Revenge is a dish best not served under-cooked.
Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) is a logger living with his artistic wife Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) happy and alone in the Shadow Mountains of California circa 1983. Their world is turned upside down when Mandy draws the vagrant eye of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a failed singer-songwriter turned Jesus-freak leader for the Children of the New Dawn hippie cult, who decides spoken-for Mandy must be his at any cost. Bribing the Black Skulls — a drug-addled biker gang summoned with a demonic ocarina — to capture the couple, Sand takes what he wants but becomes infuriated when his offerings are rejected. Leaving Red broken, bleeding, and alone, the logger pursues his tormentors one by one across a mind-bending landscape that resembles his wife’s fantasy illustrations… everything of which may be merely in his mind.
Brought to you by Elijah Wood (who does anything he damn-well pleases) and the crowd-funded studio Legion M, it is the second film directed by Panos Cosmatos after his debut Beyond the Black Rainbow, also curiously set in 1983 and possibly in the same story world as Mandy. While manic “Cage rage” memes may be the stuff of internet legend, few doubt that Nic brings an energy to any production that dares actors and viewers alike to keep up, no matter how insane a production becomes. Earning critical praise from countless outlets and gaining notoriety using late 1970s psychedelic rock album cover imagery, is the film really all its cracked up to be, or are true fans seeing more than is actually there?
The best set-ups repeatedly fall short, from forging the Impossible Weapon of Legend without ever really using it (think the Glaive from the movie Krull) to an underwhelming final encounter. Everything feels stretched too long, whether battling a hallucinogen-fueled hell-spawn biker or simply turning one’s head before grinning. Perhaps the film is best enjoyed when accompanied by one’s substance of choice — one of the many suggested throughout the film — but nothing can really make it make more sense. With occasional interruptions of animated Heavy Metal magazine-inspired dream sequences every time Cage’s character closes his eyes, there is a sense of raw filmmaking and imagery herein coupled with throwbacks to 1980s post-apocalypse sci-fi and fantasy, but the underfunded and under-edited final cut drags like a battleship anchor holding back a rowboat.
It’s frustrating the concept suggested is adequate for exactly what it advertises, yet in every instance where the over-the-top concept could cut loose, it slows to a crawl, the exact opposite of a John Wick flick. The first half setup needed to be shorter, the second half needed to be the middle, and the final act needed more of everything… including an actual metal soundtrack when called for instead of a couple of pristine concert t-shirts. There are a number of enjoyable staples and genuine “enjoy the little things” pleasures taken along the way, but too much of what made it on-screen screamed, “this is the best we could do, and we hope that’s all right.”
By the end of the film, the idea of Mandy is far more entertaining than its actuality, much in the same way as Red’s montage-forged axe affectionately named “The Beast”; your mileage may vary. Perhaps Meatloaf provided the best summary of all: “‘Wait a minute; stop it, boy! What do you think your doing? That’s no way to treat an expensive musical instrument!’ And I said, ‘God damn it, Daddy — you know I love you — but you’ve got a hell of a lot to learn about Rock ‘n’ Roll!'”
Mandy isn’t rated, but someone really needs to make a “Cheddar Goblin” movie.
One skull recommendation out of four
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