Anyone who has experienced 1993’s “Deadfall” in full understands: Nicolas Cage’s turn in it is as impossible to hate as the rest of the movie is to enjoy.
You can get Cage’s greatest hits from “Deadfall” out of a YouTube compilation without creating permanent record that you, one day, paid $2.99 to rent it like someone you might know. Yet it’s somehow not the same as stomaching the shit sandwiched around Cage’s magnificently gale-force turn as Eddie King — a low-end confidence man with a Dollar General wig, an Italian-Scottish-whatever accent clearly ADR’d after the fact so Cage could do what suited him, a patois that pairs Fire Marshal Bill and Billy Madison, the style of Tony Clifton and the short fuse of Frank Booth. That the rest is so terrible only makes Cage more impressive. Rarely has an actor so entertainingly torpedoed the more serious efforts of everyone else around him.
(Most of “Deadfall” follows Michael Biehn narrating and navigating the criminal activity undertaken by the uncle he never knew, but no one cares.)
Certainly as a favor to his brother (director Christopher Coppola), Cage took the “Deadfall” role in his inter-“Vegas” period – post-“Honeymoon,” pre-“Leaving.” If you’ve ever wondered about the wellspring for every excessively eccentric weirdo Cage took on during his extended, piper-paying run of tax-debt blues … look no further.
Forever fidgeting, Eddie seems plagued with a perpetual case of the meat sweats. Or the coke sweats. Or both. Cage appears encased under a puffy layer of prosthetics – like a “Mission: Impossible” mask to be dramatically yanked off. Nope. That’s just Cage’s pale, pliable skin. He sucks at Budweiser like it’s a baby bottle. At one point, Eddie grows so paranoid he thinks clothes hangers are trying to kill him.
Eddie dies an hour into “Deadfall” – plunged into a deep fryer that melts his face … off! And yet here he is, nearly a quarter-century later and again played by Cage in the present day, in “Arsenal” – an otherwise unremarkable DOA-VOD toss-off given occasional life by this character’s unexpected resuscitation. (Despite a limited run in several theaters, none of which are in Indiana, streaming services are the prime delivery vehicle here.)
Then again, Eddie is a lounge lizard. In true reptile form, perhaps he didn’t die but simply shed his skin and grew a new one – tougher, leatherier, weirder.
At no point does “Arsenal” feel like an intentional sequel – so anonymously plotted by rookie screenwriter Jason Mosberg that Eddie was clearly shoehorned in once Cage came aboard. There is also as little reason for “Arsenal” to be titled “Arsenal” as for “Deadfall” to be called “Deadfall.” Besides Eddie, its strongest connection to “Deadfall” is that the story surrounding Cage is similarly bland — albeit more slickly so and with perfunctory feints toward bigger ideas of brotherly loyalty and childhood trauma.
J.P. (Adrian Grenier, blander than ever and unconvincing in a tough-guy transition) is a Mississippi construction business owner forced to save his hot-head, hard-luck brother Mikey (Johnathon Schaech, who does a Harrelson-Grillo-Manganiello thing). Once Eddie’s errand boy, Mikey has now been kidnapped by him and held for ransom that suspiciously matches J.P.’s exact net worth.
Director Steven C. Miller churns out, at a marathon pace, such second-home projects for second-tier stars; John Cusack shows up here, too, as a do-ragged cop named Sal who doesn’t take his sunglasses off much but pitches in to help J.P. So “Arsenal” at least exudes a grubby, gritty, cheap vibe befitting a story of grimy guys near the Gulf. The sheen is that of a WWE Films joint, up to a gleefully grotesque final gunfight in which your eye can track badly CGI’d buckshot blasted right into a bad guy’s ballsack.
While nowhere near the levels of insanity in “Deadfall,” Cage doesn’t disappoint, either adding a clearly fake Cyrano nose to the famed wig and mustache that seems purposefully drooped off his lip. Eddie pontificates on the proper ratio of Worcestershire sauce to celery in the perfect Bloody Mary for no particular reason. His killing floor is in the backroom of an arcade. He eulogizes his brother (played by Coppola) – whom he has just pummeled to death, in slow-motion, to the tune of a gospel music cassette – during a blubbering monologue that sounds like he’s battling sinusitis.
Obviously, and exclusively, created for the masochistic community of Cage completists (see above comment on the $2.99 rental), “Arsenal” is far too cut-rate to collect a campy legacy like “Deadfall.” But for the often beleaguered Cage, it’s still good to be King.