There’s a lot going on in Running With the Devil, but also somehow absolutely nothing at all. It jumbles together too many storylines, drug movie clichés, flat characters, and an epic cast of B-movie all stars.
And when I say all stars, I do not use this term lightly. The credits includes Laurence Fishburne, Cole Hauser, Leslie Bibb, Peter Facinelli, Barry Pepper, Clifton Collins Jr., Adam Goldberg, Tait Fletcher, Keith Jardine, and the whole thing is fronted by the one, the only, Nicolas Cage. It’s like a who’s who of not-quite-stars.
If you’re familiar with Cage’s late-stage career, outliers like Mandy notwithstanding, you likely have an idea of the levels of quality and investment you can expect to see onscreen. Cole Hauser casually sipping a cup of coffee in one scene, looking like he can’t be bothered to give even half a shit, sums up Running With the Devil pretty well. It’s like he doesn’t even know he’s being filmed.
Maybe you’re expecting some fine Cage-antics. If that’s your jam, you will be disappointed on that front. He’s remarkably subdued throughout. Fortunately, however, Fishburne takes the reins in that regard. Everyone except him feels like they made this movie for a payday. But damn if Fishburne doesn’t go all in. Whether it’s coke-addled and furiously masturbating at a peep show or a sped-up, cocaine-fueled sex montage, he certainly fills the film’s quota for manic episodes.
[Related Reading: Lunatics Sion Sono and Nicolas Cage Team Up for Cinematic Mayhem in 'Prisoners of the Ghostland]
Running With the Devil tries to tell a hemisphere-spanning tale of drug running, from the jungles of Columbia all the way to the Great White North of Vancouver BC. Cage plays a diner owner/youth soccer team sponsorer/drug smuggler. Someone has been ripping off shipments along the way, so the CEO of the cartel, Barry Pepper, sends Cage and Cole Hauser to track a load and see where things are going wrong. It’s basically an audit, but with cocaine. Along the way there’s also a farmer (Collins Jr.), a middle man (Fishburne), and the feds chasing the drugs (Bibb and Facinelli).
I use the names of actors here for a very specific reason. The characters themselves don’t actually have names. Cage is The Cook; Fishburne, The Man; Bibb, The Agent in Charge. There’s also The Boss, The Snitch, The Executioner, The Farmer, and so on and so forth. We learn these names as they’re blasted across freeze frames of the characters. (To be fair, the movie also regularly prints the rising per-kilo price of cocaine on the screen, just in case you were curious.)
And that’s all there is to their personalities and the depth of their character development. They’re blanks, they’re types, they’re stock caricature cutouts. Aside from Fishburne, who goes as over the top bonkers as he can at every last opportunity. He’s obviously enjoying himself. Everyone else is just kind of there.
Like I said, a lot of things happen, but none of them are of any consequence. There’s international travel, skydiving, drug smuggling, murder, snow mobiles, weirdly placed black site torture, an awkward heartfelt friend moment between Cage and Fishburne, cops who are straight up bad at their jobs, ill-advised twists, and so much more nonsense all crammed into one movie. And with no characters to care about, there’s zero tension, zero engagement, and the whole thing is boring as all hell. Again, outside of random Fishburne WTF moments. Those are gold.
[Related Reading: 'Jiu Jitsu': Tony Jaa, Frank Grillo, JuJu Chan, and More Joint Nicolas Cage's Martial Arts Versus Aliens Movie]
It feels like writer/director Jason Cabell wants to make gritty, edgy, layered international drug smuggling thriller told from multiple perspectives. Like maybe a low-rent Traffic. To a degree that’s what it is. But it also feels like this story told by someone who only knows about this world via movies and who doesn’t have a strong grasp of the story telling elements. The script checks all the boxes, but the threads never come together in any substantial, meaningful way.
Cabell and cinematographer Cory Geryak overuse sweeping drone shots, especially early on, in an attempt to make the film appear more grandiose. Instead it’s a distraction. There’s quite a bit of travelling-by-map, and somehow the maps are…really awful. I mean, like someone drew them from memory and didn’t bother to check to see if they actually look like the places. There’s one of Seattle and Western Washington that’s…not even remotely accurate, or even complete. I get it, low budget and limited resources and all, but damn.
[Related Reading: Nicolas Cage Says Sion Sono's 'Prisoners of the Ghostland' "Might be the Wildest Movie I've Ever Made"]
I hate saying people phoned it in or that no one gave a shit about a movie, because I know that’s not true. Even bad movies take an insane amount of work and passion and I know that’s the case here. But even though I know this, that’s how it comes across. At one point, Bibb’s Agent throws up her hands in frustration and in that moment, it feels like she speaks for everyone.
Running With the Devil is the kind of movie you’ll stumble across late one night as you endlessly scroll through Netlix and think to yourself, “I’ve never heard of this. How the hell many movies does Nicolas Cage make? That guy sure stays busy.” And then you’ll move on to something else. It’s not memorable in any way, except for Laurence Fishburne’s comical O face. That’s a damn gas. [Grade: C-]