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Review: Southern Fury

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It is and old English idiom that states, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Coined in relation to journalism and publicity, it seems therefore appropriate that to effectively communicate a shrewd 1,000-word review of the bloody and derivative thriller Southern Fury (Arsenal in the US), I’d be tempted to post any one of the promotional images of Nicolas Cage and leave it at that. But that would be too easy. With a fake moustache peeling at each end, a ridiculous toupee and a baffling prosthetic nose, this image merely personifies the assortment of bad decisions that make-up the film. Cage’s unhinged supporting performance as emotionally-unstable crime boss Eddie King steals the film for felonious reason. Not only does it leave the viewer gawking and laughing in incredulity, it is professional self-plagiarism – an explicit resurrection and unfortunate footnote of the same performance Cage delivered in Deadfall (1993), one we need not witness again (anyone who has ever seen the video  ‘Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit’ will recognise it as the one in which he loses his shit most). Yet, this performance remains the most entertaining, and certainly the most memorable, part of this otherwise tedious feature film.

When not curling your toes at Cage’s botch antics, the film is sub-standard crime caper fare with a mawkish message about brotherly loyalty. Set in the crime-infested Deep South, Adrian Grenier plays JP, the protagonist younger brother in the film. He is the straight and narrow American, with a prosperous construction company and a wife in thraldom who keeps the house looking pretty – “Mr Entrepreneur, living the blue collar American dream,” as King mockingly refers to him. Johnathan Schaech is the brother strayed from God’s path; Mikey is all brawn, frequently in trouble with both sides of the law, financially irresponsible, divorced, but, deep down, a good guy and a loyal brother. Tested by their socio-economic divide and a dastardly kidnapping scheme concocted by King, the two brothers go through the necessary trials and tribulations in order re-assert their loyalty to each other and stop a crime lord in the process.

The narrative is typically redemptive and religiously-inflicted, but rather than explore the notion of sacrifice as redemption, as is the case with Cage’s previous (and far superior) Southern Gothic film,  Joe (2015), here the brothers must adopt the traits of each other and deliver Southern justice (i.e. punitive and most certainly capital). Polo-top wearer JP must learn his way around a shotgun, mock vegetarians, and wrestle his wife into vigorous kitchen sex before he does battle. His is a process of masculinisation. Mikey must sand the rough edges of his excessive mannishness and violent, drug-addled ways by…temporarily becoming violent, but learning in the process. He must also find God, a useful tool in a hilarious scene when, upon request, the Lord seemingly provides Mikey with the necessary screw to escape from confinement and unleash retributive fury. John Cusack’s role as a cop with connections on both sides of the blue line is not as outlandish as Cage’s but just as lazy. Persistently wearing a black bandanna around his head and aviators around his eyes, the character resembles a middle-aged ninja aspirant rather than an adroit cop; Cusack’s posturing, unpersuasive delivery of tough-as-nails cop dialogue and slipshod caricature borders on macho parody. Even the violence is executed with pathetic indulgence, done in lugubrious slow-motion and as a shameful reproduction of the far superior macho action film, Dredd (2012). Naturally, this masculinist discourse puts women in the back-seat as the nit-picking hindrance, and the only black character in the film is a crack user seeking to corrupt Mikey’s innocent white daughter. Fortunately, the film is too boring to convey offense. Shot with some sub-par crummy cinematography that an Instagram user would hesitate to post and scored rudimentarily with a TV-style soundtrack, this has direct-to-video plastered all over it.

A counterfeit David Ayer (End of Watch, Sabotage, Fury, Suicide Squad) if ever there was one, director Steven C. Miller is doing little to impress. He s unsurprisingly prolific, with two more films lined up this year entitled The Damaged and First Kill. Tonal consistency does not seem to enter the equation as a filmmaking concern; his evident lack of control over his big-name actors leaves them to wander into impulsive zones, enjoying themselves as they wait for the pay-check to slide through the letterbox. For a film about love and redemption, the irony of its comprehensive lack of such qualities fails to allude.

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