‘Sympathy For The Devil’ Review: This ‘Collateral’-Esque Thriller Is Like Nicolas Cage Doing An SNL Version of Nicolas Cage

There’s always that moment, that special moment, when an actor of some note first appears onscreen in any one movie or show. From the moment their presence becomes known, they instantly turn on an uber-signature persona that is unique to the individual. Many can pull this off, usually the more high-profile the personality, but few can elicit the type of smile Nicolas Cage can produce as he slides into the backseat of a car when the audience first lays eyes on him in his newest effort, “Sympathy for the Devil.“ Sporting his own menacing grin, it’s everything one’s come to expect from the offbeat character that is Cage, and in that briefest of seconds, is somehow able to remind the viewer of what this man is all about and what may lay in store over the course of the film’s 90 minutes.

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The setup is simple; Joel Kinnaman is David, a husband and father en route to the hospital where his wife is currently in labor with Child #2 when a sinister-looking man enters his vehicle at a stoplight, holding him at gunpoint and gives him vague instructions on where to drive next. What follows is something akin to “Collateral,” with Kinnaman in the role of Jamie Foxx and Cage as the Tom Cruise of the story, but with an air of mystery as Kinnaman attempts to figure out who this man might be, what exactly it is he wants and if their time together will include any sudden outbursts or bizarre dance sequences. Spoiler alert: It does.

There’s both plenty to say about the film as much as there is very little; the dynamic between the two is established immediately, leaving Kinnaman the job of mostly just reacting coldly to Cage’s antics and Cage giving the viewer a Greatest Hits package of every quirk he’s thrown into his performances over the years. In a way, it is like an introduction to the man, or in a more straightforward way, something that oddly feels like a different actor doing an SNL version of Nicolas Cage. It’s hard to tell whether he’s genuinely committing to the role or slightly phoning it. Still, there’s no denying that every time the latter hypothesis swims to the surface to convince the viewer as such does the film quickly throw a curve ball and allows Cage the opportunity to, say, sing along with “I Love The Nightlife” on a restaurant jukebox or shout a few curse words in such a way that never sounds anything but hilarious. Unfortunately, these traits become substantially diluted by the time the third act rolls around, when questions start to become disappointingly answered, bullets begin to fly, and a few cliché plot twists find the film descending into an unusual pseudo-version of “A History of Violence.” Though these moments do give Kinnaman’s character the chance to start doing some of the heavy lifting, and it does become abundantly clear by this point that his obligation to the role has been unwavering since the film’s first minute, it’s not enough to give the movie a solid spot on any number of Year-End Best Of lists. That all said, it’s hardly a slog but does primarily force dialogue to carry the film forward, which is fortunately broken up by the periodic moments of action that do present a nice balance in terms of onscreen activity overall.

It’s hard to say if this is worth a view, as die-hard Cage fans might not see anything necessarily new, nor does the overall arc of the plotline break any new ground other than to offer a platform for Cage to again roll out his usual bag of acting tricks. One might think there’s much more to the plot than can be garnered from an initial watch. Still, outside of Kinnaman’s devotion to his role and the ongoing question of whether or not Cage is genuinely, fully inhabiting his near-compelling character, the story fails to extend anywhere beyond another rudimentary battle of wits of which “Collateral” was itself but one of many examples of this type of film. It sadly renders the two actors’ efforts ultimately irrelevant, with the film unable to live up to its title as it will undoubtedly garner no sympathy from whoever decides to take it in. [C-]