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Good or Bad? Rating Every Nicolas Cage Performance

on June 09, 2016, 12:00am
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Raising Arizona (1987)

Nicolas Cage the vaudeville artist? It’s wild, but Cage is one of the zaniest creations in the Coens’ grand oeuvre of howling mad men, in their farce of baby daydreams and crazy Western kooks just trying to start their lives with all the wrong resources. Stealing a baby sounds terrifying. And yet the idea produced comic gold from all guilty parties involved in Raising Arizona. As H.I. McDonough, Cage whips up the hair something awful and runs, screams, and begs like a lunatic – a lunatic just trying to have a baby in this crazy mixed-up world known as Arizona. Or maybe it was Utah?

Regardless, McDonough is a classic comic creation in the best way imaginable, showing off Cage’s uncanny willingness to commit to the tone and flavor of his material. From the “Mr. Horsepower” woodpecker tattoo, to the Hawaiian shirts, to the darkly amusing bruises and damage brought on from fighting to save his stolen son, Cage is classically kooky.

Good or Bad?

Good. So good. All-time, possible top-five Cage good.

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Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Look, everyone’s fully in the know with Cage’s literal vamping and madness in Vampire’s Kiss. He’s a vampire! He’s a vampire! (For the record, Cage plays a yuppie scumbag literary agent with an affinity for trendy bars and babes, who after a very aggressive night of sex thinks he’s suddenly a vampire and loses his damn mind. Think American Psycho, but with more bite in every sense. A metaphorical vampire that turns into a literal vampire.)

You know that old chestnut about an actor being so good, or at least so watchable and entertaining, that people would pay money just to watch them read the phone book?

Well, Cage did the ABCs.

Onscreen.

He did them up like no other actor we’ve ever seen.

Good or Bad?

Good. Cage is in voracious, scene-chewing character the entire film, and in perhaps his rarest form. Cage did vampirism, the Cage way. It’s a film with a 31 on Metacritic, which would suggest that the film’s a shit show. And it is. But in that undeniably watchable, weird way. Cage makes it an acting experience completely unlike anything you’ll ever see.

LOOK, HE ATE A REAL COCKROACH, GUYS. HE ONLY MADE $40,000 TO DO THIS FILM. THAT IS A REAL ACTOR RIGHT THERE.

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Never on Tuesday (1989)

To think. Cage was already enough of a name to make an uncredited star cameo in 1989. And really, there are no words for this. Cage shows up in this teen screwball comedy, in a red sports car, only to pop out with really bad hair, some out-of-breath delivery, and a fake prosthetic nose. He looks like Adrian Brody. Anyway, he freakishly laughs and then disappears. It’s like a mirage. Did Cage really appear? Is Cage within all of us? Is this a work of accidental comic genius?

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Time to Kill (1989)

Ethiopia. 1936. A lieutenant with a toothache (Cage) leaves his unit to seek medical help. His vehicle gets trashed, and he winds up having a Walkabout-like journey with shades of war guilt and white guilt. But, see, that’s not why anyone today would watch Time to Kill.

Cage giving a chameleon a smoke seems abusive, but it’s sure worth seeing to believe.

Then again, here’s the beginning of the “Cage Sees Lizards” universe.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Fire Birds (1990)

Cage can do a hothead in his sleep. But perhaps he’s too hot in this Top Gun knockoff about chopper pilots. “It’s not my brain!” Cage screams as he has to confront eye problems. “I am the greatest!” he swears in simulators. And there’s Phil Collins’ “Find a Way to My Heart” over the sex scenes. Yuck. His swagger, his stare, his volume, all of it came off as exhaustingly arrogant in Fire Birds.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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