★★★ out of ★★★★★
You want to see an off-the-chain Nicolas Cage? Here you go! Go crazy, Nic.
Directed by Brian Taylor
So, I decided to watch the flip side of the movie Cooties, which I just reviewed, with the recent offering Mom and Dad, featuring the inimitable Nicolas Cage. In this movie, instead of the kids turning on the teachers, it’s parents turning on their kids. If a little bit of manic Nicolas Cage goes a long way for you, this probably ain’t the film you’re looking for. If you love to see the man chew his way through every scene he’s in, with a barely repressed savage glee, check this one out. Cage is allowed, in service of the plot of this film, to let himself go gonzo in a way that few other actors can, or are willing to go. It is a simple, and ridiculous premise, but an oddly solid one. What if, for some unexplained reason, the natural instinct for parents to protect their children at all costs, gets flipped 180 degrees? That passionate protectionism is converted into a parental filicidal rage, and all the emotion that goes into loving your children gets inverted. Fun!
Now, as much fun as it is to see Cage go crazy, in order for this film to work, you had to feel compassion for the kids in question. And here… the movie kinda belly flops. Brent (Cage) and Kendall Ryan (Selma Blair) are two suburbanite parents trying to raise rebellious tween Carly (Ann Winter) and blithely innocent Josh (Zackary Arthur). Blair is the most compelling of all the characters, as she struggles to understand her teenage daughter and clearly wants to be part of her children’s lives, but they are shutting her out. Ann is an annoying brat, and embodies every terrible stereotype assigned to a teenage girl. She’s entitled, infatuated with texting, disrespectful, and is the classic middle tier kid in the social strata… not cool enough to be the most popular, but totally willing to dismiss those she seems lower in status. So… not really rooting for Ann.
Josh looks like a ten-year-old acting like a five-year-old. He’s running around with airplanes and toy trucks but really looks like he should be much too old for such things. He’s not an unlikable character, but he’s an implausible character. These children are your two primary protagonists who are going to have to Face Off against their parents. (See what I did there? Ahem. Sorry.) When the shit goes down, while Kendall is at school, and this is where the movie redeems itself. The crush of parents coming to pick up.. and kill… their progeny at the school is a wild scene. The few hapless teachers and cops trying to keep the mob calm fails, and there is a madcap scene of middle-aged parents flooding the schoolyard pursuing their teenage kids. And, because, either he’s playing hooky, or apparently is four-years-old, Josh is at home when the world turns… but he too gets a close-up example of what is in store for him. Another thing about Josh’s implausibility… if he really isn’t old enough for school, why is he just left with the housekeeper? Strange parenting tactics for sure.
Two more compelling scenes follow, the first of which involves the most likable character in the movie, Carly’s boyfriend Damon (Robert T. Cunningham) who looks to be 25 playing 16, mustache and all… confronting his father at his house. Cunningham is very engaging, but again, age incongruity abounds in this film! This sequence strikes a very serious tone and makes the impact of what is happening around the world very tangible, scary, and sad. The second notable act two sequence involves Kendall going to visit her sister who is giving birth to her first child, at the very worst time to be giving birth to a newborn. This was a scary-nasty and brilliant segment, and you really didn’t know where it was going to go.
The real meat of the story, of course, is when both Brent and Kendall come home, and are compelled to hunt down and take out Josh and Carly. There is a game of cat and mouse that amusingly plays out as everybody is on home turf here. Cage sprints around the house in pursuit of his panicking kids, and it feels very much like a Wile-e-Coyote cartoon. Kendall takes a more measured and tactical approach to getting at the kids, and it’s fun to see the family try to out think each other. The nuttiness reaches a peak, when Brent’s parents arrive, as scheduled… and guess what? It’s not just killing children, it’s killing your kids! So grandpa Mel (Lance Henrickson) and grandma Barbara (Marilyn Dodds Frank) get in on the action. Woohoo! Party time! With knives! All of this chasing and clobbering eventually culminates into a big “Huh?” type of ending. It’s like the movie ended with a comma. It answers none of the questions as to why this was happening, and none of the characters get a solid conclusion. It’s strange.
So how did I feel? I was solidly entertained. Cage totally over-acted every single scene he was in, even before the madness hits, and in the flashbacks… so you have to deal with that. Blair was, I think, the best thing in the movie, as she drifts in and out of her feelings about her kids, and you really wonder if she will be the one to break the spell. The kids… were a let down, but in the big Act 3 showdown, all of the previous flaws in the characters fell away, as they really didn’t amount to anything particularly meaningful. I get the sense that this film was written and directed by frustrated parents. There are many occasions where Brent and Kendall have to examine their mid-life crises, and their doubts of their parenting and spousal skills. I get the middle age thing, as a man in my 40’s. It’s a little too ham-fisted in its directness though. Too much exposition was used , when they were building up some good subtle moves that I think drove the point home well enough. It’s a message heavy movie, with a good bit of dark comedy, and hits more than it misses, but it does lack a certain pathos that could have made it great. One thing is for certain though. You will not be bored with this film. The action scenes are a lot of fun, and you can see the rock-em-sock-em pedigree of director Brian Taylor, as he previously has helmed action pictures Crank, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and Gamer. Yeah, those aren’t great films, but I would suggest that this movie is his best production yet. Granted, that’s a fairly low bar he set for himself.