At some point in 2012, a movie titled 'Stolen' came and went in theaters with little to no fanfare. Even the most ardent of Nicolas Cage fans/connoisseurs-of-crazy seemed to calmly wave, gently shaking their heads from side to side as the film sheepishly crept past. Its domestic box office haul was unimpressive, to say the least, suggesting the producers had, more or less, resigned the picture to something of a direct-to-video release – considering almost no one saw it during its brief 14 days in theaters.
Lack of box office receipts aside, the most remarkable thing about the 2012 effort, is that 'Stolen' was Cage's only 2012 effort – having come off a five picture streak in 2011 that included such tepid releases as Joel Schumacher's 'Trespass,' 'Seeking Justice,' 'Season of the Witch,' and the impressively over-the-top, guilty pleasure double feature of 'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance' and 'Drive Angry.' So, as 2012 comes to a close, perhaps the year can be considered something of a breather for Mr. Cage, while he gets ready to inundate theaters and home entertainment systems with his presence in several movies scheduled for 2013, which, of course leads to his reboot of the 'Left Behind' franchise in 2014. Needless to say, dwindling returns (financially and critically) from the once prominent and celebrated actor apparently haven't halted interest in certain filmmakers seeing the name "Nicolas Cage" above the title of their latest feature film.
Strangely, though Cage's name may help in getting a director or writer's project greenlit, the projects rarely seem to offer the actor anything in return. This lack of reciprocity has begun to make every subsequent Nicolas Cage endeavor just as dry, boring, and indistinguishable as the last. Who among us didn't briefly think 'Trespass,' 'Seeking Justice,' and 'Stolen' were the same film? The thing is: in terms of bland, unimaginative cinematic fare, they pretty much are.
Hailing from David Guggenheim – writer of the Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds special-agent caper, 'Safe House' – 'Stolen' seeks to combine the overused heist-film and kidnapping-drama sub-genres to create a compelling action thriller, but instead comes up short, delivering a listless effort that is chockablock with plot holes, abandoned threads and the worst, most stilted, unnecessarily expository dialogue in recent memory. In it, Cage plays Will Montgomery, a highly skilled bank robber who is abandoned by his team consisting of Josh Lucas (Vincent), M.C. Gainey (Hoyt, yes, Hoyt) and Malin Akerman (Riley Jeffers), after pulling a $10 million bank job, and winds up doing eight years in prison as a result. Fresh out of the clink, Montgomery is looking to reconnect with his estranged daughter Alison (Sami Gayle), but a vengeful ex-partner has machinations that involve driving around New Orleans with Alison in the trunk of his car while attempting to procure the $10 million from eight years ago.
By now, Cage has more than earned his reputation as something of an unconventional actor. His unique choices for line delivery and one-of-a-kind characterization once earned him acclaim in pictures like 'Raising Arizona' and his Academy Award-winning turn in 'Leaving Las Vegas' – but now it just seems to come off like a depressing bit of self-parody. Anyone who has seen most of the actor's recent efforts will be aware what a Herculean task it must be for him not to respond to the smallest of stimuli like Sméagol when faced with the One Ring.
However, instead of the high-octane madness we've come to expect, 'Stolen' is granted more of a low-key, un-Cage performance from its lead that may have had the crew wondering who slipped the star an Ambien. The end result feels like Cage pulled one over on Lucas and Huston (though, for the record, Huston mostly gets away clean here; he just appears more inconsistent and loose, rather than perpetually heavy handed and larger-than-life, like Lucas), leaving them to their own devices, while he plays it cool. Still, maybe this is the genesis of a new post-'Firm' Josh Lucas, who plays scenes much larger than they need to be, partly by moving in the opposite direction of his natural good looks. If that's the case, then 'Stolen' may prove to be quite the little gem.
In fact, the only saving grace is that co-stars Danny Huston ('Magic City') and Josh Lucas ('Stealth') seem to be having a friendly wager as to who can out-over-act Nicolas Cage – because they might as well keep things interesting while waiting for a paycheck, right? The result is a series of bizarre, loosely cohesive scenes in which Huston seems to be aping Popeye Doyle as best be can, while Lucas goes completely off the deep end, working as hard as he possibly can to supply his one-note character with all the gusto and ham-fisted panache that has likely been roiling around in him since 'Sweet Home Alabama.' Because, hey, this is a Nicolas Cage joint – who is really going to notice what anyone else is doing when Cage gets on screen? Well, everyone, actually. Watching Lucas skulk around in a blond wig, boasting yellowed teeth, a prosthetic leg and with abrasions covering a significant portion of his face is really the only reason to watch the film.
Meanwhile, in reuniting with his 'Con Air' star, director Simon West winds up crafting a strangely languid film that although similarly cheesy, fails to be as enjoyable as West's mid-'90s Bruckheimer extravaganza. Like Cage, West isn't exactly known for his thought provoking contributions to cinema as of late, but even with lethargic titles like 'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider' and 'The Mechanic,' on his resume, this latest effort manages to create a new standard in lackluster labors by the director.
At a brisk 96 minutes, the movie still manages to feel overlong, which is likely the case of it being stuffed with every overused heist and kidnapping trope from the last 20 years, while still trying to find a reason for ancillary characters like Mark Valley ('Human Target') and Malin Akerman ('Wanderlust,' 'Watchmen') to have as many scenes as possible. Of course, both are relegated to bouncing dialogue off of more prominent characters as Valley does with Huston, or in Akerman's case, being the obvious love interest to Cage's "greatest bank robber in America." While Valley seems to embody the role of an FBI agent quite well, and even brings a much-needed sense of deliberate levity to the proceedings, Akerman isn't quite as convincing as part of Cage's bank robbing crew. Cage is the brains of the operation, Lucas is the prototypical violence-prone wild card (because that's always good to have on hand when committing a felony) and Gainey is the wheelman. But sadly, the script offers no clear justification for Akerman to be on board other than her good looks (three cheers for gender equality in cinema!) and it's never more apparent than when she's sitting in the back of the gang's van, quietly smiling along while Cage and Lucas machine gun their way through a few pages of dialogue.
