The latest in Nicolas Cage’s seemingly endless stream of B-movie potboilers gives the actor the chance to chew the scenery with gusto as Frank Walsh, a dissolute big-game hunter who’s trapped on a boat carrying not only his latest acquisitions—including a rare white jaguar—from South America to purchasers of exotic animals in the States, but a bunch of federal lawmen—accompanied by a pretty Navy nurse Ellen Taylor (Famke Janssen)—tasked with bringing Richard Loffler (Kevin Durand), an infamous terrorist assassin, to justice.
You can just bet that Loffler will escape his “super stiff” confinement, and that Frank will be the man who eventually has to bring him down. Thank heaven for those curare-soaked darts!
That’s the short version, of course. Before we reach the big final confrontation between the two men, we get a prologue in which we see Frank trapping that jaguar in the jungle, and a whole series of supposedly suspenseful sequences set on board ship, in which Loffler escapes the cage in which he’s been installed and, with the sort of snide smile that is apparently the common property of all such maniacal villains, systematically takes care of all the federal agents arrayed against him—most notably hard-nosed Marshall Ringer (LaMonica Garrett and his cohort of underlings, and mysterious Paul Freed (Michael Imperioli), whose agenda is not entirely clear.
Suffice it to say that in the end it’s Walsh who will have to take on Loffler one-on-one while that jaguar waits in the distance for its big entrance. And to add to the ridiculousness, while the fight goes on, Taylor and Raphael (Jeremy Nazario), the captain’s son with whom Frank’s developed a bond over the course of the voyage, are tied up elsewhere while a poisonous snake slithers slowly in their direction.
There is, one could say, the slightest hint of a decent action movie in Richard Leder’s script, but whatever chances it might have possessed are lost in the pure ham being served by both Cage and Durand.
It’s difficult to determine which of the two takes the honors for overacting above and beyond the call of duty, but they’re certainly evenly matched—which is not a compliment in this case. Janssen is utterly wasted in a thankless part—and manages not the slightest bit of chemistry with Cage—and everyone else in the cast is to be congratulated simply for keeping a straight face as the absurd narrative coasts along. The animal effects aren’t much to write home about, either.
“Primal” is the second directing effort of stuntman Nick Powell, whose helming debut, the 2014 period costumer “Outcast,” ran into trouble with Chinese censorship. It also featured Cage, and this second outing proves that theirs is a cinematic marriage made somewhere other than in heaven. It’s a ludicrously implausible—as well as unpleasantly claustrophobic—waste of what used to be Cage’s talent, but can at least serve as a warning against the duo teaming up a third time.