Cage Fight! Adam Howe and Tom Leins go hair-to-hair…

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it is time for the feature that you have all been waiting for: Cage Fight!

To celebrate the release of Adam Howe’s excellent new novel Tijuana Donkey Showdown – which features an eye-popping cameo from Nicolas Cage – I invited Adam back to my blog to go head-to-head (well, hair-to-hair, really) in a no holds barred Cage-off.

We each selected five Nicolas Cage hairstyles – plus one audacious bonus hairstyle – to do battle.

The guest referee charged with prising the ragged hairpieces apart was Jordan Brown, a man who served alongside me in the DVD Monthly trenches, back when working in print media and being Nicolas Cage were both legitimate career options.

Grab a bowl of popcorn, sit back in your favourite easy chair, and enjoy some of the strangest hairstyles ever committed to film. Let battle commence.

(Adam disclaimer: For the purposes of Cage Fight, I chose to concentrate on ‘Wig-era’ Nicolas Cage. Tom opted to fight dirty. And greasy.)

ROUND 1.

ADAM HOWE:

NAME: Stanley Goodspeed

MOVIE: THE ROCK

BEST LINE: “You broke out, let me see if I can get this straight, down the incinerator chute, on the mine car, through the tunnels to the power plant, under the steam engine – that was really cool by the way – and into the cistern through the intake pipe. But how, in the name of Zeus’ BUTTHOLE! … did you get out of your cell?”

As FBI chemical weapons specialist, and self-proclaimed Beatlemaniac, Stanley Goodspeed (“But of courshe you are”), Cage’s ROCK hairpiece is, by Cage’s standards, relatively restrained; a sweaty forelock during action scenes is about as Cage-esque as it gets.  At the time of THE ROCK, Cage was an untested action hero.  Despite winning the Best Actor Oscar for LEAVING LAS VEGAS, he still lacked the star power to make outrageous hairpiece demands.  But I remain convinced that, left to his own devices, Cage would have chosen a Beatle mop-top for the character:

 

Of course, it’s quite possible that Cage’s ROCK co-star, fellow wig wearer Sir Sean Connery, who sports (count ‘em) TWO toupees in the picture – “grunge” and “regulation British military” – fearing he would be upstaged, had it written into his contract that Cage be adorned with a modest hairpiece… Nicolash, with the greatesht reshpect, ash one Oschar winner to another, I musht inshist that Shtanley Goodshpeed wearsh a conshervative hairpieshe.

Connery’s influence on Cage’s future hairpieces cannot be understated.  I like to imagine the two actors kicking back on the set, mocking Michael Bay and swapping toupee tips between scenes.  Rumor has it the gruff Scot even gave Cage the number of his personal stylist, ‘Wig Maker to the Stars’ Arturo Sasso.  After working with Connery, Cage’s hairpieces would become increasingly flamboyant.

TOM LEINS:

NAME: Cris Johnson

MOVIE: NEXT

BEST LINE: “I’ve seen every possible ending. None of them are good for you.”

Nicolas Cage’s idea of cool is never queasier than in NEXT, the 2007 thriller very loosely based on ‘The Golden Man’ by Philip K. Dick. Cage stars as Cris Johnson, a Las Vegas magician with clairvoyant powers who performs under the name ‘Frank Cadillac’. Next was released a year after the enjoyably mind-bending Dick adaptation A SCANNER DARKLY.

Suffice to say, the most mind-bending thing about this film is Cage’s hair. Receding but voluminous, short yet long, restrained yet unpredictable. It feels like Cage’s hairstylist got disillusioned halfway through working on him and left the job weirdly unfinished.

The hypnotic hairstyle arguably upstages Cage himself – it certainly upstages the lukewarm sci-fi thriller. Paired with Cage’s omnipresent tan leather jacket, it highlights Hollywood’s favourite oddball at the peak of his stylistic powers.

JORDAN’S JUDGEMENT:

THE ROCK flirted with absurdity at the best of times. Between Goodspeed’s frankly cavalier handling of the arse-clenchingly deadly chemical from the halfway mark and the aforementioned dialogue, things were clearly reined in on the hairpiece front. Allowing himself to be outdone by his co-star, Cage’s pedestrian do is as much of a surprise as Michael Bay knocking out this superb actioner.

