Army of One is based on a true story. Colorado man Gary Faulkner (Nicolas Cage), while getting dialysis one day, receives a command from God (Russell Brand). He is told that he must go to Pakistan and hunt down Osama bin Laden. Gary, who is jobless and essentially homeless, accepts this challenge from God. Without any training or any leads whatsoever on the location of the terrorist, Gary sets off on his own, trying one hare brained scheme after another, before finally making it into Pakistan armed with a katana.
Army of One is uneven at best, the movie suffering from an inability to commit to any particular conceit. There is a sketchy quality to this film, the story structured as separate comedic scenes rather than a singular narrative thread. Voiceover narration serves to glue these disparate pieces together, which only serves to highlight the lack of comedic thrust in this whole project. There is one real bright spot, though: the rare, totally committed, unhinged performance by its lead star. This is Nicolas Cage at his mad best, and he manages to make the movie occasionally compelling.
The movie at times draws an intriguing parallel between and his imagined nemesis. They are essentially both mad extremists, and their similarity is further reinforced by their common need for dialysis. That feels like a strong satirical point, but the movie isn't focused enough to get to that idea. It instead focuses on the antics, detailing Gary's misguided attempts to complete his holy mission. There is an extended bit in here where he goes to Las Vegas to make enough money to buy a boat. It doesn't really lead to anything, but it is another chance for the film to show off just how incompetent and broken Gary really is.
It gets redundant after a while. And it stops being funny before that. The writing just doesn't seem to have much to say about this character. It accepts right from the start that he's some sort of deluded, terrible person and doesn't really much more than that. The production is nothing to write home about, either, the movie suffering from the usual flatness present in a lot of modern comedies. That the film turns out to be so weirdly entertaining is more a function of who is cast in the lead role. Nicolas Cage delivers the kind of crazy, endlessly compelling performance that's just hardly seen anymore, even from the actor himself.
Nicolas Cage shows up in a lot of movies, but not this Nicolas Cage. More often than not these days, Cage looks like he's just showing up for the paycheck, mostly frowning through roles with hardly a hint of personality. Nicolas Cage is capable of making much more interesting choices, the performance often becoming a spectacle that almost stands apart from the movie. Cage does not at all try to replicate the cadence of the real Gary Faulkner. He is instead capturing something very different about the character, bringing it to a manic level that plays out like jittery fireworks on screen. Cage alone almost makes this movie worth seeing. Almost.
Army of One is still too loose and repetitive to warrant an unequivocal recommendation. Nicolas Cage is awfully compelling, but the movie around him isn't matching what he's giving. It isn't bold enough to really make a huge satirical point, nor is it rigorous enough to effectively tell the story of this one guy. It feels like a series of comedic premises that don't get the follow through they really need. It has an amazing central performance, but that's not enough to make up for all the sloppy comedy.
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