Review: Bangkok Dangerous (2008)

Note: This review was originally published in Technician on September 9, 2008.


Bangkok Dangerous light on danger, disappointing

Just when you thought we were free from the summer explosion of sequels and remakes, Hollywood throws out one more for good measure This weekend saw the release of Bangkok Dangerous, a remake of the Thai film of the same name. Directed by the Pang Brothers, who also helmed the original, the film is hardly the worst as remakes go, but it certainly isn't one of the best.

Nicolas Cage stars as Joe, a hitman who's nearly past his prime. Realizing that it's probably time for him to retire, Joe decides to pull one last job in Thailand - four hits. The opening voice-over informs that he's one of the best in the business because he has four rules he never breaks. These four rules can basically be summed up in a single phrase: don't get involved. Predictably, most of the story hinges on him breaking all of his usual rules and the conflicts that follow.

It's a familiar plot, but the Pang Brothers forego the usual emphasis on action and focus instead on character development. The result is average at best, but it at least feels less formulaic that the marketing might seem to imply.

The film's main misstep is the casting of Nicolas Cage. It's not that he isn't a good actor, it's rather than he's simply not really "hitman" material. His performance is fine, but it also isn't anything special. It feels awkward watching him practice martial arts and taking down bad guys. Perhaps it's his lanky frame and pale complexion combined with that God-awful long hair. For whatever reason, it's difficult to buy Cage as the brooding assassin-type, and his performance doesn't do the character justice.

For a movie marketed as a testosterone-filled action joyride, there isn't much in terms of elaborate gunfights and explosions. Most of the killings are quick and efficient, like their perpetrator. The lack of memorable action scenes is forgiveable, though, since at its core this isn't meant to be an action flick, but a character study. Charaterization that should feel unoriginal (such as Joe's decision to train a student) or even ridiculous (his crush on a deaf-mute pharmacist) are handled with enough care that for the most part, they work. There's a lot of space between action sequences, but not even Cage's mediocre performance can take away from the quality of the writing, which adds enough depth and intriguing dialogue to not seem dull or pretentious.

As far as action films go, there's nothing that new or exciting about Bangkok Dangerous. But as a character study about moral codes and where they lead us, it could have been much worse.