And that's pretty much the gist of 'Stolen.' Much of everything you see on screen is only connected to the larger story in the most superficial manner. The plot plods along, regardless what the characters do, causing the narrative to jump around from one inexplicably long and monotonous set piece to the next, while only vaguely connecting the dots leading to a poorly organized and clichéd denouement.
Expectations for 'Stolen' were already quite low, so it comes as no surprise that the film wound up as dull and inert as it was. And while the pleasure of watching Lucas spout lines like "I was a golden boy, dollface! Now I'm a freaking Picasso!" does liven things up a bit, the inherent campiness and over-the-top acting that's on display simply isn't enough to make the film worth while, even for the most ardent of cheese lovers.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Stolen' comes from Millennium Entertainment as a single disc in a standard Blu-ray keep case. As they were likely looking to keep this release as low effort as possible, there's not much else going on with other than the film, and a few previews for other Millennium releases that you can skip over before hitting up the top menu.
'Stolen' has been given a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, which provides a clean, crisp picture that boasts very good to excellent detail and color reproduction, but due to the manner in which it shot, actually causes the film to feel more like a made-for-TV movie, or, much more likely, a direct-to-video release. Beyond the rather flat cinematography that somehow manages to waste an interesting locale like New Orleans with a sort of basic, shot-from-the-hip style of filmmaking, the Blu-ray does its best to render an image that looks far better than anything on screen really deserves.
Contrast levels are high, maintaining a proper balance between the stark whites that are clearly intended to be indicative of the Southern milieu, and many of the low light, nighttime scenes that start the film off. Both are handled well by the transfer, the whites appear hot and bright, but never seem to overwhelm the image, or bleed into the finer detail of facial features or clothing textures. Meanwhile, the night shots actually seem to boast a higher amount of detail than the rest of the film, which unfortunately creates an otherwise dreary feeling everywhere else. At night, colors seem to really pop, while actors stand out even when dressed in black against a nearly all black background.
While colors are bright and vivid in the first portion of the film, they seem to be somewhat muted as the story progresses. Even the purples, yellows and greens normally associated with Mardi Gras tend to be on the more subtle side, giving way to the overall drab-looking grey-white sky and similarly colored concrete landscape of the Big Easy.
Fine detail and textures appear to be strong throughout, though there are some instances where soft focus comes into play, and much of the detail is lost. Thankfully, that is rare, and since James Whitaker, the director of photography, and West have chosen to shoot 'Stolen' with a more claustrophobic sensibility, that means plenty of tight shots on actor's faces, which greatly benefit from the amount of fine detail that's on display. Still, as nice looking as all of that is, the tighter shots don't necessarily benefit the scope of the picture, and, as mentioned above, tend to make it look as though it were shot in a cheaper, more episodic format – those who have seen Valley's 'Human Target' (which West was an occasional director on) know what I mean.
In the end, 'Stolen' has a good image that's wasted focusing on smaller aspects rather than the more exciting location that might have better sparked a sense of cinematic grandness the film so desperately needed.
For whatever reason, Millennium has decided to throw on a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix onto 'Stolen' rather than the more widely used DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but here, the result is something of a mixed bag.
On one hand, the film's oddly uncharacteristic score sounds quite good, hitting the various character beats with a 'Linus and Lucy'-like, Vince Guaraldi-esque jazz piano vibe in a very lively manner. The score is mainly pushed through the front right and left speakers, but occasionally will find itself extended into the rear channels for a nice, immersive sound that isn't what you'd expect from film like this, but it's liveliness is certainly not unwelcome.
On the other hand, however, the mix seems to struggle not only with the balance between the film's score and things like sound effects and ambient environmental noise, but it nearly drops out with the dialogue in some places as though someone forgot to hit the record button while Josh Lucas was talking. Admittedly, this is primarily a problem during the first quarter of the film, but dialogue levels seem to dip on occasion throughout. It can be especially problematic when the scene requires a great deal of additional noise to be layered on top of the actors' lines – especially when the score rises to a crescendo.
Apart from the dialogue issues, most of the sound effects are adequately managed through the front and rear channel speakers. Imaging works nicely in scenes where action is depicted as taking place in two rooms at once, allowing the primary effect to take center stage or a backseat depending on the specific focus. Elsewhere, LFE is put to good use, adding appropriate zest to the film's climax and some of the various action-oriented sequences laced throughout the movie.
This isn't a particularly great mix; it often makes missteps where such a thing shouldn't be allowed to happen, but it does try to make up for it in other ways. When it is lively, the sound on 'Stolen' can be quite pleasant, but when it tries to slow things down, the dialogue becomes very muddled and difficult to hear.
'Stolen' isn't aiming to be anything grander than it's B-movie DNA will allow, which would be an asset if only the film were to play up its abundant strengths and wholly embrace the gifts it was blessed with. One cannot look past the fantastic insanity of Lucas' performance, or the hilarious coincidence of three kids who just so happen to be tap dancing to "danger music" while Cage is in the midst of a high-stakes street pursuit. However, despite these admirably tacky attributes, the film sort of listlessly phones it in until the inevitable climax, turning what could have been a wonderfully cheesy film into a rather trivial and ultimately misguided exercise. Additionally, with the film's picture being something of a missed opportunity, and the sound leaving quite a lot to be desired, 'Stolen' should probably be skipped altogether.