rating: 1.5Hot off the heels of critical and commercial success with The Expendables 2, the ever-inconsistent Simon West keeps true to form by reverting his talents to a glorified straight-to-video thriller in Stolen. Despite starring reliable profit-turner Nicolas Cage, the film was released in a whopping 141 US cinemas over 6 months ago, where it recouped merely $300k of its $35m budget. That says it all, really. Nicolas Cage returns to New Orleans, though this time isn't playing a bad lieutenant; rather, he's a good criminal, a Credence Clearwater Revival-loving master thief by the name of Will Montgomery, who ends up doing an 8-year prison stint when one job doesn't go as planned. However, the $10m he stole during that heist has never materialised, and upon release, the detective who put him behind bars (Danny Huston) is convinced that sooner or later, Will is going to lead him to its location. However, Will genuinely doesn't have access to the cash, yet when a former associate from that botched heist turns up alive having been thought long-dead (Josh Lucas) and takes Will's daughter (Sami Gayle) hostage, Will has to come up with the dough to save her life. The problem with Stolen is that it's hard to know what writer David Guggenheim is trying to achieve half the time; the cheeseball dialogue is groan inducing ("I'm as ready to rock as Riley's diaphragm!") and the narrative as a whole is enormously contrived to the extent of feeling like an insult. It's all at the expense of not only the audience, but perhaps most tragically Cage, a talented actor whose seemingly interminable tax bill causes him to accept just about every role going. The movie is totally ridiculous, skipping over logic with a gleeful enthusiasm that does admittedly raise a few chuckles, though on the whole, the project is just blandly unoriginal, a portmanteau of the plots from both Arnold Schwarznegger's campy 80s classic Commando, and the more recent Liam Neeson vehicle Taken (with a title that sounds suspiciously similar to the latter also). Like the former film, Stolen sports a classically awful villain who is impossible to take seriously; the jury's still out on how self-aware Josh Lucas' performance in this film is, but playing a greasy-haired, tattooed, peg-legged scumbag (he literally walks around with a metal peg-leg), he's more a figure of derision than menace.
West's action direction is passable for the most part - the smoothly-shot car chases are the highlight - though it lacks the pep of his usually more energetic style. However, the real problem is a tonal inconsistency that cuts right through the entire film; it's all f-bombs and gritty violence one minute, before switching gears to lame wise-cracks and a goofy, jazzy spy thriller score the next. This makes it extremely difficult to truly discern what we're meant to be laughing at and what's just tragically risible. The entire supporting cast - aside from Malin Akerman, ably playing Will's fresh-faced, charming partner in crime - are meanwhile completely wasted, and like their troubled lead, seem to be collecting an easy pay-day. Though this isn't quite rock-bottom for Nicolas Cage, that's hardly saying much these days. Stolen is in UK cinemas Friday.