A deliciously bad movie needs at least one mind-bendingly terrible performance. But what about a wonderfully wacky bad movie with a mind-bendingly terrible performance by an Oscar winner? Think of John Travolta in Battlefield Earth or Patty Duke in Valley of the Dolls or Jessica Lange in Hush or Halle Berry in Catwoman or Angelina Jolie in The Tourist—just a smattering of some obvious choices.
Thanks to a right-on-the-money “So Bad They’re Brilliant” recommendation from reader “Scott,” we can now drag out of the shadows an unhinged, comparatively little-known performance by an Oscar winner in a fantastically awful movie – a performance so out of control that it can stand tall alongside some of the best of the worst. Get your mitts on a copy of Deadfall, a nutball 1993 neo-noir thriller featuring a massively entertaining, epically insane turn by Oscar winner Nicolas Cage, who this time isn’t just garden variety bad but bad in bizarrely brilliant, entirely new ways.
The movie stars Michael Biehn as the son and partner of lizardy con man James Coburn who, while he lays dying after a fake drug sting gone sour, mutters, “My brother took the cake…” That little dialogue gem prompts the gullible Biehn to ensnare himself in an even bigger, dumber, blatantly obvious con job involving his father’s mysterious twin brother (the ulta cool Coburn doubly embarrassing himself) as well as an all-too-obviously lethal femme fatale (Sarah Trigger) and that bottle blonde’s boyfriend, a criminally connected, coked-up whack job played by—that’s right—Cage. Deadfall wants to plumb the fatalistic, paranoid, sexy, snarly depths of something by James M. Cain or Jim Thompson, but instead winds up being hopelessly crackbrained and fall-down funny. Biehn, a bad movie prince for his role as the psychotic theater queen stalking Lauren Bacall in The Fan, wanders the entire movie looking baffled, which is appropriate for a film noir fall guy, but under the circumstances he could be equally baffled as to how a good-looking, promising actor could possibly wind up shoveling sludge like this after being so promising in Aliens and The Abyss.
Just listen to how disconnected and amateurish he sounds when delivering moronic, fake-noir voice-over stuff like, "I didn’t know it yet but that photo was the hook that would send me deeper in the shadows squinting for the truth" and "Tell me this is a dream I’m going to wake up from." But who wouldn’t look and sound gob-smacked when up against the hallucinogenic hubris and hilarity of Cage? Sporting a wig of finest Dynel and wraparound shades – and apparently having no one around who will dare to direct him – Cage spits, whines, whispers, pumps the air, sucks his teeth, chews the scenery and utters every line of dialogue as if he were Elisha Cook Jr. crossed with Peter Lorre crossed with Elvis, the kung fu years—only with rabies. “I found her slinging hash at one of the truck stops out on the interstate,” he explains to Biehn of his screechy Lina Lamont-style bimbo girlfriend, and considering Trigger’s attempts at emoting, we don’t doubt Cage for a second.
“What do you say we have some fun-time family fun?,” he baits Biehn and Trigger, whom he suspects of fooling around, when he’s about to take them for a ride. When his convertible won’t start, Cage pitches a scene, jumping up and down behind the steering wheel, yelling, “This f**kin’ f**ker’s f**ked!” But Cage never more looks and sounds more hypnotically cranked-up as when he threatens an enemy by heating up a deep fryer and saying, “You wanna f**k? You wanna f**k? We f**k now!” When he discovers that his main squeeze has been hiding the salami with Biehn, he growls, “What am I, a f**king retard, man? Well vive la f**king France!,” Trigger pulls a gun on him and says, “I’d really love a reason to blow you away,” but it’s Cage who later blows himself away when he stages his own Valley of the Dolls homage by yanking off his own wig.
But as if Deadfall didn’t already offer a cornucopia of crazy, check out the flat-footed Hitchcock “tributes” complete with a Bernard Herrmann rip-off music score and, for added measure, seriously weird cameos from The Mod Squad’s Clarence Williams III, former Monkees member Mickey Dolenz and a suspiciously taut-faced, middle-aged Asian gentleman the credits insist is Peter Fonda. Don’t dare miss a baffling turn by Charlie Sheen, who slinks into the action for one inexplicable scene late in the action playing a Satan-esque billiard pro in Hugh Hefner drag who tries to intimidate Biehn while he’s lining up a shot by spouting pseudo-profound babble like, “It’s one of those rare occasions when one plus one … equals one.”
Here’s another Sheen-delivered pip: “It’s all geometry, really – pentagons, octagons, isosceles triangles, etc., etc.” Snapping his fingers, he takes his shot and adds, “But that was, my friend, that was … poetry.” No, that was bull. The scene is intriguing but only weird-for-weird’s-sake; a little bit David Lynch, a little bit The Hustler. But good time Charlie sums it all up – and obliquely comments on some of the real talents who finds themselves mired in the muck that is Deadfall by saying: “If there a fat lady in here, I think she’d be clearing her throat … right about now.” This movie was directed and co-written by Christopher Coppolla, Cage’s brother, making Deadfall one of the most shocking acts of brother-on-brother violence since Cain slew Abel.