Nic Cage blends beach bum and badass in The Retirement Plan

A noted Cage expert, Luke Buckmaster is happy to see Nic trying out a new, shaggy persona in The Retirement Plan, now available to rent or buy. Pity the film around him is so “despairingly conventional.”

Like some varieties of sharks, such as great whites and makos, Nicolas Cage must keep moving or he dies. At least professionally speaking. One can assume the prolific actor—who maintains a prodigious output that every self-respecting cinephile indulges in from time to time—does not have a retirement plan, unlike the shaggy-haired senior he plays in his new film. Writer/director Tim Brown’s utterly expendable crime flick is bland and boilerplate but not entirely without merit: like a lot of Nic Cage B movies, there’s pleasure to be had in watching the star muscle into a performative space where he can set the rules and attempt to make the experience his own.

Stubbly, unkempt and clad in Hawaiian shirts, Cage’s Matt looks a little like Matthew McConaughey from The Beach Bum, with a character arc reminiscent of a Liam Neeson thriller role—the beast of his badass past awakened by a family crisis. The film begins with a classic noir-ish opener, two men bundling into a getaway car driven by Matt’s estranged daughter Ashley (Ashley Greene), one badly shot and the other, Ashley’s husband Jimmy (Jordan Johnson-Hinds), breathlessly recounting that it “all happened so fast.” There’s talk of a valuable hard drive, which crime boss Donnie (Jackie Earle Haley) demands the return of. And beneath everything, two bedrock questions: “what happened?” and “what happens next?”

Actually, we can add a third, which isn’t taught at screenwriting school: “where’s Nicolas Cage?” When Ashley disusss with Jimmy how she has nowhere to escape to, and the latter responds “there is one place,” we can start to smell a whiff of Cage’s narrative presence. All this on-the-run whoop-de-doo is an unveiling act, a tantalising ellipsis, a prelude to Le Cage.

Ashley puts her young daughter Sarah (Thalia Campbell) on a flight to the Cayman Islands to meet Matt, who the little’un encounters passed out on the beach clutching an empty bottle. Their early interactions indicate a man who isn’t totally gonzo, like McConaughey’s Hunter S. Thompson-channeling bum, but certainly a bit disconnected from reality, Matt claiming for instance that he doesn’t know how old he is because “I stopped counting when I turned 30.” Upon the arrival of Sarah, and Donnie’s goons from Central Casting, Cage flips into action hero mode, leaping to the aid of his offspring as he has in other titles easily lost in his oeuvre—such as Stolen (playing a former thief), Rage (a former gangster) and Pay the Ghost (a literary professor).

Brown’s script for The Retirement Plan is despairingly conventional, codified and cookie-cut, bogged down by a deflating aura of “same old same old.” But the film’s biggest problem is its performances: other than Cage’s, they all suck. Even Haley, whose presence often convulses with menace, fails to rouse more than meek archetype, grimacing through caricature. Ron Perlman also flounders in a silly side role as a Shakespeare-quoting henchman.

Cage on the other hand finds a path through the silliness, bringing enjoyably casual, slightly off-center vibes. The decision to keep him in Hawaiian shirts for most of the runtime, including scenes of hardcore head-beating, suggests Brown is in on the joke (even if the director’s more explicit attempts at black comedy feel rather goofy). The fun comes from watching Matt’s obscured previous self resurface in his current, over-the-hill form, a vaguely Jekyll and Hyde-ish dynamic that Cage makes entertaining. Not enough to save the film, but at least enough to keep him moving.