Does Thailand have access to lighting equipment? If "Bangkok Dangerous" is any indication, the answer is no. The film, an English-language remake directed by brothers Oxide and Danny Pang (they also helmed the 1999 original), is muddy, underlit and virtually colorless. Wasting a city as exotic as Bangkok should be a sin, but that's what the Pangs do. They also, as luck would have it, waste the time of Nicolas Cage, who continues his string of really bad film choices that have recently included 2006's "The Wicker Man
," 2007's "Ghost Rider
," and 2007's "Next
." What is the brilliant, Oscar-winning actor of 1995's "Leaving Las Vegas" and 2002's "Adaptation
" doing in a trashy, low-budget crime drama that would be better suited for Jean-Claude Van Damme?
In clunky opening narration, Joe (Nicolas Cage) describes his profession as a hitman, the set of rules he always abides by (i.e. "the moment you start to doubt yourself, get out"), and the trip he is about to take to Bangkok to do away with four separate targets. Naturally, it's his last job. Once there, Joe chooses directionless street kid Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) to be his no-questions-asked helper, but later decides to take him under his wing and train him, Mr. Miyagi style, for no plausible reason. In between shooting people to death and growing a minimal conscience, Joe begins romancing lovely (and deaf) pharmacist Fon (Charlie Young). She has no idea what her suitor really does for a living, and probably wouldn't approve if she did.
When listening to a catchy pop song playing in a club scene is the highlight of a movie, you know you're in terrible trouble. That's what happens in "Bangkok Dangerous," an absurdly written thriller that one imagines could be turned into the next "Airplane!" or "Hot Shots!" with just a couple minor tweaks. Joe's intermittent narration rambles in clichés right out of a 1950s B-movie. In addition to being an exceptional killer, he also apparently is a fish; when he drowns one of his targets in a swimming pool, he stays under the water for the same amount of time without batting an eyelash, then decides to go for a leisurely swim without once coming up for air. In a scene directly following one of Joe's kills, Kong talks with sincerity about what a good man he is. Say what?
Let's not forget Joe's fumbling romantic interludes with Fon, who acts not only deaf and mute, but also, if truth be told, a little on the slow side. They bond over a spicy meal, then pet an elephant together, and then Joe abandons her altogether to go threaten the wife of a gangster breathing down his neck. Following this scene, Fon is suddenly with Joe again, riding on the back of his motorcycle with nary a mention of where she was while he ran off to aim a gun at a woman's forehead. The quasi-love story in "Bangkok Dangerous" is cornball and, like the flimsy foundation it has built its narrative on, dictated by the demands of the script. Still, Charlie Young is eye-catching as Fon, and there's a certain sweetness to their scenes together.
That's more than can be said about the other seventy minutes of running time. Without a protagonistKong remains painfully underdeveloped, and Joe is an anti-hero, at bestand without a memorable villain, the viewer is left perplexed as to why he or she should care. The first of two action set-pieces, set in speedboats, finally shows up over an hour into the proceedings, but it is no more than passingly diverting. The climax, wherein a JFK-inspired assassination is about to take place, leads into some of the worst plotting of the year. Joe's ultimate aim for redemption is not touching in the least, but it is a downer that renders all we have just seen as pointless.
"Bangkok Dangerous" fails to live up to its titlethe city could actually be an attractive place if someone turned on a lamp every now and thenand it also fails to satisfy as a melodrama, a character study, or an action film. Nicolas Cage is usually terrific (the same can't be said about his filmography), but he is a bore and a half as Joe. Giving off the impression that he took the job as an excuse to travel abroad, Cage's heart doesn't seem to be in it here. In one scene, he even appears to be visibly nodding off. "Bangkok Dangerous" is pretty junky stuff, but it is notable for one oddball thing: the end credits attribute someone as "Personal Chef of Nicolas Cage" and someone else as "Assistant to Personal Chef of Nicolas Cage." Yikes.