Nicolas Cage‘s best friend is a solid director. Too often lately, Cage is given totally free reign in throwaway genre fare and his wild side goes into overdrive. Directors like David Gordon Green with “Joe” and now Brian Taylor (of Neveldine and Taylor fame) with “Mom and Dad” harness his energy. Doing so allows his insanity to fuel a film, instead of overwhelming it. This horror comedy utilizes him to its great benefit. The movie is already a riot without him, but Cage’s lunacy just elevates it to a ridiculous level. “Mom and Dad” is absolutely insane, and that’s meant as a compliment.
Cage is a long way removed from winning an Academy Award for “Leaving Las Vegas,” that much is for certain. Too often, he’s wasting his talents in nonsense, but this sort of throwback movie has invigorated him. He’s as mad as ever, but within the framework of something that actually has a reason for his madness. Kudos to Taylor for coming up with something of this sort. Arming the film with Cage just raises the bar. It’s impossible to love horror comedies and not find this to be a really good time.
Essentially, this is a new take on the zombie genre. The film starts off fairly innocuously, introducing us to the Ryan family. There’s father Brent (Cage), mother Kendall (Selma Blair), teen daughter Carly (Anne Winters), and younger son Josh (Zackary Arthur). They have an average sort of suburban life, with the regular tensions brewing. Brent and Kendall squabble, Carly steals, and the elder Ryans seem to resent the younger ones. Then, without warning, the world takes those problems and manifests them in a really larger way.
Inexplicably, parents all over the globe begin murdering their children. Josh watches the housekeeper off her daughter. Kendall’s sister gives birth and immediately attempts to smother the baby. Carly and her boyfriend Damon (Robert T. Cunningham) escape a school overrun by parental units killing teens. They seek safety in her home, along with Josh, though when Brent and Kendall come home, a deadly game of cat and mouse begins. All the while, we get some flashbacks to flesh out the characters, but really, this becomes a psychotic hybrid of “28 Days Later” and “Home Alone.”
Casting Nicolas Cage is both the best and worst thing that could have happened to this flick. The latter just because so often, Cage has appeared in garbage recently (or totally unseen things like “Army of One“), so there could be a bias against it. On the flip side, harnessing his energy has helped take this to a whole other level. Cage chews the scenery, spits it out, and then swallows it whole. The thing is, he’s doing it in a movie where that’s absolutely appropriate. When Cage singing the Hokey Pokey while wielding a sledgehammer is one of the less crazy things in a film, letting the actor do his thing is totally justified.
Besides Cage, the cast is solid, yet unspectacular. Selma Blair gets more to do than Cage, who’s essentially a supporting player, and she doesn’t disappoint. Some of her dramatic beats are a little over the top, but over the top is par for the course. If there’s a protagonist, it’s Anne Winters, though unfortunately she’s a pretty bland character. Winters does what she can, but there’s not a whole lot there. Zackary Arthur is slightly annoying, while Robert T. Cunningham has almost nothing to do. Supporting performers include Olivia Crocicchia, while there’s a juicy cameo by Lance Henriksen that I won’t spoil.
Filmmaker Brian Taylor is no strange to cinematic insanity. Both “Crank” and its sequel were co-directed by him, and this outing goes a similar zero to 60 once the proverbial shit hits the fan. “Mom and Dad” does a great job just setting up a premise and running with it, though when Taylor’s script opts to get into family drama, it’s not quite as deliciously fun. Still, his direction is strong, and actually shows occasional restraint, gore wise. If there was an initial cut with more violence, it probably would have gotten an NC-17. Even with said restraint, this film goes there.
This is the type of movie that we don’t see enough of anymore. “Mom and Dad” is a fun genre outing that would be perfect for a drive in. If you’re a Cage fan, this toes the line between his unquestionably strong turns and his fun performances in lesser fare. He’s still going full Cage, but the quality of the film is better than what he often chooses of late. If you’re not offended by the premise of parents going on a zombie killing spree with their children as the victims, then “Mom and Dad” is right up your alley.