Pig ★★★½

Ever the Nic Cage fan, I try to give a fair shake to any film he signs on for, even the obvious cash-grabs. Just last week I watched "Willy's Wonderland," about a mute hero who fights possessed robots in a pizza restaurant. Here's the thing. If you can deliver a one sentence plot synopsis of a Cage movie and the reaction you elicit is "that sounds hilarious," then you're probably talking about a bad Nic Cage movie. PIG has the kind of logline that certainly sounds like it would lend itself to an unhinged Cage performance and unintended laughs. "Cage seeks revenge on the culinary world when his beloved truffle pig is kidnapped." You're laughing already, aren't you? But this is a much better movie than one might expect from its description, and stands well alongside "Mandy" and "Color Out Of Space" as recent Cage vehicles where he actually seems to care.

The other thing that the logline for PIG might evoke is a striking similarity to the "John Wick" franchise. A revenge story birthed out of a crime against a pet? I don't think the similarities are entirely accidental, and certainly the marketing department played up this angle, hoping to lure some "Wick-Heads" to the multiplex. This unfortunately does the film a bit of a disservice, since this is hardly the violent shoot-em-up that many will be expecting. The film does open with a violent incident that leaves Cage with a bloody head wound the perpetually stains his long grey beard and beautiful sunset orange, but aside from an odd diversion to a restaurant fight club, this is not a violent film and writer/director Michael Sarnoski probably could have done more to avoid what some will see as a misdirect bait & switch.

But there's a lot more to the "John Wick" films than just violent revenge. There's also the element of the secret society of assassins who walk among us and live by their own rules. That's where the comparison to this film is more apt, because Cage's journey to get his pig back does lead him through a dark and elitist world of the Portland food scene. At first we're subjected to somewhat broad and comical depictions of underground fight clubs for chefs to relieve stress or truffle dealers who strut like mob bosses, all of which seem right out of an episode of "Portlandia." But Sarnoski is after more than just cheeky satire. He's out to expose this world for the empty, pandering farce that it has become. The film's best scene has Cage dressing down one of the hottest chefs in town, (an excellent David Knell), which ends with his smug confidence crumbled, admitting that he sacrificed his dreams to cook what he always wanted just to give diners the trendy, instagram-worthy dining experience they think they crave. It's a phenomenal moment but the film is never quite able to top it because once it pulls the curtain back, revealing that the wizard is just a man, it's impossible to continue to build suspense around other figures in the industry whose egos are still in tact.

There are reasons, of course, why Cage is so familiar with the figures in the restaurant industry, and parts of his origin trickle out at a deliberate pace, but it's refreshing that the film doesn't feel obligated to reveal absolutely everything there is to know about the mystery surrounding this strange character. It might leave some a bit unsatisfied, but I appreciated that Cage wasn't required to monologue every single thought that he had during his journey. It's a good performance and I really enjoy some choice moments of dialogue that he has, but this is the much superior "strong silent type" character, over his stupid mute robot killer from that dumb pizza movie.

If Cage is silent and reserved, his motor-mouthed companion gets the chance to steal scenes here and there. He's played by Alex Wolff, a rising actor that we're starting to see more and more of, but this was the first real time I saw any sort of potential and range in the young lad. There's also a great performance late in the film from Adam Arkin, which will make you wonder why we don't see him getting roles like these more often. Once I got over the hump of uncertainty that the film's first act sets up, I really quite enjoyed PIG. While enjoyably brisk, I don't know if it fully realizes what it aspires to do, but it's a strong start for Sarnoski nonetheless. He's earned my attention and anticipation for his next film, whatever it might be.

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