When Colorado construction worker Gary Faulkner (Nicolas Cage) receives a message from God (Russell Brand) to travel to Pakistan and hunt down wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden, he puts his regular dialysis treatments for kidney disease on hold and prepares to sail to his destination armed with a pistol and a 40-inch sword. When he finally realizes getting to Pakistan by boat isn't exactly possible, he quickly makes alternate travel arrangements. If all of this sounds preposterous, it is. It's also very much true. Larry Charles, the filmmaker behind three pointedly hilarious Sacha Baron Cohen vehicles (2006's "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
," 2009's "Brüno
," and 2012's "The Dictator
"), brings a dryly absurdist tone to "Army of One" but precious little insight into the abrasive, unfiltered, arguably delusional protagonist at its center. At least Charles has cast an actor who is willing to dive into the role; as Gary, Nicolas Cage (2016's "Snowden
") gives his all in a positively unhinged performance, at once auspicious and irritatingly (but purposefully) screechy.
Tellingly, "Army of Man" is at its best when it's not focused on the hunt for Bin Laden. Instead, the more refreshingly honest moments are the ones between Gary and his former-classmate-turned-girlfriend Marci Mitchell (Wendi McLendon-Covey), an overworked but blessedly understanding partner caring for disabled goddaughter Lizzie (Chenoa Morison). Wendi McLendon-Covey (2016's "Hello, My Name Is Doris
") is utterly disarming as Marci, not harping on Gary but accepting him for who he is and taking most of his out-there endeavors in stride. She does, however, want someone who will emotionally be there for her and Lizzie, and their relationship is one that rings true precisely because of how unorthodox it is.
"Army of One" loses its way when the screenplay by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph (2014's "Draft Day
") edges toward broad humor and a few late fantasy sequences during Gary's repetitive Middle East travels. In narration, the film makes the claim that our lead character is not mentally ill, but exhibits no real interest in digging beneath the surface to explore who Gary Faulkner is and why he is continuously hallucinating visions of God. By choosing to instead treat his journey for laughs, director Larry Charles misses his chance to make something more than a disposable 90-minute diversion. Nicolas Cage is exceptionally committed, but his roleand the picture as a wholecries out for more depth.