Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 7, 2016)
After his success as a writer/producer on Seinfeld, Larry Charles managed a major hit with his second cinematic effort as a director. 2006’s Borat turned into a smash and set Charles up to write his own ticket.
Charles continued to stick with Borat’s Sacha Baron Cohen, and that produced diminishing returns. 2009’s Bruno fell far short of Borat’s grosses, and 2012’s The Dictator produced similarly mediocre ticket sales.
2016’s Army of One separates Charles from Cohen for the first time in a decade, but it fails to reverse Charles’ box office skid. Indeed, Army didn’t even receive a theatrical release, as it went straight to video.
Still affected by my fondness for Seinfeld, I wanted to give Army a look. Former ex-con Gary Faulkner (Nicolas Cage) tries to make ends meet as a handyman but fails to find much work.
One day Gary sees a vision of God (Russell Brand). The Almighty instructs Gary to go to Pakistan so he can capture Osama Bin Laden (Amer Chadha-Patel). Gary embarks on this illogical, semi-ill-fated journey.
Despite the ludicrous premise, Army comes based on a true story. The real Gary actually exists, and he got all the way to Pakistan before his crusade came to an end.
While Army presents factual aspects, it embraces a wholly goofy tone, so don’t expect anything dramatic or realistic. It goes for a wholly comedic approach that often stretches credulity.
At times Army offers the occasional laugh, but it mostly tends to grate, largely due to a rabidly over the top performance from Cage. Never the world’s most subtle actor, Cage goes completely unhinged here.
Why? I don’t know, as the movie’s premise could generate enough comedy on its own. Despite that, Cage decides to make Gary an absurd cartoon character – almost literally, as Cage chooses vocal affectations straight out of Woody Woodpecker.
I’ve often liked Cage, but his performance in Army flops, and it flops hard. The film wants to present Gary as a likable guy who manages to ingratiate himself to the people he meets, but that becomes impossible to swallow. Cage plays Gary as so annoying and manic that I find it tough to fathom anyone would tolerate him for more than 20 seconds.
With a better lead performance, would Army become more successful? Yeah, but its scattershot script limits its potential. The movie progresses without a clear through-line and feels almost random at times.
Maybe that makes sense given the manner in which Army displays Gary as unstable. Nonetheless, the decision doesn’t work for the movie, as it just makes a loose narrative even less coherent.
The occasional nugget of comedy does manifest itself during Army, but these sporadic laughs fail to sustain the viewer. Largely due to an abrasive performance from its lead, Army becomes a tough ride.