I want to tell you about a fella I use to know. Things didn’t quite go as well for him as they could have; it’s been a real tragedy to watch. I remember, ages ago, he was the life of the party, and when he left the room it felt dead. He was a bit quirky but that was one of his charms; showed that he was well rounded. Then things changed. I don’t know when it happened, but he started hanging around with some unsavoury types, ones that got him to do stuff he shouldn’t have. Started small, so we were willing to forgive him now and then, but things got worse until he was out of control. As it should be obvious from the second line, I am making an allegory of watching a friend get hooked on crack and destroying themselves and Nicholas Cage’s career; one that continues to downward spiral with Army of One.
Army of One is the adaptation of the misadventures of real-life DIY Rambo Gary Faulkner, a construction worker from Colorado of questionable mental stability, who travelled to Pakistan to hunt down Osama Bin Laden in 2010. Cage plays Faulkner, armed only with a katana bought from a shopping network, who tries to capture the terrorist leader.
Now, if the idea of a film in which Cage plays someone armed with a samurai sword taking on the Taliban doesn’t fill you with glee, then you have to ask yourself some deeply personal questions. Yet, despite its sultry eyed promise of a night of hedonistic enjoyment, Army of One turns out to be little more than a bottle of Buckfast down the local park.
Gary Faulkner, as depicted in the film, is an ultra-patriotic yet loveable and friendly American who happily spends his time helping those around him, praising the American people, going for weekly dialysis treatment and bemoaning the US military’s inability to find Bin Laden. Things take a drastic turn for Gary when God (Russel Brand) appears to him and asks him to go to Pakistan and capture Bin Laden himself. Despite starting a relationship with old high school crush Marci (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and becoming a father figure to her niece Lizzie (Chenoa Morison), Gary preforms a series of ill-conceived attempts to travel to Pakistan, which include sailing from San Diego and trying to hang glide in from Israel. After many failed attempts, Gary finally makes it to Pakistan armed only with a sword and a belief God wants him to stop the terrorist mastermind. With his arrival in Pakistan, Gary must dodge local gangs and confused CIA agents until his final showdown with Bin Laden.
Is this a good film? No.
For a film billed as a comedy, there is a distinct lack of it. A few moments that might make you crack a smile but not much else, this will not have you rolling of your seat with laughter. It tries – oh how it tries – but the jokes are bizarre non sequiturs with little set up for far too much delivery. It feels like two different films have been made and at the last moment stuck together to give the illusion of a finished film. At one moment the film is relying on the farce that is a man, with no military training, going after Bin Laden, before it shifts into a fish-out-of-water story with a dash of comedy of errors about it as he navigates his way around Pakistan.
The first act is so happy to be there that it moves at breakneck speed; so desperate to have its moment and set everything up for a second and third act that it drags itself to the point of being anchored to the seabed. It is easy to tell through the off rhythm and rapid transitions that chunks of it have ended up on a cutting room floor somewhere.
I’ve watched and read a few of the interviews with Faulkner and I’ll put my hand up right now, Cage does play him well. But the film doesn’t. It shows Faulkner suffering from hallucinations and delusions. He goes to Vegas to finance his mission, winning big at the tables before being robbed by a group of Mexican businessmen he accosts thinking they’re Colombian drug dealers working for Bin Laden. Only the whole thing never happened; it was a hallucination he had after losing all his money at the Blackjack tables. So the movie isn’t just saying Faulkner suffers from hallucinations, it’s saying that within those hallucinations he’s suffering delusions of grandeur and that he knows they’re delusions.
I could argue that Faulkner is an unreliable narrator, that every character close to him supports his mission because he believes that they do, but the film’s inability to settle on what it wants to be, farce or comedy of errors or even a slapstick National Lampoon-style film, means you, as a viewer, can’t even decide on it yourself.
Army of One is a lazy attempt at comedy that partly character assassinates the person it’s portraying and adds another rung in the downward spiral that is Nicholas Cage.
Dir: Larry Charles
Scr: Rajiv Joseph, Scott Rothman
Cast: Nicholas Cage, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Russel Brand, Chenoa Morison,
Prd: Emile Gladstone, Jeremy Steckler, James D. Stern
DOP: Anthony Hardwick
Music: David Newman
Runtime: 92 minutes
Army of One is available on Blu-ray and DVD February 6th.