Movie Review: Nic Cage gets his Western, “The Old Way”

Legend has it that Clint Eastwood’s first move when accepting a script — as an actor or a director — is to go through it and slash extraneous dialogue, leaving just enough to have the story make sense.

I guess they don’t teach that sort of Hollywood lore and accepted-wisdom in film school these days. Because when Nic Cage finally got around to doing his first-ever Western, “The Old Way,” some greenhorn got’hold of the script and tried to turn it into a The Compleat Works of Wm. Shakespeare.

It’s a simple vengeance quest, and aside from the Spirit Halloween store mustache he wears in the opening scene, Cage isn’t terrible in it. But. That. Script.

Nobody in this thing says three words when 473 will do. It’s almost played as a joke, all these long-winded general store customers, outlaws, U.S. marshals and the like, launching into soliloquies. But the joke isn’t funny.

It’s as if screenwriter Carl. W. Lucas (“The Wave”) watched one Western, it was “True Grit,” and he decided everybody had to talk as much as Mattie Ross, but didn’t realize he’s no (novelist) Charles Portis.

When the “retired” gunman’s wife (Kerry Knuppe) is grabbed by the desperados who catch her at home alone, it isn’t enough that she sputters the cliche “You boys are in a world of hurt,” as a threat. “You boys have woke up the Devil” is another. And on and on she goes.

This starts with the opening scene and carries on all the way to the epilogue, one character after another getting diarrhea of the mouth, monologuing, repeating himself or herself, as if the screenwriter was trying out lines that he was sure would mostly wind up on the cutting room floor — with the weakest words edited out. As they should have been.

A marshal (veteran character actor Nick Searcy) monologues the tween-age daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) a list of what she doesn’t know about her store-keeper father. It’s a short list, thin on details, just repeated ad nauseum.

“Your daddy about the meanest son of a bitch I ever met, pardon my language,” he declares. We get it. She gets it. But on he drones.

“Your daddy was not a good man…Your daddy was a violent man.”

Lucas, who scripted a forgotten Justin Long action pic, “The Wave,” isn’t a screenwriter. He’s a Western cliche aggregator. And director Brett Donowho, who has been one of those trying to wring the last ounce of acting out of Bruce Willis (“Acts of Violence”), lets him get away with it.

The plot — Cage plays a mustachioed town-tamer who intervenes, belatedly, when a (long-winded) hanging is interrupted, and winds up shooting the condemned man just as he’s about to escape, and right in front of the man’s kid.

That kid’s going to want revenge for that.

“Twenty years later” Colton Briggs (Cage) is a family man in another town, impatiently listening to his prattling-on daughter and long-winded customers at his town store, when one day, his past catches up to them. As his wife threatened the outlaws — Nepo Baby Noah Le Gros plays the gang leader, screen veterans Abraham Benrubi and Clint Howard are members of the gang — Briggs will have his revenge.

That simple quest, packaged in a 95 minute movie, takes forever to play out thanks to one eye-rolling Pause for a Monologue after another.

Cage, who will be 60 next January, looks at home in the saddle and strikes a mean pose in a hat and duster. If John Wayne could hairpiece-and -dye his way through sagebrush sagas into his 70s, why shouldn’t Oscar-winning B-movie King Nicolas Cage do the same?

But next time, maybe he should take a little more responsibility for what’s being filmed. Maybe take on at least some semblance of Clint. Bring a Sharpie to that first read-through, and commence to editing right on the spot. Remind the lesser lights around you that the movie rule is, “Don’t tell us, SHOW us.”

Rating: R for violence

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Noah Le Gros, Kerry Knuppe, Nick Searcy, Abraham Benrubi and Clint Howard.

Credits: Directed by Brett Donowho, scripted by Carl W. Lucas. A Saban Films release.

Running time: 1:35

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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