Cage Match

Nic Cage is irresponsible around trains in this World War II–era film.

Racing With the Moon
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Racing With the Moon

Release year: 1984 Posted January 5, 2014

“Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”

Johnny Castle, Dirty Dancing

Racing With the Moon, cliched and formulaic, is our first look at Nicolas Cage as a supporting actor. It’s odd for the job of driving the movie forward not to fall to him, but he does great work. Watching Cage embrace this character, the less mature sidekick to Sean Penn’s brooding and centered leading man, was a refreshing break. Knowing the future careers of the actors made it even better.

Nic is unrestrained in his rambunctious portrayal of—as IMDB credits him—“Nicky/Bud.” He’s the guy from high school who was a fun train wreck. His impending departure to fight in World War II gives the story an underlying sense of impermanence and unspoken tension, which is a perfect cover for Cage’s manic acting tendencies. He seems appropriately wired for the given situation.

Nic is also a quality foil for Sean Penn. You can only look at Sean Penn’s face for so long before he starts to resemble an Easter Island statue. Nic’s levity and expressiveness do a lot to disrupt that monotony. He rolls with the adolescent punches, pool hustling, getting his girlfriend pregnant, and getting laughed at by an old man for being drunk. He’s surprisingly believable. Ultimately, completely-out-of-touch Nic Cage is more appealing, but this works, and he does a great job.

The movie itself is terrible. It has every stereotypical World War II moment, including leaving for war on the wooden platform of an old train station while your family and your dame cry, and every stereotypical delinquent mid-century teen moment, including a supporting character needing $2,000 in today’s money for an abortion. There’s even some upstairs/downstairs class-based conflict. Come to think of it, it’s the plot of Dirty Dancing, but reordered, set twenty years earlier, and stripped of all the good music and sexy dancing.

Nic Cage and Sean Penn’s characters working in a bowling alley, manually setting up the pins between frames, could have been an entertaining plot point but disappointed. I may have been spoiled by The Big Lebowski, but Racing With the Moon sucks at bowling alley filmmaking. If the writer intended bowling to be a metaphor for the tension and uncertainty in the lead-up to deployment, the director and cinematographer did a terrible job of showing it.

Racing With the Moon covers well worn ground, trodden by better actors, writers, and directors, both before and after its release. There’s very little heart and tons of Hollywood. I wouldn’t recommend it, as there are better war movies, coming-of-age movies, forbidden love movies, and movies set in the 1940s than this could ever be. This is a movie you’d put on because you’re snowed in and have nothing better to do, or because you want to see Elizabeth McGovern’s exposed teats. Yep. They’re there. Floating in a lake, like discarded meat.

On a personal note, as of this article, I have watched and written about a little over one-fourth of all Cage films released to date. Thanks for reading—and if you’re just joining, welcome! Here’s to 2014 and a Cageful year.

Movie?
Bad
Nic Cage’s acting?
Good
Did his performance make the movie worse?
Nope! But seriously, don’t watch this movie