NEXT, on the other hand, is not a superb actioner. As somehow Nic’s baffling bouffant is arguably the most interesting element in this loose Philip K. Dick adaptation, it frankly trounces its humdrum opposition. Sporting a thick, long bob that starts halfway over his head, this unashamedly daring look adequately reflects the Cagemeister’s approach to his career choices around the time. Cage does whatever the hell Cage wants – both on screen and scalp.

Adam 0 – Tom 1

 ROUND 2.

ADAM HOWE:

NAME: Cameron Poe

MOVIE: CON AIR

BEST LINE: “Why couldn’t you put the bunny back in the box?”

Cage’s CON AIR ‘do, and the actor himself, appear in TIJUANA DONKEY SHOWDOWN, so it’s only fitting to include Cameron Poe’s gnarly mullet in my list.

During Cage’s mid-90s run of action pictures (The Holy Trinity: THE ROCK, CON AIR, and FACE/OFF), such was Cage’s star power that he was permitted to sport arguably the greatest hairpiece ever committed to celluloid.  And you just know that this rug was Cage’s idea.  I suspect the actor was overcompensating after being denied his Beatlemaniac mop-top in THE ROCK.

To be a fly on the wall of the CON AIR production office!  When Cage arrived bedecked as Cameron Poe, tossed the tails of his mullet upon his shoulders and proclaimed to a stunned Jerry Bruckheimer that the wig was “true to his character.”

And talk about throwing down the gauntlet to the other actors.  After seeing Cage’s hairpiece, you think Malkovich, Rhames, Buscemi, et al, didn’t bring their A-game?  Damn right they did.  What a power play by Cage!

‘The Poe,’ as the style has become commonly known, remains a perennial favorite in barbershops across the US South.  It is especially popular with strip club bouncers.

TOM LEINS:

NAME: Johnny Collins

MOVIE: ZANDALEE

BEST LINE: “I wanna shake you naked and eat you alive…”

ZANDALEE is unusual insofar as it is one of the few Cage films that can legitimately be described as an erotic thriller. The early 90s yielded dozens of eye-catching erotic thrillers of various shapes and sizes – this is the one you have never heard off. Title character Zandalee – not Cage unfortunately, although his Southern-fried gigolo aesthetic makes you wish it was his name – ditches her dull boyfriend Thierry (Judge Reinhold, coasting on a post-BEVERLY HILLS COP II high) and enters a tempestuous world of softcore super-sex after hooking up with her charismatic old friend Johnny (Cage). Set against a smouldering New Orleans backdrop, Cage’s greasy locks ooze sex appeal – or something altogether less pleasant – throughout. While Cage’s wet-look vibe arguably represents a low in most situations, it represents a delirious high in this one.

Zandalee is mysteriously unavailable on DVD in the UK, but a cursory glance at Amazon revealed that you can get a cut-price Dutch import ‘Dubbelpack’ which pairs the movie with TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Presumably someone was drunk the day that pairing got signed off. Either that, or Dutch people find grease-soaked Nicolas Cage sex scenes weird and unsettling? Who truly knows…

(Note: Personally, I prefer to classify every Nicolas Cage movie as an erotic thriller, except maybe 8MM. That would just be weird.)

JORDAN’S JUDGEMENT:

Sure, there’s an argument to be made for Cage’s greasy Guy Fawkes look. However, in an attempt to add to ZANDALEE’S sex appeal, they went and applied this do to the one thing in the film that was already maxxed out in that regard – Cage’s folicles. The effort is impressive but is utterly dwarfed by the stylistic behemoth that is ‘The Poe’. No discussion really required on this one. Just a glimpse at Cage basking in the blistering Lerner Airfield sun with his locks blowing in the wind and it is game over for this round.

 Adam 1 – Tom 1

ROUND 3.

ADAM HOWE:

NAME: Fu Manchu

MOVIE: WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE S.S.

BEST LINE: “Ah-haHAhaHAha, ah-haHAahAHAha, ah-haHAhaHAha!!”

Such is the gusto Cage brings to his cameo in this faux movie trailer (for the ill-fated Tarantino/Rodriguez double-bill GRINDHOUSE) that it would be almost tempting to see a feature film version.

Except: Rob Zombie.

So let’s just enjoy what we have, and imagine how many movies could be improved with these simple words: “And Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu.”

