Outcast

Outcast (2014): Nick Powell

Nicolas Cage is one of America’s most prolific actors. About two times a year we are lucky enough to get a Cage movie, only to ask, “How can I see it?” Some movies hit theaters. Some go straight to DVD. Some are on demand. No one knows. I think Cage movie producers flip a coin. Heads=theatrical release, tails=not theatrical release. Who cares, as long as Cage gets to shoot in New Orleans?

Outcast continues a long tradition of terribly named Cage movies. Titles are important, and when they don’t tell you much about the movie, sales numbers will drop. Do you think Saving Private Ryan would have been as successful were it named War? I don’t, but if Cage had starred in it I bet that’s the title he’d get. Cage’s two movies prior were called Rage and Joe. The former of those two is a pretty good title in that it evokes emotion, but you still won’t know a thing about it.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: An English crusader knight heads east to China, where he hooks up with the rightful child-king of a Chinese kingdom and his sister.

Hero (2/10)

Hayden Christensen, one of our most accomplished failures, does not get first billing in Outcast, despite being the hero. Remember when he played Anakin Skywalker? Yes, and we’re all trying to forget it, Hollywood included. Christensen gets to wield a real sword in Outcast, and he’s pretty good at it, which shows he learned something shooting those Star Wars flicks. (OK, I’ll stop riding him. Everyone sucked, and it’s all George Lucas’ fault.)

Christensen plays Jacob, who begins the movie invading a castle in the Middle East during one of the Crusades. A lot of Muslims are fighting a lot of Christians, and we don’t really know more than that. It seems that the English are storming the Muslim castle, and Jacob is doing a fine job killing these brown people in the name of God. At some point during the battle Jacob and his friend Gallain (Nicolas Cage) part ways. It’s unclear why, but Jacob did something real bad. I think. Anyway, Jacob goes east, all the way east, in fact, to China.

In China Jacob finds the anonymity all white Christians receive in medieval China, and he discovers opium. His fighting skills are still sharp, as he dispatches a few Black Guards while under opium’s soothing effects. Jacob comes across the child king of China and his older sister. They need help, and he doesn’t want to help them. But he accepts gold to escort them to an important city where loyalists supposedly live.

Predictably, Jacob warms to the two, even falling for Princess Lian. Jacob is sullen, and never softens during the movie. He just fights. He falls in the same vein as Maximus, but without the charm. Literally no charm. Christensen’s English accent was very bad, but not the worst in the movie (see below). He broods a lot, proving he kept that in his repertoire from Star Wars. I didn’t care about him at all.

Villain (3/10)

Disclaimer: I can’t remember what the villain’s name is, nor can I find the info on Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, etc. I could go back and watch the movie again. I won’t. Sorry.

The King of China (or wherever, the movie actually calls it Far East), is killed by his oldest son, a guy who is mean, but had to be mean to expand the kingdom of his father. This was an interesting plot point. The audience only sees the son commit regi-/patricide, thus confirming his villainous status. But both father and son agree that son’s villainous acts were at father’s behest. The son doesn’t see himself as a villain, and neither does the father, to some extent, only the audience.

The son claims the throne, and that his younger brother killed their father, which only the audience knows is a lie. The son chases his younger brother across China. The son also is good at fighting. I enjoyed the training montage set inside some large compound, where he fights several Black Guards at once with his two-sword technique. Again, a lot of Gladiator images are evoked, but in Outcast they’ve upgraded the villain, giving him boss abs.

The son (I just don’t care what his name is) does all the things we expect such villains to do. He’s forgettable, and he loses the final sword fight to Jacob, a guy who has traversed most of the country on horseback and in the most destitute of situations. No excuses, evil prince guy!

Action/Effects (5/10)

Outcast lasts only 90 minutes, and much of that is given over to action scenes, and thank God, because they were the only parts of the movie worth watching. The movie starts in mid-battle, as if the producers wanted to evoke Gladiator, but that movie began right before a battle. Jacob and Gallain are fighting the infidels, as Crusaders do, but they also argue about some code between them. They are having a spat, and we don’t know why. Oh, and they’re sword fighting. I like the idea behind this scene, but you need a really tight script to let us know where we are. As you might guess, we didn’t get it.
Further sword fights came out decently, if you have the stomach for it. Camera work was too shaky and quick editing did not help it. This summer’s Mad Max: Fury Road employed a tremendous amount of cuts while never feeling rushed. Outcast feels rushed and disorienting. Plus, Jacob is waaaaaay too good at sword fighting, even while chasing the dragon.

The final fight scene takes place atop a mountain, where “White Ghost” Gallain has made himself a nice little fortress. The Black Guards, to confront them, must traverse a narrow gorge path before entering the cave fort. Gallain has made himself a pretty good fort, and we get to see much of it used. Before the fight, Gallain prepares the black powder packs for placement in the gorge and use in the cave. The black powder is gunpowder, an invention new in the provinces of China around this time.

The Guards are of course attacked in the gorge. Archers station themselves behind rocks and trees and fire into the crowd. The soldiers have to scatter, and some of them run right into the time bombs. BOOM! A lot of Guards die, but they kill some of the snipers. Once Jacob sees the prince out there, making his courageous stand, he and the rest retreat to the cave.

Some of the Guards find their way into the cave, and first Gallain repels them with some bombs and a swinging, spiky log. But Gallain and Jacob have little chance once they get outside (see below).

Sidekicks (2/8)

Here comes Nicolas Cage. What more can you say about the guy? He’s a national treasure. Lord. I’m sorry. Cage is the guy who acts so well that he eschews eye patches. “I’ll just keep my eye closed,” he probably said on set. In an interview for the movie, Cage admits that Gallain’s pet snake was his idea. And the director gave him the freedom to do it. Thank you, Nick Powell.

