Movie Review: “Sympathy for the Devil”

   There is a sitcom I am a large fan of that you may have heard of. Before Rick and Morty, writer Dan Harmon cut his teeth with a sitcom called Community. During an episode, a character named Abed was tasked with answering an impossible question in his film study class about Nicholas Cage, the question that he was posed with was whether or not Nicholas Cage was a good actor. This was a question that ultimately led to him having a mental breakdown. It was a question too difficult for a devoted cinephile to wrap their head around.

   In my opinion, Nicholas Cage isn’t a good actor. Instead, I would make the argument that he is a great actor with an impressive resume that I have still yet to dig into on The ‘Bib. Make no mistake about it, I have reviewed a handful of them, once or twice, here and there, little films like Willy’s Wonderland, for instance, but I have yet to scratch the surface on answering that question affirmatively for myself. Although it is a question I have tasked myself with full confidence for the answer, I can’t help but feel sympathy for Abed when he tried to tackle the same question. It would be easy to rattle off a half dozen good performances from Nicholas Cage I have seen over the years, but it would also be easy to rattle off a few dozen bad movies I have experienced of his over the years as well. 

   Consider Nicholas Cage effectively on my radar as a topic of conversation from here on out, and it will begin with this new film Sympathy for the Devil. 

   Directed by Yuval Adler and written by Luke Paradise, Sympathy for the Devil works with a lot of filmmakers I am not very familiar with. For this film, in terms of star power, the film is really propped up by Nicholas Cage’s presence, his and actor Joel Kinnaman, who I am familiar with from the 2014 remake of Robocop and his performance as Rick Flag in Suicide Squad. Heading into this film, I had a modest expectation for it. The concept itself seemed straightforward and fun, and the trailers indicated this film would add up to one more wacky, hammer performance from Cage, seeming particularly unhinged. 

   True to its word, Sympathy for the Devil delivers what is written on the tin. That is, the film sees Nicholas Cage appear on the screen with a domineering, exclamatory presence from the get go, donning a red suit and an unhinged expression. Joel Kinnaman, in turn, is tasked with playing the straightman in the film. During a family emergency, Cage’s character enters the film and the main-protagonists’ car, pointing a gun at his head and telling him to drive. Reluctantly, the man obliges, leaving his pregnant wife alone at the hospital. The pace is breakneck fast and direct, pulling us directly into its high-concept without a second to breathe, wasting no time for build or development. This is fine, because the build and development can always come later. For now, we are whisked away into a high-tension situation, forced to watch as the situation unfolds.

   Nicholas Cage chews the scenery like it is chewing gum, offering his famously over the top and predictably unpredictable delivery, the very type of performance that makes people think twice about where Mr. Cage might land in their “Best of” list. Personally though, this is what I wanted for this film and Cage’s cagey performance plays directly into the character of this film. The best part of a presence like Cage is how malleable even his most typecast portrayal can be. Similar to how Adam Sandler can go from a glorified man-child to a cynical curmudgeon, Cage can easily go from laughably hammy, a la Jim Carrey, to an unhinged psychopath without it feeling like too large of a departure for either. He can make you laugh, but he can also be more than a little entertaining all at once. 

   Everything about this film is perfectly adequate and satisfactory across the board. Unfortunately, that is about the extent of it with this film. The cinematography is an alright production, if a little indistinct, but, ultimately, everything mostly feels kind of there with it. Although they try to spin this yarn with the two lead actors – one seeming unhinged, one seeming like an ordinary, everyday citizen finding himself to be the perpetual deer in the headlights, the questions it asks aren’t satisfying answered or particularly interesting to begin with. Either Cage’s character is completely off his rocker and is targeting this man for no reason, or there is a reason. The question never feels particularly built up or instilled importance in, and the payoff that does eventually happen feels like it’s met with humdrum indifference.

   I wish I could say more about Sympathy for the Devil, but, honestly, it feels like it just meets the boxes of alright in every category. For what it is worth, there are certainly worse outcomes that could have happened. The film clocks out at 90 minutes, and does, admittedly, feel a little like a short story that was padded out to feature length. That said, it isn’t at all not enjoyable, it simply feels like it comes and goes without doing anything affirmative to weigh by opinion one way or the other. It is the exact definition of a film that is fine if you see it, fine if you don’t.

Rating: – 2.5 out of 5.0