TOM LEINS:

NAME: Herbert I. “Hi” McDunnough

MOVIE: RAISING ARIZONA

BEST LINE: “He explained to us that Edwina’s insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.”

As legend has it, Nic Cage offered constant suggestions to the Coen Brothers on the set of RAISING ARIZONA, all of which they ignored. The on-set tension prompted the leading man to grumble: “Joel and Ethan have a very strong vision and I’ve learned how difficult it is to accept another artist’s vision.” He may have been given short shrift in the creative department, but Cage is his own man in the hair stakes, and RAISING ARIZONA boasts one of my favourite Cage haircuts of the pre-hairpiece era.

It’s a wacky, freewheeling film, and HI’s hair is up to the task, sprouting crazily in several directions at once. The wilder the baby-stealing caper gets, the wilder Cage’s hair appears. Frankly, it is a joy to behold. Little did Cage know, he was living on borrowed time, and his luscious locks would soon be retreating forlornly, leaving him staring into the Hollywood hairpiece abyss.  Cage’s hair remains unpredictable, but for entirely different reasons.

JORDAN’S JUDGEMENT:

Awarding the victory to Cage’s Fu Manchu would seem an obvious choice were his appearance not delivered for comic effect. Quite simply, though hypnotic to look at, Cage’s Fu Manchu tries too hard. It might have squeaked a victory against say Castor Troy or Memphis Raines, but up against Hi McDunnough, it’s up against a do with almost as much acting chops as the head upon which it’s perched.

Adam 1 – Tom 2

ROUND 4:

ADAM HOWE:

NAME: Cage-san (is my best guess [Tom note: Gallain, according to IMDB!)

MOVIE: OUTCAST

BEST LINE: “Hhhiiiiiyyyaaaaa!”

OUTCAST failed to receive a wide UK release – quite inexplicably – so this is one that, to my shame, I’ve yet to see.   I don’t now if it’s “white man gone native” revisionist history along the lines of THE LAST SAMURAI, DANCES WITH WOLVES, and, uh, AVATAR, or if Cage is playing an actual, honest-to-god Samurai.  I sincerely hope it’s the latter.  Clad in flowing black robes, with a Toshiro Mifune man-bun, and apparently channeling John Belushi in Samurai Delicatessen, Cage makes a persuasive argument for “cultural appropriation.”

TOM LEINS:

Name: Eddie King

MOVIE: ARSENAL (aka SOUTHERN FURY)

BEST LINE: “Oh, you think we’re even, you and I? I know of way we can both earn what we deserve.” (I think – Cage’s drawl makes it difficult to tell.)

It stands to reason – the cheaper a film’s budget, the cheaper its hairpiece budget. Cage’s gusto is generally undimmed by the lowered expectations of his late-period material – something that deserves our respect. In ARSENAL (aka SOUTHERN FURY) he finds a ludicrous, larger-than-life hairpiece to match his knack for B-movie quirkiness.

Cage’s hairpieces usually veer on the side of wispy plausibility, but this one is defiantly unrealistic. How sweaty must his head have been under that synthetic monstrosity? Chuck in a hideous fake moustache – which literally looks like it has been scraped out of a barrel – and you have a genuinely distracting Cage appearance.

Weirdly, it has been suggested that Cage’s Eddie King character is actually the same character who appeared in 1993’s critically mauled DEADFALL. The idea that Cage is actively pursuing follow-up projects to some of his worst movies – based solely on hairpiece potential – fills me with a queasy, uneasy kind of joy. What a man. What a career.

JORDAN’S JUDGEMENT:

ARSENAL’S audacious ‘tache-hairpiece combo renders Cage as the lovechild of Ned Flanders and Anton Chigurh. Looking like it was fished out of a mannequin factory’s wheelie bin, this polyester audacity is enough to leave even the most ardent Cage aficionado scraping their jaw off the floor. Even in still images, this monstrosity looks utterly independent of Nicolas’ bonce.

Top-knots are rarely acceptable. In fact, pretty much the only instance in which they are allowed is when wielded by a samurai or shogun. Cage’s piece in OUTCAST is therefore permissible as it so strictly adheres to historical accuracy (as I’m sure the rest of the film does). Not only that, this one’s got a bit of ‘The Poe’ about it, which is always going to garner some kudos. Overall it’s hardly a classic design but, up against a toupe that looks like it was made by Vileda, it snags the victory.

