Vampire’s Kiss

I have a theory about Nicolas Cage’s performance in Vampire’s Kiss.  When he looked at the script, he knew it was awful.  No scares, no laughs.  But instead of turning down the lead role he was offered, he decided to be mischievous.  How else to explain his peculiar acting choices?

Let’s start with his voice.  You notice something’s off immediately.  After spending the entirety of Peggy Sue Got Married sounding like Pokey (Gumby’s pal), here he comes across as a snootier valley dude.  He’s an erudite Spicoli but far less charming.

Then, there are his needlessly overbroad physical movements.  Out of nowhere, he bulges his eyes, overdoes facial expressions, jumps on a desk, laughs a little too hard, sings too much, screams and runs around like a maniac.

Oh yes, he also eats a live roach.  In what has become perhaps the most infamous moment in his entire acting career, while feeling peckish in his kitchen, he foregoes retrieving something from his fridge and settles for the doomed creepy crawly roaming the top of his stove.  There’s no trickery here.  That’s a real bug that he puts in his mouth.  How many takes did this scene require, I wonder.  As Survivor and Fear Factor later revealed, he was a decade ahead of his time.

Cage plays Peter Loew, a seriously troubled, deeply obnoxious literary agent.  When we first meet him, he’s seeing a therapist (Elizabeth Ashley), a cougar who thinks he has unrealistic romantic standards.  That’s not his actual problem.

Rather quickly, we discover he’s a misogynist.  (“Cunt” appears to be his favourite word.)  He drunkenly dismisses the profession of Jackie (future Eve’s Bayou director Kasi Lemmons), a cute woman he picks up in a club.  (They bond over the Fantastic Four.)  She works for the phone company but is too giggly, horny and drunk herself to feel insulted.  She could do way better.

In the midst of getting it on, a bat suddenly shows up, a very cheap looking bat.  Jackie leaves the apartment while Peter literally tries to “shoo” it away.  They end up taxiing it to her place.  But Peter, already a loathsome character, is forever changed.

On another night, Peter meets Rachel (Jennifer Beals) in a restaurant and takes her home for a nightcap.  Then, she bites him.  Feeling deeply unsatisfied in his love life, he suddenly finds what he’s been missing. (“You chose me,” she whispers after stabbing his neck with her teeth.)  But Rachel is too good to be true.  She’s controlling and demanding.  And, as it turns out, not exactly trustworthy.

When Peter goes on a second date with Jackie, he coldly ditches her at the art gallery.  Despite being thoroughly pissed off with him, he somehow convinces her to meet with him at a bar to make up for it.  But Rachel makes sure he never gets there.

If it isn’t clear already (it’s right there in the title), Rachel is a vampire.  What’s not clear is whether she actually exists.  For you see, Peter at times appears to be talking to himself.  The morning after his life-changing encounter with Rachel, he makes a cup of coffee for her.  But when he shakily hands over the cup and saucer, no one is in his bed to take it.

While singing in the shower, he opens up the curtain to let in no one who then somehow proceeds to tickle him.  And then, near the film’s conclusion, he literally walks into a building and carries on a conversation with it.  There’s no reply from the building, of course, but then we’re suddenly in another therapy session where his shrink introduces him to his dream woman (Jessica Lundy) who is clearly a figment of his imagination.  (The film awkwardly cuts back and forth between the therapist’s office and the street suggesting that maybe Elizabeth Ashley’s character isn’t real, either.)  No matter, he quickly grows agitated with her and calls her a “cunt”, as well.

In the midst of his very obvious mental breakdown, there’s an extremely annoying subplot involving one of his writer clients.  He wants Peter to find the very first contract he signed for a publishing deal so he can have it framed.  Peter summons his long suffering secretary Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso), who he secretly lusts for, to go through file after file after file until she finds it.  She has to drop her other duties in order to make time for this nonsense.

When he’s not yelling at her and pointing at her like a cartoon dog, he’s constantly harassing her and chasing her into the women’s bathroom.  Growing increasingly alarmed and terrified of his out-of-control antics (he and his fellow employees bizarrely laugh off the bathroom incident), she phones in sick one morning.  But Peter finds her address and ultimately cajoles her to come back.  Once they’re in the taxi, though, he’s back to being an asshole again.  Did I mention this is a comedy?

Her worried brother Emilio (Robert Lujan), a car mechanic, reluctantly agrees to give her blanks for the gun she’s been quietly hiding in her purse.

Even after the writer calls Peter to let him know that finding the contract is not a huge priority, Alva still isn’t let off the hook.  The resulting “pay-off” of this whole storyline might be the most irritating aspect of the entire picture.  Talk about a complete waste of time.

After being bitten by Rachel, Peter doesn’t go through the traditional vampire transition.  The “joke” is he thinks he’s becoming one but is deeply delusional.  When his fangs don’t grow in quick enough, he decides to buy fake ones.  But the best ones are too expensive, so he opts for the $3.50 set which he proceeds to wear to a club where he murders a cokehead and gets a rude awakening from Rachel.  (How I wish it was the Rick Rude finisher.)

He starts wearing sunglasses indoors because now he supposedly is more sensitive to sunlight.  He flips over a couch and sleeps underneath it on the floor, a makeshift coffin.  He collapses at the sight of a neon cross.  And he pretends he can’t see his own reflection in the mirror.

It’s baffling why any woman would want to be with Peter, especially Rachel.  (Is she merely setting him up?  If so, why?)  He’s so detestable, so self-absorbed.  Every woman is beneath him.  He’s like Patrick Bateman, only far more neurotic.  His encounters with Rachel somehow make him an even worse human being.

When he’s not buying into the idea that he’s the newest member of the undead, there are times where he feels trapped by it and suicidal.  After cornering poor Alva (he eventually assaults her), she pulls out her gun and he demands she finish him off.  But she shoots at the floor.  He ends up putting it in his mouth.  Not realizing those bullets are blanks deepens his false self-belief.  His “indestructibility” becomes his ultimate vulnerability.

Only a gifted actor like Nicolas Cage could deliver such an embarrassing performance like this.  You get the feeling he’s trying so hard to avoid being bored.  The result can only be described as manic desperation.  Not once is he funny.  Not once is he scary.

Could this story have worked if it wasn’t played for non-existent laughs or scares?  Possibly.  But certainly not with Cage who refuses to dial it down.  We don’t care about Peter before he gets attacked and we care even less after he completely falls apart.

I used to think Amos & Andrew was his worst movie.  I stand corrected.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 23, 2017
5:50 p.m.

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Published in: on June 23, 2017 at 5:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

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