211

Studio: Momentum Pictures
Directed by York Shackleton

Jun 11, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Even the more casual fans of his filmography know that Nicolas Cage has had a rough decade. Thanks to various real estate and tax woes totaling in the tens of millions, the man has been churning out films faster than a 1930’s Warner Brothers contract player. Most of them are bargain bin action junk with generic titles like Arsenal, Pay the Ghost and Rage. He still occasionally stumbles across interesting directors who give him something to work with, such as in David Gordon Green’s indie drama Joe and Bryan Taylor’s gonzo horror-comedy Mom and Dad. But anyone concerned about his career arc can rest easy knowing that the worst will soon be behind him. 211, his new DTV action thriller, is a shoe-in for worst film of the year, and frankly belongs in the conversation for worst films of the century thus far.

211 - named after the California police code for robbery, despite being set in Massachusetts - is a straight-forward crime flick in which a team of mercenaries rob the bank holding the money their employer stole from them. The robbery becomes a siege and a hostage situation, with two cops and their teenage ride-along caught in the crossfire. Everything about this movie is terrible, from the nuts and bolts filmmaking to the more nuanced areas of structure and theme. Despite being set in small town Massachusetts, the movie was filmed in Bulgaria - presumably for tax write-off purposes - and boy, can you tell it’s not America. Cage aside, the cast looks like a first day Eastern European theater class that was handed cops and robber outfits and told not to worry about their various non-American accents. The flimsy sets are made cheaper looking by the over-lit, sitcom-grade cinematography. The script is a teetering tower of cliche that assumes no one has ever seen a film like this before. Onscreen actions and obvious emotions are spelled out ad nauseam in between bizarre bits of dialogue that no normal person would ever utter - my favorite being, “They’ve got more firepower than…the Devil”, a line spoken by a brash young female cop, despite sounding like something the over-the-hill sheriff would say in a cheap old Western.  

All of this is fairly basic bad movie fodder, but even the slightest attention to cinematic detail shows that 211 cannot even achieve the baseline competence of your average crappy theatrical release. Writer/director York Alec Shackleton - apparently a former professional snowboarder - botches even the simplest of set-ups with stilted camera work, establishing shots that linger for far too long, and action scenes that play like blocking runs instead of finalized choreography. Beyond the cliches and groan-worthy dialogue, his script is filled with bizarre narrative dead ends and subplots that go nowhere. A rookie cop’s sole character trait is that he’s a bad shot. Does he fire the climatic bullet that saves the day? Nope, he disappears shortly after he’s introduced. Cage confiscates the phone of his teen ride-along moments before the shooting starts. Does this leave the kid in a situation where he’s trapped with no means of communication? Nope, he gets it back two minutes later. That character - a black teen who is forced to do the ride-along or face expulsion for punching a bully - is specifically terrible, in that his arc takes him from filming Cage and his partner be dicks to a homeless shoplifter, to using the same phone to record their tearful goodbyes to their families once the shooting starts. Because nothing overcomes systemic racism like a one-on-one trial by fire. Shackleton’s attempts to address questions of race relations and police brutality are halfbaked at best and wrongheaded at worst.  

Fans of Cage may be tempted to watch this in the hopes that the actor will unleash one of his trademark crazy performances; an example of the Nouveau Shamanic, which is apparently what Cage actually calls his acting style. Those fans would be very disappointed. Cage does fly off the handle at one point, dressing down his superiors for botching the situation - although his captain telling him to “de-escalate” in a flat monotone makes for an amusingly on-the-nose contrast - but most of the film finds him mumbling his lines and grimacing while firing a gun. 211 shouldn’t be seen by anyone, for any reason, except perhaps by filmmaking students as a means of terrorizing them into taking their chosen art form seriously.  

Author rating: .5/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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