To the slowly growing list of post-9/11 films in which established Western artists look for comedy in the Muslim world and, to greater and lesser degrees, fail — last year’s Rock the Kasbah being a failure on the “greater” end of the spectrum — we can now add Army of One, where Larry Charles adapts the true story of an American (played by Nicolas Cage) who tried to single-handedly capture Osama Bin Laden. Ammo for the argument that Borat‘s decade-old success doesn’t continue to justify putting Charles at the helm of features, this out-of-tune and out-of-date misadventure is being deservedly dumped in theaters before a video release later this month.
The cheap slapdashery of the production is signaled in the opening frames, as a voiceover mimicking those on TV news shows introduces Gary Faulkner, then coyly admits that “… elements of truth” have been taken from his life to fashion this film. That narration will appear throughout, papering over failures of storytelling and trying, unsuccessfully, to nudge us into a laugh.
Playing Faulkner, a Colorado construction worker and rah-rah American patriot, Cage affects a high nasal voice and an tendency toward ranty monologues that rarely sound like genuine human speech. (During the closing credits, news clips of the actual Faulkner reveal a much more natural-sounding voice.) It’s one of the worst performances Cage has given — and perversely, since he’s playing a madman, it contains none of the unabashed weirdness that has made some bad Cage performances guilty pleasures.
Faulkner, whose kidneys don’t work, is at dialysis when he believes he is visited by God. (Tip to those prone to hallucinations: If you meet God and he looks and sounds like Russell Brand, seek a second opinion.) God tells Gary he’s tired of the U.S. government failing to capture Osama bin Laden: “I need you to go over to Pakistan and capture that son of a bitch,” he says.
Cue the first of several attempts whose ridiculousness might inspire one to complain, “Nobody could be that stupid.” But the truth is, Gary Faulkner did buy a boat and try to sail to Pakistan, despite having never sailed before. He did buy a hang glider in hopes of reaching Bin Laden by air. He did go on some of these missions carrying a cheap samurai sword he bought on TV.
But God, in real life, it had to have been funnier than this.
Distributor: Dimension Films
Production company: Endgame Entertainment
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Russell Brand, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Denis O’Hare, Matthew Modine, Rainn Wilson, Paul Scheer, Will Sasso
Director: Larry Charles
Screenwriters: Scott Rothman, Rajiv Joseph
Producers: Emile Gladstone, Jeremy Steckler, James D. Stern
Executive producer: Patrick Newall
Director of photography: Anthony Hardwick
Production designer: Sebastian Soukup
Costume designer: Mary E. McLeon
Editor: Christian Kinnard
Composer: David Newman
Casting director: Maureen Webb
Rated R, 92 minutes