A favorite moment from “Between Worlds,” the latest Nicolas Cage Z-movie released to an audience of one, is in a “love scene.”
We’ll call it that, because a more accurate description has to get into a lot of grey areas. His character, a trucker named Joe, is sexing up the overripe daughter (Penelope Mitchell) of his new “choke-me” girlfriend (Franka Potente). The daughter is, we’re pretty sure and Joe is dead-certain, Joe’s trashy late wife whose spirit has popped up in that daughter. And popped up means horned up as well.
Anyway, they’re going at it, and she requests a little dirty talk. And then she gets specific.
“Read to me from ‘Memories,’ Joe.” So he does. He picks up what looks like a publisher’s proof of “Memories,” a self-published porno by…Nicolas Cage. And he reads from its explicit pages.
Nic Cage has already shared his butt crack with us in the film’s opening images. He is playing a trucker, after all. And if there’s one thing the man is, it’s self-aware. He’s an Academy Award winner making another movie probably not worthy of his talents. Might as well have a little fun at his own expense, something to tickle his fans.
“Between Worlds” is a down and dirty supernatural thriller with the faintest veneer of substance covering the sordid.
We meet Joe at a truck stop where he interrupts, he thinks, a serial killer offing a woman in the bathroom.
“We don’t HURT women down South!” Next time, try wrasslin’ a MAN gator!”
Vintage one-liners that add to the cult of Cage. But might this woman, Julie (Franka Potente of “Run Lola Run” and a couple of “Bourne” movies) like being choked? Not exactly.
“You MARAN!” Julie shouts, because she’s German and it doesn’t roll off the tongue in Baden-Baden the way it might in Biloxi.
This “strangling business is inSANE!” Joe bellows. But “I haven’t even GOTTEN to the crazy part,” she promises.
It seems that when she was a kid, she drowned (seen in the opening credits imagery). And something about that experience connected her to “the other side.” When she’s choked, she gets to cross over “Between Worlds.” She’s a trucker herself, and the dude who was choking her? He was doing her a favor.
Her daughter was in a motorcycle wreck and may be dying in a hospital in Mobile. Mom needed to be choked-out “to save her.” She would drift into the afterlife and bring Billie (Mitchell) back.
She explains this to Joe as he’s giving her a lift and telling her his life story. He drinks from a bottomless flask, stomps the clutch, brakes and gas pedals with his cowboy boots and shows her a family photo.
“Wife and daughter. You like? OOOPS! Dead!”
Naturally they end up banging the bedposts and waking the neighbors when she gets home. Her daughter has been “saved.” But was it really Billie’s spirit Julie retrieved from the afterlife?
Writer-director Maria Pulera (“Falsely Accused” with Rosanna Arquette is her best known credit) plays up the Southern Gothic/trailer trashy elements of this tale, wallowing in the seamy sex and testy lust triangle the story sets up.
The soundtrack imitates the spacey mystery of “Twin Peaks,” which is what Pulera might have been going for here.
Billie is possessed by Joe’s even trashier late wife Mary (Lydia Hearst). And Mary’s favorite expression, the phrase she wore out when complaining to her long-haul trucker husband, was “Don’t you EVER leave me alone again!”
Whatever Billie thinks about hurting Mom by sleeping with Mom’s new man, Mary inside of Billie is an uninhibited freak. A banana hammock moment and a gonzo dream-sequence involving hosing off Billie’s motorcycle are classic Cage clips hidden inside “Between Worlds.”
In movies like this, Cage dresses down to the point where no self-respecting woman would want him — “I smell like three days on the road,” and he looks it, too.
That’s part of the joke. Another part is Julie’s slow speed in picking up on the fornicating going on under her roof, which she isn’t participating in.
Figuring things out is only half a solution, though. At some point, we know somebody’s going to have to choke somebody else.
One takes one’s pleasure in Cage’s performances in pictures like this one from his eye for a telling detail. Truck driving isn’t just about Dan Post python-skin cowboy boots, flasks, and those little bottle energy drinks that keep them awake.
It’s about that battered Turkey and the Wolf cap Joe wears on the road. It’s a famed New Orleans eatery, and Cage has called New Orleans home, off and on, for years.
And it’s about Cage relishing any chance he can to Deep South drawl his way through a part, with a “What’s a nice lil’German gal like you doin’ drivin’ a Big Rig in the ol’U-S of A?”
It’s only when the film has as little entertainment value or value value as “Between Worlds” that I’m reminded of the shadow that work like this casts over Cage.
He’s still got fanboy cachet, thanks to the occasional appearance in comic book movies like “Kick-Ass” or the new “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.”
But as he has told me a few times over the years in interviews, work isn’t about ego or fans or tax bills, challenging himself or building a nest egg. It’s a compulsion, a mania, a need to not be at home alone with his thoughts.
It’s why Bob Dylan tours constantly, and why Nic Cage shuffles from film to film, some of them barely worth releasing (this is better than some, worse than most). There’s a sadness in that, but a nobility, too. I try to keep that in mind every time I review one of these flea-bitten dogs.
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some violence
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Franka Potente, Penelope Mitchell, Garret Clayton
Credits: Written and directed by Maria Pulera. A Saban Films release
Running time: 1:30