I was supposed to see three movies in theater this weekend, but it’s going to be just two. Sorry, The Pope’s Exorcist; I had no time for you this weekend. Next weekend!
The other two flicks were a lot more must-see than Russell Crowe’s newest attempt at Acting With A Silly Accent. And the first of those two was the new Nicholas Cage vehicle, Renfield!
There seemed to be a LOT of buzz around this movie, and despite it’s R rating, I fully expected it to be the film playing in my AMC’s Dolby Theater this weekend. It was not! Super Mario Brothers is still the Dolby flick. Which… sure. I would be surprised if a gory, soft-R horror flick outgrosses the kids’ dynamo that seems to be Mario. Probably a good call, AMC! But I’m not used to the less comfortable seats in the plebeian theaters!
(I really hope Evil Dead Rise gets the Dolby next week)
Anyway, in addition to Nicholas Cage, Renfield stars Nichola Hoult as the titular anti-hero, Awkwafina, and Ben Schwartz. It’s basically a tri-blend comedy/action/horror that has mostly jokes, but also some brutal and gory fight sequences. In terms of violence, Renfield sure does earn that R-rating. Scenes where, for example, our hero rips off both arms from an assailant, then uses those arms to impale two others don’t tend to fly in PG-13. Well, not if you show the blood splatter, anyway. And as befits a Dracula movie, Renfield has a LOT of blood.
Well… IS this a Dracula movie? Dracula sure is in it, but it’s a very “Nicholas Cage as Nicholas Cage as Dracula” kind of role. And after some heavy first act usage, his character more or less disappears for the second so we can follow around our protagonist in the modern world. The vampiric villain shows back up in the third act to fight our hero and his burgeoning love interest.
Speaking of that, Awkwafina is Officer Rebecca Quincy, basically portrayed as the last good cop in New Orleans and out to put the crime family who murdered her father out of business. She is continually thwarted by the police force for which she works, and she is about to be killed by Ben Schwartz’ Teddy Lobo when Renfield pops up to save her.
Awkwafina is usually the jokester for any movie she is in, but she is kind of the foil for all the lunacy going on around her. Renfield’s over-the-top adjustment to a new life, Teddy’s silly wannabe crimelord antics, and Dracula’s Nicholas Cage-ness are all there to bounce off of her [somewhat] more serious exterior.
Also, don’t expect me to say anything negative about her, because I’m a huge fan of everything she does. This movie went from “Well that looks fun” to “Well I simply have to see that opening weekend” when I saw she was in it. That’s a pre-Up for you! Bonus up!
TWO UPS AND TWO DOWNS
+I’m here for Nora From Queens, but 99% of the audience for this one is here to see Nicholas Cage playing Dracula, and I doubt they’ll be disappointed. If you saw The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent, you probably remember the “Nicky Cage” version of Cage that existed inside the actor’s head to try to push him onward to superstardom.
This performance is very much Nic letting Nicky out to play.
Cage literally Woo’s mid dialogue at least once or twice. He’s all animated facial expressions and big, BIG emotions. This is capital-A Acting. This is Cage doing a perormance where he is embracing every single Nicholas Cage meme you have ever seen. If you saw the trailers and thought “Holy crap, I need to see a full movie of Cage acting like that”, you’ll get what you want. If you saw the same trailer and were put-off by his zaniness… well, it’s not going to get a lot better for you.
+The action sequences are delightfully brutal, but it’s all very 80’s Slasher gory. So while there are gallons of blood and dismembered body parts all over the place, none of it is “gross”. This is far more Riki-Oh than Rob Zombie. It wants to have fun with its violence, not turn your stomach.
So through three acts, we get several bombastic, blood-soaked brawls. The kind of stuff that makes you chuckle when the head of a mammoth named Apache Joe goes flying. Renfield basically hits Finn Balor’s Coup De Grace on someone hanging over a railing (breaking the victim in half), and it’s disarmingly charming. And when he faces off against the mini-boss penultimate foe, we get a Fatality straight out of this century’s Mortal Kombat games.
–There’s a subplot where THE ENTIRE New Orleans PD is corrupt except for Awkwafina, and it’s wildly extraneous and not needed. You’ve already got Dracula and a powerful crime family. When the movie decided to put Rebecca and Renfield on the run from not just them but also the police? It’s a bridge too far. The movie goes from “How will the heroes survive this?” to “No one could win this scenario unless they had a screenwriter behind it all”.
Also, nothing really comes of it. The police are after them in conjunction with The Lobos, and there’s one fight scene where the couple fights off the combined forces. And that’s it. The police aspect of the story is done from there.
-There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Nicholas Hoult in this movie. He’s the star. He carries it. At no point does he detract from the film. He’s fine. He’s arguably better than fine!
But he gets overshadowed by Cage, as just about anyone on Earth was going to be. So it made me wonder why they cast such a relatively big name for the role. It feels like you could have cast virtually any actor here and the results would be the same: people leaving the theater are going to be talking about Cage (and me, trying to talk about Awkafina instead). So, I dunno, why not give a fresher face a try?
I just had a blast with this one. The story isn’t anything extravagant or anything, but the over-the-top nature of everything is the real selling point. It’s strange; this compares so easily to this year’s Dungeons And Dragons movie: a story thin on meat carried by a hell of a strong core performance and fun action. But for me? Renfield did it substantially better. Maybe I’m just a sucker for well-done comedic bombast. This shoots up to #2 (out of 23 so far) on my 2023 New Releases list!