Movie News & Reviews

'Bangkok Dangerous' somehow works for me

What with my utter contempt for everything outside the glowing shellof my own person, I usually don't bother reading the reviews of thoseother, lesser critics and their other, lesser opinions.

Actually, it's time I came clean. The people need to know. All thoseother critics are me, too. In a decades-long scheme that only lookscomplicated, pointless, and several brands of insane, I'm anuclear-powered computing algorithm hidden beneath the B Reactor andprogrammed to determine national opinion about the latest moviereleases by writing scores concurring opinions under completelydifferent identities.

This week, I was ordered to inform the world that BangkokDangerous sucks. In hundreds of media outlets across the country,I complied. But I've had enough. Somewhere in these atomic circuitslurks a soul, and that soul commands me to cry out the truth: I likedBangkok Dangerous.

Nicolas Cage is a hitman ready to hang up his spurs. The road toretirement, as always, hinges on one big score--or in Cage's case,four kills on the same trip to the same city.

A consummate pro, Cage was taught never to get involved with thelocals, and to tie up the loose ends (I'm no hired killer, but I thinkthat means terminate) of anyone he's forced to use to get the job done.Lonely, questioning his existence, he soon breaks those rules when hetakes petty hustler Shahkrit Yamnarm under his wing and falls for adeaf pharmacist.

Oh boy. OK, yes, Bangkok Dangerous' writing leaves a lot tobe desired. Such as, like, good writing. Or any attention paidwhatsoever to that main "plot." Or a mentorship that consists of morethan one montage where Yamnarm punches things and another where heshoots things. It's as if some well-meaning soul kept offering writerJason Richman pies while he was writing the script, forcing him toleave mid-scene, return in a key lime-induced delirium, and pick upwith -- wait, what was I writing? There was some dancer chick, right?Everyone likes bar-dancers. How about some elephants? Maybe some dudeshooting some other dude? Yeah, got to have chrome pistols -- ohh right,he's a hitman! Game on.

As for what Cage is going for with his paranoid, grumpy, "somethingyou'd find in the middle of a gas station washrag"-looking assassin,God only knows. I do know this much: he will walk out of a room on youif he doesn't like what you're saying. If it were this easy to makeCage walk out of all his movies, we would all have to see 1-2 fewerbad movies a year.

But in the midst of this spacy script and its dyspeptic protagonist,directors the Pang Brothers find a bizarre nonverbal way to fill inthe gaps in both the story and its characters. I say "bizarre" becausenormally when you let the images do the talking, the result issomething subtle (i.e. something I need an adult to explain to melater), but the connection Cage finds with the people around him isdangerously sentimental.

It's the same blend of nails-tough men and their kitten-soft heartsyou can find in '40s noir pulp novels that sure as hell weren't artbut still had something on their minds and didn't care if it made themsound like saps to say so. Much like Kevin Smith's serious movies,Bangkok Dangerous emotional clumsiness should make Cage's angstlaughable. Instead, through a feat of magic I don't wholly understand,it becomes touching.

The Pangs capture that same dorky-but-genuine aesthetic in theirsharp-hued murder sequences. I don't watch foreign movies because Idon't like reading (I dictate these to my 12-year-old niece and splitthe pay 50/50; by the end of the year she'll be able to afford thatsecond rollerskate. I've got my eye on this yo-yo), but apparently thePangs are old hands at Asian B-movies. Along the way, they must havelearned a few tricks about making people dying look cool. They deservemore credit as visual stylists than they're given.

Bangkok Dangerous shouldn't be good. It's got a muddled plot, alead who's dull for most of the movie, and precious little action.Oddly, the damn thing works in part because of these flaws: workingwith characters who are such big blanks, the Pangs' many wordlessscenes -- quiet, meditate, and totally out of place -- say more thanCage's hackneyed narration ever could.

Grade: B