When an ex-mobster’s daughter is found dead, the repressed return with a vengeance that feels more like a whimper in “Rage,” a silly and shopworn Nicolas Cage action vehicle that plays like a poor man’s “Taken,” “Mystic River” and “A History of Violence” rolled into one. Proficiently made but fatally unpersuasive in its portrayal of internecine gang warfare, this thuggish melodrama piles on the foreign accents and paint-by-numbers brutality, all served up with a grim, operatic self-seriousness that gives Cage’s antihero little room to maneuver. Spanish genre helmer Paco Cabezas’ English-language debut will find a few fans on VOD, where it’s rolling out simultaneously with its limited theatrical release.
Commercially and, er, culturally speaking, “Rage” is unlikely to do for Cage what the “Taken” movies have done for Liam Neeson; as scripted by James Agnew and Sean Keller (who previously collaborated on Dario Argento’s ill-fated “Giallo”), it’s a movie that seeks to demonstrate the futility, rather than the pleasure and satisfaction, of violent payback. There’s no real hint of menace when we first meet Paul Maguire (Cage), a successful businessman and a loving family man to Vanessa (Rachel Nichols), his wife, and Caitlin (Aubrey Peeples), his teenage daughter from a prior marriage. But his crooked past is fairly swift to re-emerge when Caitlin is kidnapped one night and soon turns up murdered — a tragedy that may stem from an incident years ago (cue multiple flashbacks), when Paul and his longtime buddies, Kane (Max Ryan) and Danny (Michael McGrady), brutally bumped off a member of a Russian rival gang.
Devastated and guilt-stricken, Paul sets out to avenge his daughter’s death by any means necessary — partly at the Lady Macbeth-like urgings of Vanessa, and despite the warnings of his old crime boss, Francis (Peter Stormare), whose own dirty dealings have consigned him to a wheelchair and offer their own compelling argument for letting sleeping dogs lie. But no: Paul and his cronies must learn the hard way that carnage will beget only more carnage, a lesson delivered in a hail of gunfire, an onrush of blood and the remarkably ugly spectacle of a young woman nearly having her neck snapped in two. Bodies are strung up; stomachs get stabbed and pummeled. Lest the viewer make the mistake of actually being entertained by any of this mayhem (capably orchestrated by stunt coordinator/action director Johnny Martin), Cage is on hand to howl in impotent grief over at least two of his victims’ bodies.
It’s in groping for the full weight of tragedy that “Rage” turns risible. Cabezas (“Neon Flesh”) has a weakness for treating cliches like epiphanies: The moment of Caitlin’s disappearance is signaled by the ominous plop of a raindrop, and Laurent Eyquem’s dramatic score tends to surge excessively whenever the characters raise their voices, which is fairly often. One sequence at the end, played out in agonizing slow-mo, has the perhaps unintended effect of momentarily turning the picture into a gun-control ad. Cage, still an agile and inventive performer (see David Gordon Green’s recent “Joe”), isn’t well served by the solemn, bludgeoning tone of the proceedings; his occasional outbursts and the movie’s title aside, the actor actually seems somewhat straitjacketed here. Still, he fares better than Danny Glover, who plays a world-weary detective forced to utter lines like “a rap sheet as long as my dick.”