An action film which is nowhere near as good as such films have been, but enjoyable enough to spend an evening on the sofa with.
Nicolas Cage is the perfect pot luck actor: you can never tell whether the next film of his you watch is going to be outstanding or dross. For every artsy City of Angels or Adaptation, there are three straight to home release Looking Glass or Better Worlds. Occasionally, there is a film that’s memorable for being great fun rather than classy (yes, Con Air, I’m looking at you). Primal is none of the above: it’s not awful, it’s not great; it has a pretty good cast and decent production, and yet it is undemanding and not the slightest bit memorable.
In Primal, Cage is Frank Walsh, a wild game hunter, who sells his catch to American zoos. We first meet him in a Brazilian jungle, rounding off his trek by capturing a white jaguar, to add to his cages full of monkeys, snakes and exotic birds. While they are all loaded onto a ship to go home, Walsh is alarmed to find he’ll be sharing the journey with Richard Loffler (Kevin Durand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) a wanted assassin and the team responsible for him. Well guess what: the assassin doesn’t want to be in a cage any more than the animals do.
So that’s the scenario; but the action is not exciting, the direction is hardly tense, and everything is a bit smaller than film audiences are used to by now. The ship is smaller than the one in Juggernaut, the wild animals are smaller than those in Rampage and you can tell they would rather like to be bigger in both cases. I’ve seen plenty of films about tension or conflict set on boats where the size isn’t an issue – in Triangle, Harpoon, Dead Calm and even [REC] Genesis, the mid-ocean setting in a small-to-medium sized boat made the subjects both exposed and trapped – but Primal just doesn’t have that tension.
Nick Cage’s Walsh is frankly an arsehole, either fed up or insulting people most of the way through the film (he does have some character development, but you have to want to notice it). Loffler is a standard, clichéd baddie, who could have been played by almost any reasonable actor. Famke Janssen (X-Men, The Faculty) plays Loffler’s doctor, a character who seems to be needed just for a little variety. Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) is the sneaky Paul Freed, who’s not as mysterious as the story needs him to be. Primal was directed by Nick Powell, who’s more experienced with stunt work and cinematography; and written by Richard Leder, who usually writes made-for-TV movies. There you have it: an action film that looks like it belongs in the 90s, but really doesn’t feel like it. Don’t even ask me which character(s) died: I can’t remember.
Despite all that, Primal is fun. The plot moves along steadily, rather than quickly, but at no point was I tempted to turn it off. It wasn’t a film I’ll watch again, or possibly even remember next week, but I wouldn’t call it a wasted hour and a half. Nick Cage doesn’t carry a film by himself, though, so I really wish I’d seen more of the animals (just like I wish there had been more of the Color in Color Out of Space). That said, he is still non-stop prolific, and still making gems, so I’m not going to stop looking for the next Mandy or Wild at Heart.