Prisoners of the Ghostland

★★½

I’m pretty much the President of the Nicolas Cage Fan Club. I outright love the dude and a lot of his work. “Raising Arizona,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “The Rock,” “Con Air,” “Face/Off,” “Adaptation.,” “Kick-Ass,” “Drive Angry,” “Mandy,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “Pig” are all bangers with top drawer performances from Cage.

I won’t give a Cage picture a pass just because he’s in it. “City of Angels,” “Next,” “Bangkok Dangerous,” “Knowing,” “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage” and “Primal” all unabashedly blow.

The dangerous middle ground for Cage flicks are the ones that rock and suck in equal measure. Neil LaBute’s ill-advised 2006 remake of “The Wicker Man” is a textbook case of this phenomenon. The movie’s undoubtedly no bueno, but it has inspired moments of Cage insanity such as him screaming about the bees and karate kicking women and children whilst donning a bear suit. (Jack Reynor’s character in “Midsommar” should’ve taken notes).

Sion Sono’s “Prisoners of the Ghostland” (now available in select theaters – including Indianapolis’ Landmark Glendale 12 – and on VOD) stands firmly in that rock to suck middle ground. Despite having only seen one of the prolific Sono’s 58 directorial credits (that being 2001’s “Suicide Club) prior to watching “PotG,” I know by reputation that he puts crazy shit out into the world. Cage is crazy. Sono is crazy. “PotG” should be crazy … and it is to a certain extent … I just wish it was crazier. In all honesty, I found the flick surprisingly boring.

“PotG” takes place in Samurai Town, a Japanese settlement outside the fallout area of a nuclear blast. Samurai Town is ruled over by the unscrupulous Governor (Rob Zombie regular Bill Moseley) who maintains his power through the sword of Yasujiro (Tak Sakaguchi of “Versus”), a samurai indebted to him on the unfulfilled promise that’ll release his sister from her life as a geisha.

The Governor conscripts a prisoner named Hero (Cage) to retrieve his “granddaughter” Bernice (Sofia Boutella), who fled Samurai Town with her girlfriends Stella (Lorena Kotô) and Nanci (Canon Nawata). Bernice is stranded in the Ghostland, an area within the blast zone inhabited by outcasts, radiation victims and religious zealot Enoch (Charles Glover, “Shin Godzilla”). To ensure Hero’s success the Governor outfits him in a black leather bodysuit with explosives placed at the neck, arms and testicles. If Hero makes a pass at Bernice, tampers with the suit or doesn’t return with Bernice within five days, the Governor will set the charges off.

“PotG” mixes samurai and Western cultures resulting in an Eastern. As cool as that sounds – and it certainly has its moments – the overall product is sorta lacking. (“The Good, the Bad, the Weird” this is not!) Much of the picture is mostly just characters dropping exposition to Cage’s Hero. Show me! Don’t tell me!

Strangely, “PotG” is on Cage’s nuts more than Elisabeth Shue’s character was in “Leaving Las Vegas.” A female extra tells Hero to show her his balls. Cage screams the word testicle like he’s performing Shakespeare. In the movie’s best moment Hero gets one of his balls blown off (Eat your heart out, Lance Armstrong!), which prompts him to run around in circles while shrieking. Cage comes across like a Looney Tunes cartoon in this mega-acting showcase.

Speaking of mega-acting, Moseley (another stranger to subtlety) outdoes Cage in this department. He’s a hoot and a half here. Boutella, an actress whose work I’ve responded to in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “Star Trek Beyond,” is a bit of a void as Bernice. The performance hews closer qualitatively to her turn in “The Mummy” (2017) as opposed to the previously mentioned titles. Sakaguchi is a cool presence and has many of the better action beats, but the script by actor-turned-first-time screenwriter Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai betrays him. Yasujiro isn’t developed nearly enough and the character’s motivations are hazy at best. He and Hero inexplicably duel to death at the picture’s conclusion despite sharing a common goal/enemy. I did enjoy that “PotG” serves as a “Face/Off” reunion between Cage and Nick Cassavettes, who plays Hero’s crazed criminal partner Psycho.

“PotG” is obsessed with Cage’s balls … I just wish the movie itself was more nuts.

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