A Turn for the Even Worse
Nicolas Cage, Nicole Kidman, Cam Gigandet, Jordana Spiro, Ben Mendelsohn, Liana Liberato, Dash Mihok
US theatrical: 14 Oct 2011 (Limited release)
UK theatrical: 11 Nov 2011 (General release)
Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman remain two of the most fascinating movie star/actor hybrids in the business, despite (and maybe because of) big-money misfires like Kidman’s The Invasion and any number of Cage’s low-grade thrillers. They appear together onscreen for the first time in Joel Schumacher’s Trespass, which vaguely resembles a late-period Cage gig but by its end seems even less explicable.
It is, however, easy to see why these two actors haven’t been paired before. Cage’s acting style benefits from daredevil flourishes and bizarre risks, while Kidman is prone to quietness and introspection (in Rabbit Hole and Birth, for instance, entire scenes seem to take place on her face). Both performers have great range, yet it’s tricky to imagine those ranges intersecting. Perhaps the subtly distressed Cage of The Weather Man could work well against the brittle hostility of Kidman in Margot at the Wedding (two of their least-seen movies of the past decade).
Trespass is not the movie for such a delicate negotiation. The movie’s set-up is formulaic: Kyle Miller (Cage) and his wife Sarah (Kidman) are the victims of a home invasion, but the invaders may know more about the Millers than we see at first. The movie received only a cursory theatrical and simultaneous VOD release on 14 October, and will be on DVD by 1 November. Watching the movie, this burial makes sense: it fails even its lowest ambitions.
Trespass begins with the promise of some juicy Cage theatrics, at least. Kyle is a motor-mouthed BS artist in yellow-tinted sunglasses, yammering desperately into a cell phone, acting as middleman for the sale of some diamonds. He comes home to an ostentatious modern mansion, under construction, where he lives with Sarah and their teenage daughter Avery (Liana Liberato). After a few tense family moments, men come to the door claiming to be cops, draw some guns, and demand diamonds from Kyle’s safe.
At this point, Trespass has already displayed ineptitude, from its clumsy, abbreviated scenes establishing marital discord between Kyle and Sarah to their stupid trust of obvious cop imposters at the door. But Cage puts his own peculiar spin on a man trying desperately to talk his way into controlling a volatile situation, and gets off a Cage-tastic monologue, sputtering and ranting about why it makes no sense to steal diamonds from him. Kidman is less rococo than her onscreen husband, but she knows her way around camp. For a few minutes, Trespass holds potential for pulpy overacting from its movie star leads.
But the movie takes a turn for the even worse when the actors playing the bad guys decide to overact right back. Ben Mendelsohn, as the ringleader, shows particular strain, as if psyching himself up to go face-to-face with Cage at his craziest. The rest of his gang, including awful loaned-out Screen Gems contract stud Cam Gigandet, follows suit, to little avail; almost every line is delivered in a sweaty, croaking frenzy (or, in Kidman’s case, anguished screams). Ditching the hints of economic strife of its early moments, the movie becomes a noisy exercise in redundant one-upmanship, a never-ending round of put the gun down/no you put the gun down. Cage and Kidman’s initial dysfunction is twisted into loyalty and heroism.
Schumacher not only allows the movie to devolve, but actively encourages it with amateurish fast cuts, dramatic Dutch angles, and ham-handed flashbacks. Schumacher has been (rightly) pilloried for his part in the subpar Batman movies, but he has made enough competent thrillers—Falling Down (1993), The Client (1994), and 8MM (1999) all have their merits and use their stars well—to render this one’s overwrought dumbness a surprise. He’s also worked with Cage and Kidman before, yet here seems downright disinterested in both of them, spending a ridiculous amount of time exploring meaningless twists in the backstories of the incompetent home invaders.
Once it’s finally worked through its final twist, Trespass stops running in circles and collapses with an abrupt cut to the credits. The ending feels truncated, but what was it cut from? Was there once something about this project that lured Cage and Kidman beyond paychecks that could’ve been earned from doing junky thrillers that at least look fun? Questions like this may haunt you after Trespass, which lends the film a wreck-like allure. Because of its talented stars, it’s fascinating for all the wrong reasons.