Gallain disappears for most of the movie, telling Jacob that he’s going east. When Jacob goes all the way east, to China, he hears tell of a White Ghost. We know who it’s going to be. It’s Cage. Gallain makes a new life for himself in the hills. His accent remains abysmal, as does the acting. He has a wife, but her tongue was cut out by the usurper. So she gets no lines, but fights like hell. Her death prompts an epic death scene by Gallain, which might be more moving if it weren’t Cage doing the fighting. Still, it’s pretty cool.

The prince is a precocious boy of fourteen with a lot of spunk. He’s eager to please, and just eager to learn Jacob’s skills with a bow. The actor acquits himself well enough. When he says he wants a better China, in which the peasants will care who sits on the distant throne, we believe him.

Princess Lian is a better actor than her onscreen brother, but she is actually an adult. Played by Yifei Liu, the princess does a great job pretending not to fall in love with Jacob. We believe her, because it’s Hayden Christensen we’re talking about here. She swore to protect her brother with her life, and she rises to the challenge. Liu’s was the best acting in this movie, a good thing for her since she had the most on the line.

The Chinese actors didn’t do enough to escape the lightless void called Nicolas Cage. You what else is a lightless void? A black hole. Nothing escapes a black hole, and only the event horizon of the prince and princess scratch out two points in this category.

Henchmen (1/8)

The Black Guards are a group of guards dressed in all black. They obey the king, and they fights well, killing whoever he wants killed. Mostly, in this movie, they are there to die. One point for the guy who all along suspects that the older son killed the king.

Let’s keep moving.

Stunts (4/6)

Sword fighting plays a key role in Outcast. Nothing stood out about the fights as great, nor was it bad. Let’s say the sword fighting was good.

We’re gonna make it through, y’all.

Climax (3/6)

The final battle looks hopeless. Jacob and Gallain have fended off the first wave of Guards from Gallain’s cave fort, but outside, a whole host of men have gathered. There is no way out, except through blood. Gallain, who has just witnessed the death of his tongueless wife, has nothing to lose. He charges the horde, killing so many that his name will echo through the ages before enough spear wounds fell him. His eye will open in the afterlife.
Now is Jacob’s turn to come out. He wants to settle this man-to-man and challenges the titular king to a fight. Little does Jacob know that this guy fights with two swords. Jacob, of course, is up to the challenge. Epic sword play ensues, and visions of the climactic duel from Gladiator abound in my head. After a steely tete-a-tete, Jacob kills the evil, older son. Which is great, until you remember that the rest of the dude’s army is right behind him. Won’t they kill Jacob? No, because the other Guard, the one loyal to the old king and the real, child king, says that if they do they’ll regret it, mortally. Jacob lives. Hooray!

Jokes (0/4)

Major question, am I looking at intentional or unintentional jokes? Intentionally, Outcast forgot the humor. But by accident, my God. I mentioned Cage’s eye situation. Christensen’s mumbling led to as many laughs as head slaps. Four points if we were supposed to be laughing, zero points if we weren’t.

Setting (4/4)

Outcast opens with a landscape shot of a desert area and a fortified castle in the distance. The text on screen tells us we are looking at the Middle East during one of the Crusades. Which castle, which country, which Crusade? Who knows? The viewers don’t need to know, it will only confuse them. Just know that Muslims and Christians are fighting. 

Most of the movie takes place in China. A Chinese company produced the movie, and so all shooting took place in China. They chose well. The outdoor settings are beautiful. Verdant plains, granite outcroppings, sandy deserts, and narrow canyons. The producers seemed to aim for the Middle Earth effect, but they left out the helicopter shots, about nine more hours of screen time, and a good movie. Too bad for China and for viewers, as the landscape was about the only thing worth watching.

Commentary (0/2)

You have to laugh at a movie that is set in China, is about China, was filmed in China, and was paid for by China stars two white dudes from America and Canada. They probably hoped it would do well in America, but I don’t think it ever hit theaters. (I found it on Netflix.)

The movie opens with the raid on a Muslim castle. It’s important to remember that the Crusaders were the terrorists of the day. Arab nations were far ahead scientifically of Christian Europe and living in more egalitarian societies. The Crusaders believed that Muslims were ruining their lives, so they went to their countries and basically did a 9/11 on their soil. Instead of one day, the attacks lasted decades. Is there a mention of this? Nah. But maybe the Chinese could care less about Christian-Muslim conflict history. I’ll leave it at that. 

Offensiveness (-2/-2)

I bet there four white people living in China in the 1200s. Three of those people appeared in Outcast. Whatever. It’s hard to find offense in anything about this movie other than its quality, so all the negative points.

Others:

  • (-5) Nicolas Cage. I can’t say what was worse, his “accent” (easily the worst fake accent I’ve ever heard in a film), or his “blind eye” that twitched during his monologues. They couldn’t afford/find a decent makeup person to cover up his eye. Nor did anyone think to buy an eye patch. I could have gotten one for a few bucks, and I bet thousands are made just down the road from filming locations.
  • (1) A bonus for the cool “opium vision” shot from Jacob’s POV.
  • (-1) When our heroes enter the only town in the movie, it is clearly surrounded by a sandy desert. When they depart, through the back door, There’s a big ole river and green cliffs. I guess such a discrepancy could exist, but it seems more likely that they forgot about the desert thing.
Summary (17/68) 25%

If you ignore the crapiness of the two leads, Outcast was a tolerable way to spend 90 minutes. That’s a bit like saying, “Aside from the iceberg, we had a great time on the Titanic.” In other words, you can’t ignore it.