If only Nicolas Cage could find a home. Werner Herzog was one once (in a much more harrowing caricature of New Orleans than Zandalee). Charlie Kaufman was another. Cage’s uncle Francis (yes Coppola) could have been one had Coppola still been granted passage to his inner delirium by the time nephew Cage was already acting. As a baroque, unhinged stylist, Cage is the ideal interpreter for a subset of directors who can channel him – or unleash him with a purpose – but too often, he’s left wandering the land, ambling around like a grotesque freakshow disfigured of rhyme or reason, and not in a good way. Despite what you might think, the problem isn’t new either; it’s an age old conundrum, one that Cage has less solved than exacerbated, but rare glimmers of beauty always secrete out of his frothing mouth when it’s in full-on walking abomination mode.
In that particular phylum, one can classify Zandalee, a largely forgotten Southern-fried goof-fest equal parts chamber piece, fast-food noir, and incandescent slippery slope to the realms of deranged anti-logic. A love triangle of sorts, but better to call it a spasm triangle, this coke-fueled, virile noir-adjacent film is so ably committed to shooting itself in the foot on a minute-by-minute basis that watching it is a veritable cinematic achievement for the viewer. And the film, which seems to watch itself in cackling glee, probably with one hand in its pants too. Ruptured by its own hysteria, this sort of work comes with a side order of forced laughing gas.
The three principles are, in ascending order of importance: first, a milquetoast poet played by Judge Reinhold (if the over-heated, sloppy, sex-dripping atmosphere wasn’t already enough to timestamp the film to a period a few years around 1990), who just can’t get it up anymore, second, his wife played by Erika Anderson, ensconced in her own beauty but mortally tested by the two men who love various aspects of her, and third, the other man. The other man, of course, and the undeniable hypotenuse of our trifecta, is Cage, a sex-crazed peacock of drawling flamboyance and offbeat, free-spirit non-conformity, wearing his voice and physical features like a kaleidoscopic condom to woo everyone on screen, or at least to woo his own mind. A full flotilla of facial hair, a goatee, mustache, and even a soul patch, irreparably damage his face beyond repair, and that isn’t even covering the madness of his hair-flipping monstrosity of a do over his head. If his look wasn’t awry enough, his Elvis meets Stanley Kowalski routine of an accent is like a pastiche of Southern dialectics dug up from the grave and analyzed by an alien who then learned to speak in the tongue, while also engorging itself on particularly gooey Earth candy just for good measure.
This is around the time where the Cage persona was encrusting itself on his roles, or slathering itself all over them, and his irregularity as a person warped into a geek show for viewers. In this light, Cage’s persona taps into the batty reservoir of ferocious human nature, deeply enshrined in the beautiful artifice of performance. His outré sensuality and demented features arouse a sort of sacrilegious defiance on his part, a claim that he cannot and will not as an actor listen to your expectations for what acting ought to be. For Cage, reality is putty in his hands, a tentative irrelevancy to be degraded and manhandled rather than respected or upheld.
At points it all feels like a one-man show, with Cage’s sensationalistic, bayou-coated energy over-flaming the whole film and constraining all the oxygen. But, although it is more or less inadequate as cinema, there’s a certain brio to its horny philosophy and devil worshiping self-possession; this madness-caked film gyrates with lunacy rather than side-stepping it, and although it doesn’t require extrasensory perception to peer into its madness, the vivacity of its idiocy sure does feel like an extrasensory, almost spiritual experience from time to time. Anderson is the most bamboozled sultry vixen type you’ll ever see, and Reinhold’s accent might as well be a screen-test for playing General Stonewall Jackson. Each, in their own way, is fighting to keep Cage from turning the film into liquid around him, and the discharge between the three-way actor fight at once invokes the tortured combat of the characters and stimulates the film into a gleeful frenzy, a red-and-white striped circus tent variation on Gothic noir over-stoked into self-propagating madness. Inspiring all manners of ridicule right down to a scene where Cage, in the throes of guilt, flagellates himself by slashing all of his characters’ paintings and dousing himself in black-tar paint, Zandalee is nakedly ridiculous in the most literal sense.
Score: 2/10 (but a 9/10 in spirit)