There is a sad and desperate affliction plaguing middle aged Hollywood stars. I’ve come to call it “Nicolas-Cage-Itis.” NCI, as we will henceforth refer to it, strikes when an actor reaches of a level of age and stardom where they are no longer seen as viable leading men but can’t pull themselves from in front of the camera.
The dissonance between their faded place in the pop ephemera and their own perception of their pop mortality clash and a level of madness emerges that leads to making movies of questionable taste and quality. John Cusack, for one, has succumbed mightily to NCI and will in 2015 star in a film project so bereft it likely will never be seen outside of China.
Other actors look on the verge of an NCI flare up, Johnny Depp is perilously close, Keanu Reeves seems to have pulled back from the brink but still could go either way and Tom Cruise is just one batshit crazy sci-fi movie from a full blown case. Sadly, however, the most recent fully diagnosed case of NCI is Academy Award winner and all around good dude Jeff Bridges.
With his “RIPD,” “The Giver,” and “Seventh Son” triumvirate it’s clear Bridges is in the throes of a full on Nicolas-Cage-Itis breakdown. He’s already begun the ‘bizarre accents are why I make movies’ phase of the illness. Soon, he will be experimenting with his hairline and having massive tax problems.
“Seventh Son” was the final piece of the NCI diagnosis. This misbegotten YA adventure movie stars Bridges as a mystical witch hunter named Master Gregory and while you might be tempted to believe Bridges wanted to play a mystical witch hunter named Master Gregory on a lark, it’s clear he chose the role because he was allowed to speak in a manner of his choosing, something akin to Morgan Freeman without teeth.
Yes, the accent is really the only reason Bridges wanted to play Master Gregory. Any director indulgent enough to allow his star to mush mouth his way through an ostensibly teen-friendly blockbuster adventure clearly isn’t asking much of his star. No, Bridges and his star power quite clearly dominate every aspect of “Seventh Son” which means nothing too challenging and only the vaguest sense that anyone gives the slightest damn about the material.
Joining Bridges with her own mild case of NCI is Academy Award nominee Julianne Moore. Bridges’ Lady Friend from “The Big Lebowski” plays a witch that Gregory once loved, then hunted and now hunts again after she escapes from the prison he made her years before. The love story aspect is left thankfully to the willing imagination as the movie is given over to high camp vamping and the chewing of scenery.
It’s difficult to decide what is more dispiriting about “Seventh Son:” Bridges and Moore’s dull, camp excess or the abysmal love story tacked on to their teenage sidekicks. Ben Barnes Barnes and Alicia Vikander play star-crossed lovers, witch-hunter apprentice and witch, respectively, with about as much romantic chemistry as mismatched shelving units.
If you need a sense of just how invested the film is in Barnes’ apprentice character, his name is Tom Ward. Tom Ward. “Seventh Son” is set in a world of Witches, Dragons and shape shifting Bears and Leopards and they are battled by a guy named Tom. At least Gregory gets call himself ‘Master.’
“Seventh Son” is an incredibly depressing piece of work. It’s a YA adaptation, it’s dreary and lumbering with about as much wonder and excitement as a trip to the DMV. But, of course, the dreariest of the dreary is watching Jeff Bridges entertain himself. Bridges is playing an elaborate prank that’s only funny for him. He’s fully aware of how ridiculous he looks and sounds but he’s wildly entertained by it. We, on the other hand are just hurt that our hero won’t let us in on the joke.
Mr. Bridges’s case of NCI is in that hermetic stage where a selfish negation of all outside opinion leads to humiliating career decisions that the star doesn’t fully realize they’re making. NCI blinds the star from seeing how silly they look and consequently divorces them from reality enough that they take a strange pride in their own oddity.
Can Mr. Bridges recover from this devilish disease? It’s hard to say. The progenitor of NCI, Nicolas Cage Esquire, does, on occasion, allow his talent to emerge from his lunacy but seemingly only by accident. Maybe it will be by accident that we will once again see Mr. Bridges. For now, sadly, his NCI has fully overtaken his good sense and “Seventh Son” is the signifier of his full blown madness.