Rating: * * (out of 5)
Director: Nicholas Cage
Running time: 110 minutes
Language: English
Currently showing
[See Japan Times movie listings]

There was a time when one could relish seeing Nicholas Cage's name in a film's credits, a fertile period that encompassed 1991's "Wild at Heart," his notorious cockroach-eating villain in "Kiss of Death" ('95), and his Oscar-winning role as a suicidal alcoholic in "Leaving Las Vegas" ('96). But aside from last year's rare return to form in "Adaptation," Cage has largely coasted, chewing up the scenery in what verges on self-parody in films like "Snake Eyes," "Wind Talkers," "Gone in 60 Seconds" and "Con Air."

With his directorial debut, "Sonny," it's tempting to think that Cage has returned to his roots, that he's bought his freedom to make edgy, performance-driven films with his salaries from the blockbusters. Well, let's just say he has and he hasn't: "Sonny" would never be mistaken for a Hollywood product, and Cage has peopled it with actors who exude an authentic presence -- Harry Dean Stanton, Brenda Blethyn, Seymour Cassel and Mena Suvari. But the "roots" Cage seems to have returned to are those of one of his most dismal flops, "Zandalee" ('91), an "erotic thriller" that's rarely listed in the actor's filmography.

Like "Zandalee," "Sonny" is set against a louche New Orleans backdrop, with plenty of room for humid sexual dalliances and dodgy Southern accents, a combination that seems irresistible to Cage. And, like "Zandalee," it's a film undone by its screenplay, one which rings about as true as a Bush Cabinet official testifying under oath. "Sonny" takes us down New Orleans' seedy Bourbon St., past its "bottomless, topless" bars, where a young man just out of the army is returning home.