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Nicholas Cage goes for the jugular, writes BRIAN VINER
Nicholas Cage goes for the jugular! It’s meant to be the story of Dracula’s henchman, but Nicholas Hoult is left in the shadows in Renfield, writes BRIAN VINER
Renfield (15, 93 mins)
Verdict: Cage at his cagiest
Every now and then an actor slips into a role and it feels less like the work of a casting director and more like something ordained by the cinema gods.
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 masterpiece The Godfather is a good example. And now we have Nicolas Cage, Coppola’s nephew as it happens, as Count Dracula in the extremely gory comedy-horror film Renfield.
To say that Cage sinks his teeth into the part would be an understatement. He consumes it completely, just as it consumes him.
Heroically unsubtle: Nicolas Cage as the narcissist Dracula and Nicholas Hoult (left) as Renfield
To say that Cage sinks his teeth into the part would be an understatement. He consumes it completely, just as it consumes him, writes BRIAN VINER
Cage has built a fine career out of over-acting, and has generally had the nous to choose characters that fit his heroically unsubtle style. That was never truer than it is of Dracula.
Apparently, Cage even agreed to have his teeth shaved down so that his alarming set of vampire dentures would fit properly. It is an extravagantly full-blooded performance in every sense, a camply sinister hoot, and on its own worth the price of admission.
The lead character, however, is Nicholas Hoult’s eponymous manservant, Robert Montagu Renfield, whose duty, when he and the Count fetch up in modern-day New Orleans, is to provide his forbidding master with enough human blood to restore his dwindling strength.
Hoult is excellent too, seemingly channelling Hugh Grant (his co-star in 2002’s About A Boy, when he was just 12) as Renfield goes about his business with a very English diffidence.
He’s still a killer, though, who derives his superhuman strength from eating bugs, a forced comedic flourish that the story simply doesn’t need.
Much funnier is his determination to break free from his ‘destructive relationship’ with Dracula, to which end he attends a therapy group for people with controlling partners.
Nobody knows quite what he has to contend with in the creepy abandoned hospital where he and Dracula have set up home, but the group leader listens to his laments and reassures him that he is clearly a victim of classic narcissistic behaviour.
Later, there’s a priceless moment when, instead of a crucifix or a bulb of garlic, he brandishes towards the Count a copy of a self-help book, How To Defend Yourself Against A Narcissist.
The idea of Renfield and his blood-sucking Transylvanian master confronting a very 21st-century set of sensibilities, with relationship counselling and compassion-sharing meetings around every corner, is a brilliant one.
It could — make that should — have sustained this blessedly concise film on its own.
Unfortunately, director Chris McKay and writer Ryan Ridley don’t stop there.
Perhaps to distance their picture from other vampire comedies, such as the inspired 2014 ‘mockumentary’ What We Do In The Shadows, they play the Batman card and give us a city sodden with crime, ruled by a family of mobsters who have the police and judiciary in their pocket.
This at least gives us the always-watchable Awkwafina as Quincy, the one cop with integrity in a cesspool of corruption, who develops an entirely mutual crush on Renfield after he saves her neck in a violent shootout.
But it undermines the film’s originality, making it look like 100 other superhero movies and over-the-top crime thrillers. That’s a great shame, because Cage’s Dracula deserves a bite at screen immortality, and Renfield isn’t likely to provide it.
Assassin Club 15, 111 mins)
On the other hand, Renfield is a thousand times more original than the desperately corny and derivative Assassin Club.
It stars Henry Golding as Morgan, a former Royal Marine reinvented as the world’s greatest hitman, with Sam Neill as that obligatory character in films like this, the urbane but unethical controller, sending him instructions through the ever-present earpiece that no hectic gun battle or chase down a stairwell ever seems to shake from his lughole.
When Morgan finds that he and a bunch of other leading international assassins have all been given contracts to terminate each other, and must mail a severed finger to an address in Paris to prove they have carried out the kill, he takes it in his considerable stride.
Travels with my gun: Henry Golding
Of slightly more concern to him is the danger all this poses to his fragrant Italian girlfriend (Daniela Melchior), who, just to ramp up her sweet innocence, is a primary school teacher.
Naturally, the assassins all favour different methods of killing. They are just like the Magnificent Seven, by which I don’t mean Sleepy, Dopey, Happy, Sneezy and co, even though this film is cartoonishly bad.
The most dangerous of them is called Falk and played by Noomi Rapace, who (like Sam Neill) really ought to know better.
As for Golding, even as his film career builds he is still, as far as I’m aware, a co-presenter on the BBC’s The Travel Show.
Maybe that’s why he agreed to appear in this dross, which might look like the worst-ever audition for James Bond but, if nothing else, whisks us on a whistlestop tour of those European cities — among them London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Lisbon and Ljubljana — where hitmen might conceivably leap out of fourth-floor windows onto the tops of parked cars.
CLASSIC FILM ON TV
Don Ameche won an Oscar for his lovely performance in Ron Howard’s sentimental sci-fi charmer about old folks (and aliens) in Florida.
C5, Sunday, 11.55am
Too in love with Mr Ripley’s talented, but flawed, creator
There is a reason why most film adaptations of Patricia Highsmith’s books (consider Strangers On A Train, The Talented Mr Ripley and Carol) have been so good.
It’s partly because they have ended up in the hands of first-class directors, but also because her stories are fundamentally cinematic.
In the hands of Alfred Hitchcock, the brilliant premise behind Strangers On A Train (two men agreeing to swap murders so neither would be a suspect) was certain to lead to something memorable, and so it proved.
Clips of that 1951 thriller, and of Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), adorn Eva Vitija’s adoring documentary Loving Highsmith (12, 83 mins, ★★✩✩✩).
The film’s title is significant in two ways. Fascinatingly, Vitija interviews several of Highsmith’s female lovers, and the fact that one is French and one German, and that she kept journals in both languages, shows how extraordinarily well-travelled she was for a woman born in Texas in 1921.
But that title also reflects the nature of the film itself. It is too much in love with its subject to give us a full understanding of what made her tick.
The intensity of her odious anti-Semitism, for instance, is dismissed in a single blithe reference to her ‘rants’ in later years against Jews, Arabs and blacks.
Yet an excellent recent biography revealed her frequent grumbles that Hitler had not gone far enough. A better documentary would have addressed that.
Mia Hansen-Love’s One Fine Morning (15, 112 mins, ★★★★✩) is a thoughtful Frenchlanguage drama about a young widow (Lea Seydoux) whose life is a juggle between caring for her dementia-stricken father, parenting her only daughter and striking up a love affair with an old friend, now married.
It couldn’t be anything but French, which rather makes me wonder whether the French ever watch a film and think it ‘typically English’. Carry On Up The Khyber, perhaps?
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