"One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble..."
Don't ask me what happened to the real Nicolas Cage, because I don't know where he is.
I don't know what happened to the man who left Las Vegas, or the man who made Donald Kaufman into such an endearing figment of imagination, or the man who stole diapers as he stole hearts. All I've seen of late is a face, a name, a profile, a character, the artist formerly known as Nic Cage, an entity on auto-pilot and damn near self-parody that knows what he looks like and sounds like and makes do with that alone.
In Bangkok Dangerous, a remake by the Pang Brothers of their own 1999 thriller, Cage-Or-Something-Like-Him plays an assassin, perhaps the most laconic one this side of Forest Whitaker in '99's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, and he is so reliably aloof throughout, so divorced from the proceedings that it almost becomes its own form of entertainment... which is certainly helpful once genuine entertainment refuses to show up to any other degree.
His Joe is a globe-trotting ghost, taking out targets in a punctual and precise fashion before making off with the money. He has rules (for now) and no conscience (again, for now), and when he sees an opportunity out in Bangkok -- four jobs, then it's home free for a man without one to call his own -- he instead opts to meet cute with a deaf-mute pharmacist (Charlie Yeung) and make nice with his disposable local sidekick (Shahkrit Yamnarm). As it just so happens, growing a heart three sizes bigger isn't the best advised course of action for a hitman, and loyalties and lives end up at odds as a result.
In the original thriller, the protagonist was the deaf-mute, not his girlfriend, but seeing as we're talking about Nicolas effin' Cage here, the man's gotta have his lines, not to mention his gadgets and a clumsy stab or two at comic relief (Thai food = spicy = hilarity, I suppose). Between all the dates and dinners, Bangkok almost ends up being as much a thriller as it is a travelogue; by the hour mark, there are literally more gulps than gunshots, a matter only temporarily remedied by an assassination attempt in and around a floating market. Then again, when the action gets wordless towards the end, it comes significantly closer to being breathless, but before then is every indication that Cage 2.0 enjoyed his paid vacation to Thailand. Sit in your house and stare pensively, Mr. Cage. Walk through this market and scope out the area, Mr. Cage. Flip down this mirrored visor on your motorcycle helmet so we can then bring in the stunt driver, Mr. Cage.
And that's just it: Famous or not, Mr. Cage is the one face that stands out in a crowd when he's supposed to do the opposite. He's a man whose face fails to strike fear once lit up by muzzle flashes in the night. He may be steely and stealthy, but at the end of the day, this is not an assassin of the shadows; it's Nic effin' Cage, man, going through the paces with a 'do that's slicker than the action, though the Pang Brothers do match him every step of the way in terms of his transparent character arc. Yes, our anti-hero will snap out of it and go after the real Bad Guys, and why? Because it just wouldn't be the same if a hitman took out his employers and then left town, or even did something that we haven't seen in a dozen other, better movies; after all, that's what friends are for, and that's why he has to make some. It's fairly identical to the Pangs' original screenplay, but this version has still been punched up by the States' own Jason Richman to ensure that no cliché went unturned in the translation.
Come to think of it, Bangkok Dangerous is -- if anything -- American safe. Bikes? Check. Boats? Check. Babes? Check. Bullets? Check. Bombs? Check. Morality, genuine emotional investment, or surprises? Please. (Doves? John Woo has those all but trademarked, buddy. Might we still interest you in some slo-mo gunfights?) All it takes is one big, fat, familiar face to stick on that poster, and voila. This isn't a curious tragedy or a compelling thriller; no, it's just movie star Nic Cage in Shootin' Stuff, bound to come and go in a haze of delivery pizza and half-hearted pay-per-view. Like Joe, Cage gets paid for his hits, and like Joe, the quality of said hits is beginning to waver.