Even a bad Nic Cage movie is still a good Nic Cage movie. Such is the case with Sympathy for the Devil, a completely useless, plodding non-entity of a film masquerading as a thriller in which the premise of Collateral is shamelessly ripped off in order to tell a far less compelling story. Cage gives it his best, as always, while charisma vacuum Joel Kinnaman is tasked with playing the straight man opposite him, hiding his usual dude-bro vibes behind schlubby glasses, floppy hair, and a mustache that looks glued on. If you’ve seen Suicide Squad, then you already know the extent of Kinnaman’s acting skills. Here, he’s playing a man who’s supposed to be terrified of being shot at any point but barely ever seems to break a sweat.
Kinnaman’s character, listed only as “The Driver,” has a pregnant wife about to give birth at any moment, which is a cliché so hoary it’s up there with the cop on his last day before retirement. This woman never appears onscreen but her shrieks of pain, which are heard over the phone, are among the most laughably unconvincing in the history of cinema. The movie is set in and around Las Vegas, meaning it was a handy commute for Cage at least, which we know because of the glittering light displays and massive “LAS VEGAS” sign. Curiously, though, the locations aren’t terribly cinematic. Sympathy for the Devil (the title is never explained and no, they couldn’t afford to include the titular song even over the closing credits), could have been set anywhere since most of the action takes place in the dead of night, in a car.
There’s an art to capturing night-time scenes that gives them an otherworldly, even dangerous feel, as seen in something like Nightcrawler, where the darkness itself appears to be coming alive around Jake Gyllenhaal’s duplicitous protagonist. Sympathy for the Devil mistakes murkiness for atmosphere, with most of the scenes swallowed up by a lack of proper lighting. Even the conversations between The Driver and The Passenger, which make up the bulk of the movie, aren’t presented with any kind of artistic flair. In fact, the only truly eye-catching elements come from Cage himself, who inexplicably boasts a shock of box-dyed red hair and a matching jacket. He cuts quite an imposing figure, all things considered, even if neither of the central characters are particularly well-drawn, their dialogue perfunctory and rote.
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Cage elevates wacky lines about booger demons, being “50% sex” and, with some degree of intimidation, states, “I’m your family emergency now,” while using an unplaceable accent that’s ostensibly supposed to be from Boston. The veteran performer, often unfairly denigrated for committing too much to even the lowest common denominator stuff by people who don’t actually understand acting, is endlessly watchable to the extent that it’s easy to just roll along with him for a bit. However, it quickly becomes clear that Sympathy for the Devil isn’t going anywhere, almost as though the filmmakers are making it up as they go along. The Driver’s sobriety is explicitly mentioned at one point but never brought up again, while he loses his glasses but seemingly has no problem driving without them.
These kinds of inconsistencies aren’t as obvious in movies that draw us in and take us on a journey but when there’s nothing concrete to focus on, everything that’s off about the enterprise starts to become glaringly obvious. It takes two very compelling performances and a top-notch script to sell us on a couple of lads stuck in a car for 90 minutes, as Collateral notably demonstrated. Director Yuval Adler and screenwriter Luke Paradise seem to sense this, self-consciously heading off on nonsensical detours including to a roadside diner where the action threatens, very briefly, to finally take off before quickly fizzling out again. The movie isn’t remotely tense, scary, or surprising, and at times it’s strangely hard to follow despite the lack of any discernible plot.
Nic Cage completists will still find plenty to love about his reliably unhinged performance here but otherwise, there’s nothing to recommend Sympathy for the Devil, a woefully dull journey in search of a destination.
WICKED RATING: 3/10
Director(s): Yuval Adler
Writer(s): Luke Paradise
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Joel Kinnaman
Release date: July 28, 2023
Run Time: 90 minutes