Nicolas Cage doesn’t go fully bonkers until the final reel of “A Score to Settle,” and you might get tired of waiting for his patented craze-out as director Shawn Ku plays out John Stuart Newman’s plodding revenge tale in overly artsy fashion.
The movie begins with Frankie Carver (Cage) being released from prison for medical reasons after a nearly twenty-year stint: he suffers from a terminal ailment that causes sleeplessness, poor vision and hallucinations. Awaiting him on his release is his long-estranged son Joey (Noah Le Gros), a recovering junkie whose affection he attempts to resurrect by digging up a cache of buried cash and treating the boy to the finest in sumptuous hotel living, fine food, flashy cars, elegant clothes and spiffy jewelry.
But while Frankie’s main concern is in rebuilding his relationship with Joey, he also intends to wreak vengeance on his former partners in crime for persuading him to take the fall for a murder they committed, and then failing to keep their promise to take care of Joey. His ultimate quarry is his erstwhile boss Max (Dave Kenneth MacKinnon), but he’s also gunning for Max’s minions Jimmy (Mohamed Karim) and Tank (Ian Tracey). The only member of the old crew he trusts is Q (Benjamin Bratt), a bar owner whom he enlists to track the others down.
While that is afoot, Frankie also decides to reacquaint himself with the pleasures of life, making an assignation with a hooker named Simone (Karolina Wydra), who—in the fashion of such tall tales—turns out to be remarkably sweet, though not entirely comfortable with his attention. His interest in her will lead to a confrontation with her slimy pimp Trip (Sean Owen Roberts), which, of course, Frankie handles with his old style.
Obviously Newman is trying to juggle a number of narrative balls here, and neither he nor Ku—who marshals his actors and technical team (production designer Kathy McCoy, cinematographer Mark Dobrescu and editor Chad Galster) in a misguided effort to turn the ungainly script into something stylish and enigmatic—proves up to the task of making “A Score to Settle” intriguing rather than confusing. The last half-hour springs what are intended to be big surprises, but they register as either absurd or predictable, and the inevitable bloody closing confrontation is risible.
Cage, as usual, earns his much-needed paycheck by baldly overplaying everything, including the flashbacks, while Bratt tries to be inconspicuous by underplaying and concealing himself beneath facial hair. The rest of the cast is mostly unexceptional, but there are a couple of jokers in the deck: Le Gros, whose blandness and spooky line readings invite ridicule, and Karim, whose maniacally over-the-top performance appears an attempt to outdo even Cage (and whose dialogue sounds poorly dubbed).
Cage’s eccentricity once had a certain perverse charm, but in a dreary potboiler like this it’s merely tiresome. In “A Score to Settle” his mugging merely mugs the audience.