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Nicholas Cage offers up Bangkok sameness in new feature

by Glen Baity

When I’m bored at the movies, which happens from time to time, I like to play “How many times have I seen this?” It’s an easy game, and you can play along. I’ll pitch a movie, and you tally up how many titles you’ve seen that have identical or markedly similar plots.

Ready? Here’s the pitch: Our hero is a solitary man. An amoral man. A man who operates outside the law. A man known to few, but whose wrath is known to — and feared by — many.

A hit man. But what would happen to this lone wolf if he started letting people in? If he made a friend? If he fell in love? If he started listening to his conscience? All while pulling off — you guessed it — One. Last. Job. While you’re counting, I’ll tell you that I’ve personally seen this movie about 5,000 times, and this past weekend marked 5,001. This time it was called Bangkok Dangerous, a hopelessly dour late-summer buzzkill from the Pang brothers, who brought you last year’s equally-forgettable haunted house yarn, The Messengers. Set in a modern-day Bangkok where it is perpetually between the hours of 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., the film follows gun-for-hire Joe (Nicolas Cage), who arrives in the city to shoot the last four bullets of his shadowy career. He plans to keep a low profile, interacting with people only when necessary, doing his jobs and getting out of town and out of the business. Then, for reasons that are never satisfactorily explained, he decides to take on a protégé in Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm), a two-bit hustler who initially agrees to act as Joe’s bag man for a month or so. You may not be surprised to learn that, under the loving tutelage of Master Joe, Kong discovers an inner warrior and a larger purpose. In the space of a few montage sequences, the scam artist morphs into the Karate Kid, and a somber friendship is forged. But that’s not the only desperately familiar plot device — there’s also a love interest, pure as the driven snow, who has no inkling of her new boyfriend’s dark side. Joe falls hard for a deaf pharmacist, presumably trying to lay the groundwork for his post-contract killing life, but naturally, it all starts to go wrong around the one-hour mark when Joe is targeted by a gang of thoroughly generic tough guys. If you haven’t seen all this before, you must have been studiously avoiding it. In any case, there’s no reason to start with Bangkok. Instead, go out and rent The Professional, an infinitely more interesting take on the same type of character. Or rent The Transporter, which is every bit as stupid as Bangkok Dangerous, but at least has a sense of humor. And that’s the nut of what’s so bothersome about this film. An action movie doesn’t have to wow me with its originality, but it does have to be fun. This film is not, and it’s mostly to do with Cage’s boring interpretation of his stock character and Jason Richman’s no-cliché left-behind script (he also penned the cornball Swing Vote, now stinking up theaters). When the guns aren’t a-blazin’, Bangkok offers little apart from boilerplate melodrama, and there isn’t a clever or winning scene in the whole film. Cage, who made Leaving Las Vegas, struggles to portray a haunted man in a way he hasn’t had to in the past. Maybe it’s just the caliber of the material, but his performance, meant to anchor Bangkok Dangerous, drags the whole thing under. If anything distinguishes the film, it’s the gritty view of Bangkok it uses for its backdrop. Credit is due to directors the Pang brothers, who based this English version on the Chinese film they made in 1999: They shoot the city with zeal, and there’s palpable excitement in the air. It makes a stunning set, if only there were something worthwhile in the foreground.

To comment on this article, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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