Director: Dominic Sena
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy
What a bizarre actor Nicolas Cage is. Fifteen years ago, he won an Oscar for his superlative turn as an alcoholic, self-destructive screenwriter in Leaving Las Vegas, a performance that ushered him into the mainstream after early cult films such as Raising Arizona and Wild at Heart. Then came his action-hero phrase - a three-strike hit of The Rock, Con Air and Face/Off that elevated him to the A-list and his pay packet to $20 million (Dh73.4m) per picture.
Yet the past decade has been a positively surreal ride for Cage, marked by the occasional high (his twin screenwriters in Adaptation) and a series of increasingly regular lows. From the appalling remakes of The Wicker Man and Bangkok Dangerous to B-movie blunders such as Knowing and Next, Cage's choices have become increasingly misguided. Couple this with his acting style - so overblown, he makes Al Pacino look restrained - and his recent career has all the finesse of a dancing rhino.
That said, after Kick-Ass,Bad Lieutenant (where his collaboration with Werner Herzog was magnificently bonkers) and even The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Cage has had a decent 12 months. So Season of the Witch will come as a disappointment to fans praying for an end to his erratic on-screen antics. A nonsensical mediaeval thriller, one that feels that it's been drastically reshaped in the editing room, it belongs to the actor's ever-growing array of putrid potboilers.
Reuniting Cage with his Gone in Sixty Seconds director Dominic Sena, this odious 14th-century odyssey sees Cage and Ron Perlman play Behman and Felson, two knights entrusted to transport a suspected witch (Claire Foy) to a remote abbey. There, monks will perform a ritual upon her in the hope of ridding the land of the Black Plague.
Accompanying them are a posse of pals, including the Liverpool-born Stephen Graham's "spineless scoundrel" (sounding bizarrely like Woody Allen) and the rising British star Robert Sheehan as an altar boy who dreams of becoming a knight. Obstacles include poorly rendered CGI wolves and a rickety bridge, in what proves the film's only decent set-piece as our heroes try to cross it before it collapses.
The story hinges on whether Foy's character is a witch or not. And, to be fair, the actress best known for playing the lead in the 2008 BBC version of Little Dorrit gives a spirited turn, investing far more energy into her underwritten role than it merits. In truth, Cage offers one of his more understated performances, forging a decent enough double act with Perlman. And there's even a chance for Christopher Lee to ham it up for a brief cameo.
Problem is, aside from the great Halloween make-up - for just about every extra is covered in boils, warts and pustules - Season of the Witch is about as much fun as dysentery. The special effects are second-rate, the twist mundane and the dialogue shocking ("we're gonna need more holy water" is a wonderful example). All of which would be fine if the film went for camp-B movie territory, but this takes itself way too seriously. Dispiriting stuff - and another blot on the Cage copybook.