Cage (1989) / Action-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running time: 100 min.
Cast: Lou Ferrigno, Reb Brown, Michael Dante, Mike Moroff, Marilyn Tokuda, Al Leong, James Shigeta, Branscombe Richmond, Tiger Chung Lee, Al Ruscio
Cameo: Danny Trejo
Director: Lang Elliott
Screenplay: Hugh Kelley
Review published January 23, 2011
A film critic rule of thumb: when a Lou Ferrigno acting performance is the best thing about a movie, you know you're in for one excruciating experience.
Cage starts off in Vietnam (which looks suspiciously like someone's back yard in California) in 1969, where muscle-covered American soldiers Billy Thomas (Ferrigno, Hercules) and Scott Monroe (Brown, Fast Break) get into a gun battle that ends up with Billy heroically saving Scott's life, but getting a bullet to the brain in the process that left him mentally impaired. Flash forward 20 years and bar-owner Scott is paying back his life debt by taking care of Billy as best he can, but a couple of debt-stricken Mafia types desperately want to recruit these burly men with fighting skills to be their sponsored combatants in an underground cage match circuit. The boys refuse, but the mobsters won't take no for an answer, torching Scott's bar in the process and kidnapping an obviously befuddled Billy into the arena where he proceeds to (begrudgingly) kick some ass. Scott is distraught at the loss of his buddy, so he kicks some major ass of his own trying to find those who led him away, and the trail points him to the dreaded world of the cage, where one can't get out until he fights his way to the top.
Long before the UFC made these kinds of fights mainstream, exploitation movies like Cage introduced us to the world of underground fighting, where combatants would usually get seriously injured or killed, all for the ravenous appetites of sadistic gamblers whose tastes for mortal violence ran too extreme for the likes of Vegas. Par for the course as far as ambiguously homoerotic action flicks from the 1980s go, with a heavy degree of brutal violence, anemic plotting, and simple-minded pathos.
Cage is about as terrible as you'd expect, though you do end up feeling sorry for Billy, who fights without wanting to, but not as sorry as you feel it for Ferrigno for the state of his career by this point. No stereotype is left unturned. It says something about a film shot in Los Angeles when you can't get actual Mexican-American actors, or even Hispanic ones, to appear as your Mexican street gang. Not that I blame them for not wanting to set back their culture for what must have been negligible pay. But that doesn't stop director Lang Elliott (The Private Eyes) from filming all-too-clean-cut Native American actors like Branscombe Richmond (The Hidden, Commando) as hardened Mexican criminal thugs. To Richmond's credit, he fakes the stereotype well, even if he doesn't look the part. Then you can only wonder what in the world was going on in the casting director's mind when a real Mexican-American actor, and one who would be utterly convincing as a hardened criminal, Danny Trejo, is cast as one of the Italian thugs. Did they just pick straws to find out who would be cast in what role??
Marvel at sights like blood oozing out of a gaping head wound like Ferrigno's noggin were a can of Hawaiian Punch. Sit in awe at how this same man oozing copious amounts of blood can, with just one arm, hold the weight of another 220-lb. man from a helicopter while unconscious. Wonder at how Ferrigno's massive muscle mass can remain as fully pumped as it is after months, perhaps years, of not having many motor functions. Sit with mouth agape at how such macho, amped-up actors cannot figure out how to throw a punch or kick that looks like it comes within two feet of contact. Reel with amazement when you see Scott tie kidnapping to the gangsters when he spots some sort of custom-made coffee cup depicting a hand-drawn devil figure that exactly resembles the tattoo worn by the head of the Mexican street gang, Diablo. Feel astonishment at how an undercover female journalist (Tokuda, Xanadu) tries to infiltrate the underground arena by dressing like a man, donning a trench coat, fedora and smuggling in a giant camera with a huge zoom lens (hard to believe she needs the zoom when she is sitting literally a couple of feet away from the cage). Prepare to be caught unawares (I know I was), that Scott and this journalist, who we never see introduced, become lovers almost instantly upon seeing each other.
Cage is only recommended to two kinds of viewers: those who prefer action films to be about as complex as one of the children's books Billy is so enamored of, and those who absolutely relish unintentionally funny, bad action movies -- the kind you wouldn't watch unless in the company of a bunch of inebriated friends, or accompanied by Rifftrax.
- Become awash in consternation that this cinematic atrocity actually managed to spawn a sequel: Cage II: Arena of Death (1994)
©2011 Vince Leo