What the hell can anybody say about Outcast, a crummy-but-no-worse-than-many-Ridley-Scott-joints hack-and-slash adventure set in 12th-century China, starring Anakin Skywalker as a PTSD-afflicted, opium-addicted former crusader, and Nicolas Cage as Toshirô Mifune? Here’s something: It looks like this U.S./Chinese/Canadian production, shot in English in China, had money to burn, albeit something less than the $100 million Paul Verhoeven was going to lavish upon his Arnold Schwarzenegger-headlined Crusades movie 20-odd years ago. Can’t fault a Honda Civic for not being a BMW, though. At least Outcast’s rustic sets and costumes look lived-in and real. Game Of Thrones sets a high bar for this sort of thing nowadays.
Here’s something else: It’s the directing debut of one Nick Powell, whose credits as a stunt performer (and then stunt coordinator) go all the way back to Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989. So at least the stunts are pretty good, right? Not especially. Anyway, a few gnarly impalings and at least one sizable deposit in the Nicolas Kim Coppola (Raising) Arizona Savings Bank Of Immortal Monologues aren’t enough to help this thing shake its case of the Mondays.
Andy On plays Shing, a warlike prince who commits regi-patricide (or patri-regicide) when the Emperor says he intends for Shing’s younger brother, who is still a child, to inherit the throne. The big prince pins the crime on the l’il prince, who flees with his big sister (Liu Yifei). She in due course falls under the dreamy spell of Christensen’s Jacob. No wonder: He tries to teach her little brother how to shoot with a bow, he has a fabulous, though anachronistic, shaved-sides haircut, and he sustains an air of mystery, if only because it’s often impossible to understand what Christensen is saying. “British-ish,” the accent he’s affecting might be called. Christensen’s and Liu’s performances and romance are more convincing then those of Chris Hemsworth and Tang Wei in Blackhat, for whatever that’s worth.
Happily, Jacob’s dependency on black-tar opium in no way impairs his swordsmanship. (When he’s high, it’s indicated in stutter-y POV shots with blurry margins, which is not the euphoric experience Irvine Welsh and Lou Reed described, but whatever.) Nor is it reduced when a few veiled women lure him into their pleasure-dome and poison his drink. The joke’s on them: He spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder! And also slaying Muslims.
Cage plays Jacob’s mentor, a warrior who has become a bloated, top-knot-wearing bandit known as The White Ghost. (Shing’s army is referred to throughout the film as “the black guards.”) When Jacob is wounded, he comes to his old pal for shelter and succor. Cage, grunting and grimacing until he’s almost as hard to understand as Christensen, sings him a song of woe. “My wife—she’s good with a knife, eh, lad? But at one time, she had the most beautiful singing voice. But the guards… CUT OUT HER TONGUE! And blinded my right eye. But I still have hair. That’s all that really matters.” His hair looks really fake, by the way. But it’s just as likely he said, “I still have her.” Those accents really aren’t helping anybody.