At this stage in Nicolas Cage’s increasingly bonkers career, it hardly seems surprising to see him to appear as a man clad in black biker leathers and with bombs strapped to his testicles. This is the curly conundrum facing his character – literally called Hero – in the delirious, dystopian Prisoners of the Ghostland.
The star of trippy retro ‘80s-schlocker Mandy and alien invasion oddity Color Out of Space has been pumping out demented B-movies of late. So much so it’s kinda wild to recall he once took home an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, way back in 1996. Those heady days of serious acting may be long gone, but we salute his all-in commitment to the madness that has subsequently ensued. So much so we’ll even overlook his involvement in The Wicker Man remake – just don’t mention the bees.
Continually breaking the chains of good taste, that brings us neatly back to his testicles. Hero finds himself in this predicament after a bank job gone horribly wrong. An absurdly stylish sequence that makes ballet of brutality, it’s all the more eye-opening because of the presence of co-star Nick Cassavetes, director of The Notebook, as his wild wingman Psycho. While they may part ways less than amicably, Hero’s real troubles lie in the form of horror movie stalwart Bill Moseley. He plays the maniacal Governor of Samurai Town: think Westworld meets 1984 with a much smaller budget and you’ll be halfway towards the set-up of this truly bizarre world.
The dastardly Governor straps Hero into said suit, forcing his hand to rescue missing daughter Bernice, played by Sofia Boutella, the magnetic lead of the similarly wild Climax. She stole a car and hit the road into the Mad Max-like desert wasteland beyond, but wound up trapped inside a mannequin by the denizens of this weird purgatorial zone. The bombs on Hero are rigged to go off if he even thinks about laying a hand on her.
Even loopier, the partially collapsed world they find themselves in has been frozen in time by a giant clock, tended to by a Cassandra-like prophet and her disciples. They recount the nuclear collapse that casued all this, with shades of 1950s panic a la Godzilla, and more contemporary echoes in the disaster of Fukushima. Not that there’s much overt political commentary, or even logic, on show here. But that’s not why you come to a film like this.
As envisioned by Japanese director Sion Sono, the brains behind blood-drenched show Tokyo Vampire Hotel and flushed turtle-turned kaiju film Love & Peace, it’s a hoot. But Sono fans expecting the combo with Cage to go properly off may be somewhat surprised by a slightly sedate pace. But fear not, there’s still plenty of mayhem to be had. It deserves to be seen on as big a screen as possible to make the most of Toshihiro Isomi’s gaudily great production design too. Boutella even gets to out-Cage Cage in her all-too-brief sword fighting scenes. And as for her co-star? Well, he’s clearly having a ball – whether or not Hero loses one.
In US and UK cinemas Sep 17.