Combustible Celluloid
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With: Nicolas Cage, Famke Janssen, Kevin Durand, LaMonica Garrett, Michael Imperioli, Tommy Walker, Rey Hernandez, John Lewis, Braulio Castillo hijo, Jaime Irizarry, Sewell Whitney, Drake Shannon
Written by: Richard Leder
Directed by: Nick Powell
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Running Time: 97
Date: 11/08/2019

Primal (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Jag Man

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This thriller has a fun idea, but it feels both too lazy and too serious; rather than really playing with the concept, the movie does little more than let the loose cannon Nicolas Cage carry the load.

In Primal, big-game hunter Frank Walsh (Nicolas Cage) captures an incredibly rare white jaguar. He boards a ship with his bounty, and several other animals, ready to sell to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, as a last-minute emergency, the ship is also being used to transport a political assassin, Richard Loffler (Kevin Durand), back to the U.S. to be tried. Loffler soon escapes and then frees all the animals, including venomous snakes, dangerous monkeys, and the jaguar. Now, with the aid of Dr. Ellen Taylor (Famke Janssen), Frank must prowl the labyrinthian corridors of the ship, rescue his animals, and catch a killer.

Primal has all the elements for a cool movie: various exotic animals, a clever killer, a scoundrel-like anti-hero, and a lovely leading lady, all trapped together in a perfect, enclosed setting. If a filmmaker had approached it with a sly, coy touch or a sharper sense of rhythm, it could have been wildly entertaining. But director Nick Powell — a former stuntman with one other movie, the atrocious, sluggish Outcast, on his resume — doesn't do that.

The movie starts with Cage set all the way to 11, so amped up he doesn't even seem to be in the same room with the other actors. His special brand of loony can often save a movie, but it has to be used correctly, and here it's not. Then, the jittery, twitchy filmmaking manages to deaden any sense of rhythm or suspense. And poor Janssen has not much more to do than to get kidnapped and tied up. At least Durand seems to be having fun, sneering and bluffing his way through his villainous role. And there are some wonderful animals to look at. But overall, Primal is a wasted opportunity.

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