Tokarev review (DVD)

There’s a long, ignoble tradition of respected actors, finally winning acclaim and an Oscar for a challenging role in a small, worthy, indie movie or a huge, quality, studio prestige project then immediately selling out and earning huge paydays in a series of awful films.

Look at Adrien Brody: wins an Oscar for surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, then trousers a cool $2.75 million for playing the village idiot in the idiotic The Village. Halle Berry followed Monster’s Ball with the likes of Gothika, Swordfish and, of course, Catwoman. Michael Caine never picked up his Oscar for Hannah And Her Sisters because he was shooting Jaws: The Revenge. Brando might’ve won Best Actor for On The Waterfront and The Godfather, but he also won Razzies for The Formula and for playing some sort of human-couch hybrid in a muumuu in The Island Of Dr Moreau. Al Pacino was in Jack And Jill. JACK AND FREAKING JILL!

Let’s let that one settle for a moment.

One of America’s greatest living actors did an Adam Sandler film. And not a decent Adam Sandler film, you know, like the one Jack Nicholson did, but an Adam Sandler film that makes you want to tear out your eyes, dip them in effluent and eat them. Along with Samuel L Jackson, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford and Dustin Hoffmann, Pacino’s also shilled for Rupert Murdoch, recently doing a TV ad for Sky Broadband. Try watching Dog Day Afternoon or …And Justice For All now. Hoo-hah! American author Joyce Carol Oates was right when she said: “All actors are whores.
They want only one thing: to seduce you.” And never forget that, like most whores, they’re doing it for the money, not the love.

Ever since he sucked all the fun out of booze and whores in Leaving Las Vegas, semi-pro Elvis impersonator Nicolas Cage has racked up nearly two decades of questionable choices, ludicrous accents and dodgy hairpieces. He’s played lovelorn angels, demon motorcyclists, private dicks, treasure hunters, lovelorn Eye-talian mandolin players and a villainous mole. There are few whores in Hollywood quite as accommodating or adventurous as Nicolas Cage particularly since his recent tax troubles have forced him to leap at practically anything that comes his way. But here’s the thing, love him or loathe him, Nicolas Cage never just phones it in. A case in point is Neon Flesh’s Spanish director Paco Cabezas’ English-language debut, revenge thriller Tokarev, a Taken rip-off that’s a lot more fun than it really should be.

A successful property developer Paul Maguire (Cage) has it all; the respect of a city, a beautiful home, a gorgeous young trophy wife Vanessa (Nichols) and, the apple of his eye, his smart, sassy teenage daughter Caitlin (Peeples). But Paul’s fortune is built on a youthful dalliance in crime, the seed money for his business the proceeds of the violent robbery of a Russian mobster which sparked a vicious gang war. When Caitlin is apparently kidnapped and winds up murdered, it’s time for Paul to dig the leather jacket and the guns out of the closet, hook up with former henchmen and best buds Kane (Ryan) and Doherty (McGrady) and start kicking some ass against the counsel of his former boss, wheelchair-bound Irish mob boss O’Connell (Stormare) and sympathetic cop St John (Glover). Discovering that the weapon used to kill Caitlin was a Russian-made Tokarev pistol, Maguire assumes her murder is payback for his criminal past and desperate for revenge, wages his own private war on the Russian mob, his search for justice leading to bloody violence, betrayal and death…

Released in America under the far from subtle title Rage, Tokarev is very far from subtle. For starters, forget the cartoonishly violent gun battles and knife fights, the stabbings, shootings and beatings, it has Peter Stormare, the heavily Swedish accented Peter Stormare, as an Oirish mobster in the Deep South. Between him and Cage it’s amazing there’s any scenery left unchewed in the film which rattles along at a fair old pace untroubled by anything as simple as plausibility or sanity. “These days they shoot first and talk later. How am I supposed to know what they want?” comments Pasha D. Lychnikoff’s Russian baddie in a slice of particularly ripe dialogue that neatly sums up much of the film as Cage’s antihero cuts a bloody swath through the criminal underworld, kicking off a round of tit-for-tat killings that ultimately engulfs the film.

Sporting one of his most ludicrous swept back hairpieces, Cage turns his performance all the way up, going one louder than ten as he screams and howls with rage and grief, his investigative technique proving somewhat self-defeating as he rampages around shooting and stabbing his way through the cast before bothering to howl “Why?” in impotent frustration at their corpses. It may not be his best performance or his greatest career choice but Cage is magnetic, more watchable here than in the recent critically-acclaimed and solidly po-faced Joe while Cabezas, ably assisted by cinematographer Andrzej Sekula, keeps the clichéd pot bubbling never allowing the film to pause long enough to allow the audience to pick holes in the plot right up to its surprisingly poignant last act twist.

Demented and fun with a satisfyingly melancholic undercurrent, Tokarev is vintage Cage ham.


Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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