunch of overplayed scenes strung together through overwrought melodrama with no flow. Even the action sequences, which should be Powell’s specialty, lack any visceral impact or panache. They play out in shaky-cam footage of confused stuntmen and actors swinging giant metal objects at each other.
Yet, as abysmal as the film is on the dramatic and visceral levels, the real bottom of the barrel here is the acting. The predominantly Chinese cast do the best they can, but they’re stuck playing stock character types filtered through the eyes of Western filmmakers. Somehow, they still fare better than the American leads. A growling Hayden Christensen (sporting a Justin Bieber haircut in medieval times for reasons I wouldn’t dare to attempt to justify) brings the same sense of gravitas to this damaged antihero as he did to his performance as Anakin Skywalker. In other words, he’s about as convincing as a Sears mannequin would have been in the same role.
Then there’s Nicolas Cage, who gets top billing in the movie despite having maybe 20 minutes of screen time. I can’t in good conscience describe what Cage does here as “good” acting, but I also can’t deny that Cage brings the few fleeting moments of entertainment that ‘Outcast’ has. He plays a damaged warrior who’s blind in one eye, requiring him to literally wink through the role and overact in his gruffest way possible. He also sports a pair of his most absurd wigs, and even takes a moment to acknowledge them in the dialogue. (Actual line: “I still have my hair, which is all that really matters.”) Cage is absolutely hilarious in the movie. It must be his most unhinged performance since ‘Drive Angry’ and one of those times in which I find it impossible to believe that he isn’t aware that he’s in a bad movie and has decided to camp it up for his few remaining fans.
Had Cage actually starred in this movie and maintained that level of absurdity throughout, ‘Outcast’ might even score a recommendation for those who like to suck down beer and pizza while giggling at bad movies. Unfortunately, he’s in ‘Outcast’ so briefly that the movie can’t even be recommended for ironic viewing. Nope, it should just be ignored entirely. Given how unceremoniously the film is sliding onto screens with a whiff of embarrassment from the distributor responsible, that should be easy enough.