It’s about this guy, a Colorado construction worker with failing kidneys, who repeatedly goes over to Pakistan with nothing but a sword and night vision goggles and a loose plan to find and capture Osama Bin Laden because a dream told him to do so. It’s based on a true story, and we have a big-name actor attached to play the lead as well as a Seinfeld veteran committed to direct. We’re calling it Army of One.
That’s a good pitch for a movie, right? If I’m a Hollywood executive and you pitch me that in an elevator I’m going to at least ask to see the script, assuming there is one already. I might even vaguely remember seeing the real guy, Gary Faulkner, who tried to find Bin laden interviewed on a bunch of talk shows in 2010 when news of his quixotic quest granted him 15 minute of national fame. “He was on Letterman, I think. Yeah, he was, and Letterman seemed kind of scared of him,” I’d faintly recall.
But what’s the angle? This can’t just be a recreation of events so improbable (he tried to get into Pakistan and Afghanistan 11 different times, first by boat, then by plane, and once there he got in the way of US government operations) that we’ll all just laugh along while thinking, “I can’t believe this actually happened.” What drove this guy to such an extreme, and what does it say about American individualism and exceptionalism or about the Midwestern sensibilities which prevented so many from flat out telling this guy his idea was insane? Are we thinking broad satire, straight comedy, dramedy, maybe playing it all straight since the material is so inherently absurd it requires no comedic embellishment?
Perhaps more importantly than all of that, though, who do we have playing the lead? Who’s the big-name actor attached?
Wait for it.
Well, it was nice almost doing business with you.
Really, that would be the end of it. Cage was a good actor at one time, perhaps even a great actor, but his post-bankruptcy descent into the dregs of C and D-list pictures has left him wholly incapable of actually acting anymore. Instead, he always does the standard over the top, unhinged Nicholas Cage performance, cranking it up to 11 as if to throw a bone to all those fans who now delight in observing his increasingly bizarre career and can’t stop watching that clip from The Wicker Man where he yells about the bees being in his eyes. You cast him in this movie, and he will drive the whole thing over a cliff, wide-eyed and maniacally laughing the entire way down.
However, the Weinstein Brothers couldn’t help themselves, jumping at the chances to secure North American distribution rights to Army of One in early 2015, drawn to it not for Cage but instead because of Larry Charles, that Seinfeld vet I mentioned earlier. As Bob Weinstein told THR, “For many years I’ve been a fan of Larry Charles, from his work on Seinfeld to Borat and Bruno and, most recently, The Dictator.”
They weren’t the only ones intrigued by the story and talent attached. Wendi McLendon-Covey, Rainn Wilson, Russell Brand, Denis O’Hare, Paul Scheer, Matthew Modine and Will Sasso all eventually joined the cast.
After sitting on the shelf for over a year, Army of One was finally released on VOD and home video this past November. It should have stayed on the shelf.
This is a film so assured of the hilarity of its own premise that it just repeatedly keeps saying it aloud, usually through Cage as Faulkner, as if that would never get old.
This is a film which opens with 3rd person omniscient narration so close in tone to the two Anchorman movies that they might as well have hired Bill Kurtis (“There was a time, a time before cable when the local anchorman reigned supreme”) to do it instead of the more milquetoast voice they picked to fill the role.
This is a film which contains one of the most confusing vocal performances I’ve ever heard. To be honest, I don’t even know how to properly describe the bizarrely high-pitched, nasally affected voice Nicholas Cage sports throughout the film. I just know I never want to see or hear it again. Here’s a sample:
Incidentally, the real Gary Faulkner sounds pretty much nothing like that:
Through Cage’s Faulkner, Army of One attempts to spoof American entitlement and our assumed cultural superiority, and adds an extra layer of zany religious commentary by casting Russell Brand as the God who repeatedly appears to Faulkner in visions. Underneath it all, the story is ultimately about the lengths a man will go to achieve a greater purpose when true happiness was always in front of him at home, in this case through the form of a (seemingly fictional) woman and adopted daughter who happily welcome him into their lives. However, even that is derailed by Cage’s performance. At one point, McClendon-Covey as the unlucky-in-love character Marci sincerely refers to Cage’s Faulkner as being “such a stud” as explanation for why she assumed he likely wasn’t interested in her and probably had plenty of other girlfriends, but the proclamation is so absurd (and Cage’s performance so unnervingly eccentric) you’re not sure if you’re supposed to laugh and, if so, who at/with.
No worries. There’s not much to laugh about here anyway, at least not much which is intentionally funny. I mean, there should have been. This is an inherently amusing story with “we couldn’t make this shit up if we tried” plot twists, and it will likely please the cult of Cage and result in a couple of internet memes. I’m just not a member of that group. The real Faulkner is a true eccentric, a one of a kind, but Cage turns him into someone completely unbelievable.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Just read the GQ article which inspired the film. It’s a long read, but a far better use of your time than the increasingly annoying 90 minutes that make up Army of One. I’m not saying the true story is too strange to be properly fictionalized, but it was clearly beyond the capabilities of Larry Charles and Nicholas Cage.