Here’s everything you need to know to decide whether or not Primal is a movie you want to watch. It stars Nicolas Cage. He plays Frank Walsh, a hunter/illegal animal salesman who captures rare, fully CGI white jaguar he plans to sell for many dollars. Turns out, while transporting/smuggling said trophy on a ship, it’s not the only dangerous creature on board. The U.S. government, for a convoluted series of reasons, is also transporting notorious political assassin Richard Loffler (Kevin Durand) on the same vessel. If you guess they both escape and Frank has to hunt two of the world’s deadliest creatures while on a boat, you are correct. Also, Frank has a parrot sidekick that he hates.
See, given that information, you think Primal will either be a total blast or a tedious chore, and depending on which side you claim, you’ll probably be right. Director Nick Powell’s film features some fine late-stage manic Cage scene-chewing, like when he banters with the parrot, talks about monkeys eating children’s skin, and delivers quiet-loud line readings, like when he intones, “Take it easy with my CAT!”
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Giving Cage a run for his money this time out, we also have Kevin Durand. He knows this movie and he gives it his all. Loffler is a motormouthed agent of a corrupt regime and he has a damn fine time. The true highlights of the movie are when the two venerable B-movie icons go head to head, not in an action movie way, but bantering back and forth in various situations. The rest of the cast is equally impressive and the credits read like a DTV all-star list, most notably Famke Janssen, as a doctor who is on board for no real reason, and Michael Imperioli, as a government stooge who has nothing to do until the painful, brutally obvious twist in the third act.
And, of course, there’s the CGI cat. It looks like you expect out of a cheap, limited-budget offering of this ilk. Honestly, the movie is better for it. When it’s on screen, it’s damn funny, but the filmmakers are also savvy enough to know what they have to work with and don’t overuse it. They hide it in shadows, employ cat’s-eye-view, and have it suddenly sweep across the screen in the background.
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As entertaining as the agitated Cage energy can be, it only carries Primal so far. While it begins with enough insanity, it peters out. The first thing we see is Cage in a tree in the jungle, reading a real estate magazine, and smoking a cigar, only to stab the jaguar with a tranquilizer by hand, like a man. By the middle of the movie, it devolves into a bland, mediocre action thriller where people hunt a villain in a contained environment.
Sure, people occasionally get killed by snakes, and there’s a monkey attack in a kitchen. But there are also tired subplots, like the captain of the ship and his son, trying and failing to give Famke Janssen’s character a personality, or the weird fascination with what goes on in a ship’s galley. The script doesn’t have much of an idea how ships actually work, or laws for that matter, but it’s all a rather moot point in the big picture.
For good or ill, Primal is precisely the movie it promises to be. There’s some zany Nic Cage and some picking-up-a-paycheck Nic Cage. There’s heightened absurdity juxtaposed with generic tedium. Still, you can do a lot worse if you’re plowing through the modern Cage canon—it’s way more entertaining than Running With the Devil, for instance. And, you know, belligerent parrot sidekick. It’s a movie to watch late at night with a group of friends and a few drinks. You’ll have some laughs, work up a nice buzz, and hopefully only remember the crazy parts. [Grade: C]