These days, two things practically never happen with a movie starring Nicolas Cage: 1) we see his real hairline; 2) it’s actually a good film. Online movie gossip claims Cage is knee-deep in financial trouble, which is why he’s been working like a slave, apparently on anything, for the past decade or so. This year alone Cage has already starred in five movies, two of which are awaiting release or heading straight to the DVD pile. The man is prolific, but not very selective — he seems to be a dedicated follower of the “Just Do It” motto, results be damned.

“The Trust,” however, is a different story. For the first time in a long time, Cage seems relaxed, in his element and performing like he cares about the outcome. This is intriguing, since Cage plays a cop who’s so bland and non-descript he may as well be a stain on the wall in a storage room that no one ever visits. Women look straight through him as if he were invisible.

Jim Stone (Cage) works in the evidence section of the Las Vegas Police Department with just one underling, David Waters (Elijah Wood). Their daily routine is an exercise in boredom. Walters is just as ignored by the world as Stone but being younger, he thinks he’s better and views his boss with a mixture of pity and contempt.

The Trust (Dirty Cop)
Run Time 92 mins
Language English
Opens AUG. 20

Directors Alex and Benjamin Brewer (this is their debut feature after a career in music videos) allow us to get to know Jim and David, to hang out in their company and understand why it is that people pass them over. It’s not because these two are the usual, shy and/or sweet introverts of mainstream cinema. They are, put simply in one word, creepy.

But in the movies even creeps can get a break, and Jim thinks he finds one when he discovers an anomaly in a drug-bust evidence report that’s otherwise above board. Jim digs around a little and his investigations lead him to a dingy, backstreet grocery store that he happens to think has a mysteriously massive vault built in the back. So he decides to find out what is in the vault and if it’s valuable enough, take it. He ropes in the reluctant David as a partner in a complicated heist, and from this point on “The Trust” starts to look like “Ocean’s Eleven” minus nine members, much of the glamor and conducted on a really bad day.

Also, unlike “Ocean’s Eleven,” the Jim-David team-up is not endearing, smart or sexy. Together, the two emit an ambience close to that of the basement section of a 24-hour supermarket, lit by faulty fluorescent lights at 2 a.m. and reeking of bug repellent. Both Cage and Wood, though, seem to relish their roles, especially Wood, whose career has swerved from beguiling child star to “Lord of the Rings” frontman to a staple of the murder and mayhem genre. The transition may have seemed pretty seamless but Wood, like Cage, has also appeared in a sizeable number of duds — including the regrettable “Cooties,” released in the U.S. last year — showing how difficult it is for a capable actor to keep doing what he does in the way that he wants to.

In that respect, “The Trust” is a vehicle that works for both Cage and Wood. The Brewer brothers must have seen what could be done with the pair’s unlikely chemistry and the strange, murky darkness and black humor that emerges from it. Jim and David face each other in some truly lurid scenes, spout some memorably weird lines (David: “I think that guy’s getting a handjob. He’s still eating so it’s hard to tell.”) and traipse around a Las Vegas that hasn’t looked this exotically dangerous since 1995’s”Leaving Las Vegas,” which incidentally earned Cage a best actor award.

As an additional bonus, we get to see Jerry Lewis as Jim’s dad — another brilliant stroke of casting. Sky Ferreira also makes an appearance as the obligatory mystery woman, but her presence is almost superfluous.

The boys, it seems, are having too much fun on their own.

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