The latest in Nicolas Cage’s apparently inexhaustible supply of B-movie potboilers is a slow-moving account of the transport of cocaine from Colombian fields across the Mexican border into the United States and the efforts of U.S. agents to disrupt the pipeline. But this time around he’s not the only show in town, as he often is, since Laurence Fishburne and Barry Pepper, among other recognizable actors, are along for the ride.
Writer-director Jason Cabell apparently believes that withholding character names will give the movie some sort of iconic tone, so Cage is identified merely as The Cook (though in the closing crawls, it must be noted, the actor’s first name is erroneously spelled as “Nicholas”). By day he’s a family man running the kitchen in a Seattle pizzeria, but he’s also a specialist in determining the quality of cocaine. That explains why, when a profitable supply line bringing the drugs to Canada hits a quality snag, Vancouver-based The Boss (Pepper) details The Cook and a colleague, a lustful, dope-snorting dude simply called The Man (Fishburne) to handle a shipment personally to isolate the problem.
Simultaneously, the Agent in Charge (Leslie Bibb), who has very personal reasons to want to upend the gang, has identified a cog in the operation, The Snitch (Adam Goldberg), who can be compelled to cough up some details about how it’s run. Together with her Number One (Peter Facinelli), she’s hot on the trail of the bad guys—though given the way things turn out, “hot” would seem to be an exaggeration.
After a prologue that—as so often in such movies nowadays—telegraphs the end by showing a man being tortured, “Running With the Devil” basically juxtaposes the Agent’s efforts with the movement of the drugs. Their journey begins with the work of The Farmer (Clifton Collins, Jr.), whose crop is transported to a drug lord who has no tolerance for mules who try to skim a bit of the produce off the top. The trip continues overland in backpacks and trucks until the shipment is flown into the U.S., where it reaches The Cook at his campsite in a national park. There he’ll be joined by The Man, and after taking care of a human problem the two are off on a hike through the wilderness, which does not go well. At each stage of the itinerary—shown on maps—the escalating value of the shipment is indicated via “breaking news”-style captions. The trip concludes in Canada, where The Boss awaits his goods along with his Executioner (Cole Hauser) and loose ends are tied up. The Agent watches, as it turns out, quite helplessly as the transaction finishes, but she’s not willing to let the matter drop, willing as she is to resort to unconventional tactics to see that justice is served.
There’s surprisingly little excitement to all this rather tedious movement of drug dealers and law enforcement types, especially since Cage offers virtually none of his customary wildness, instead playing The Cook as an owlish, bespectacled guy just doing his job. In a switcheroo, it’s Fishburne who goes gaga this time around, chewing the scenery as he gives in to The Man’s voracious appetite for sex and drugs and his determination to one-up his rivals. The other actors pretty much just go grimly through the motions dictated by the plot, but one has to have special sympathy for Goldberg, who spends much of his screen time in his undies, strung up in torture mode. One supposes that a paycheck, any paycheck, goes far to overcome any indignity.
Cabell’s script doesn’t amount to much—the multiple twists at the end, intended to be surprising, fall flat—and his direction is pedestrian. Cory Goryak’s widescreen cinematography is, however, professional, and from a purely technical standpoint the movie is adequately done, though, as too frequently nowadays, Reinhold Heil’s score consists of dreary pulsating music periodically interrupted by those dull menacing synthesizer groans that are meant to add a note of foreboding to the mix.
Nameless people move around a lot in “Running With the Devil,” but the end result is drearily aimless.