Adam 2 – Tom 2

ROUND 5.

ADAM HOWE:

NAME: David Spritz (ugh!)

MOVIE: THE WEATHERMAN

BEST LINE: “It’s my real hair.”

Another one I haven’t seen… But can you blame me?  Look at that thing!  About his hairpieces, Cage has been quoted as saying: “Sometimes people think I’m wearing a wig when I’m not wearing a wig, and then sometimes they think I’m not wearing a wig when I am wearing a wig.”  Well, this monstrosity isn’t fooling anyone.  Chestnut brown, with an age-inappropriate boyish floppy fringe; it’s a style that says Just-Plain-Nic.  If this guy was your weatherman, you’d kick a hole in your TV.  For my money, this is even more outrageous than Cage’s CON AIR ‘do, and it is no coincidence that Cage’s star began to wane after THE WEATHERMAN.

TOM LEINS:

Name: Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman.

MOVIE: Adaptation

BEST LINE: “Do I have an original thought in my head? My bald head. Maybe if I were happier, my hair wouldn’t be falling out. Life is short. I need to make the most of it. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I’m a walking cliché.”

ADAPTATION offers a glorious two-for-one, with Nicolas Cage playing celebrated screenwriter Charlie Kaufman – and his fictitious twin brother Donald. Granted, both hairstyles are exactly the same, but when Cage is rocking a receding afro – twice – you know you have hit fake-hair pay-dirt. Nothing says self-loathing, sexually frustrated writer like a receding afro, and Cage wears the hairpiece with gusto. Frankly, the Kaufman wig is so strange that it appears hypnotic.

Reassuringly, Cage is also said to be wearing a fat-suit under his sweater-and-slacks combo. This isn’t an obese Eddie Murphy-style fat-suit, this is a plausible, slim-line fat-suit. People often joke that Cage has hit rock bottom, but I would beg to differ. As soon as he starts reaching for the proper BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE-style fat suits, that will be rock bottom. Who knows, if the lure of the straight-to-DVD thriller starts to wear thin, maybe one day we might be compiling tongue-in-cheek features comparing Cage’s finest fat suits…

 JORDAN’S JUDGEMENT:

Adam’s right on the money here. Each shot of this film looks like he’s thinking “Are they buying it?” No, Nic. Nobody’s cashing that cheque. Utter. Wispy. Rubbish.

While Cage proudly sported follicular mayhem in Next, here he’s looking deeply uncomfortable trying to conform to societal standards of hair dos. Gore Verbinski should be ashamed of himself for trying to ram a square peg in a round hole. Like Mark Wahlberg’s character in THE OTHER GUYS, Cage is a hairpiece peacock – you’ve gotta let him fly. It genuinely saddens me to see this great man looking like a melancholy terrier chained outside in the rain.

Obviously then, the anarchy atop his noggin in ADAPTATION bulldozes over the competition. Smacking of Thurman Merman’s superbly curly locks in BAD SANTA, this receding, balding ‘fro is where Cage is in his element and, as Tom says, we get it twice thanks to him playing both Charlie Kaufmann and his made-up sibling. This bold look allowed Cage to chew through scenery as two characters. He looks comfortable, animated and…well…Cage-esque. It’s an easy win.

Adam 2 – Tom 3

BONUS ROUND.

ADAM HOWE:

NAME: Stanley Hill

MOVIE: I AM WRATH

BEST LINE: “All I wanted in the world was to be a Catholic priest…”

Cage was once attached to star in revenge-thriller I AM WRATH, later to be replaced by syrup-sporting Scientologist, and Cage’s FACE/OFF co-star, John Travolta.  I admit to a ghoulish fascination in watching fallen A-list stars flounder in Direct-to-Video dog-shit like I AM WRATH.  In fact, it’s become something of an endurance sport.  Usually I last no more than 15 minutes before changing the channel.  But Travolta’s WRATH rug held me rapt throughout.  I can only assume that this was the hairpiece assigned to Cage, and Travolta simply took the toupee along with the role; how else to explain the poor fit?  I was pleasantly reminded of the character Joe Pesci played in Oliver Stone’s JFK, Kennedy conspirator and alopecia sufferer, David Ferrie.  For the hairpiece alone, I heartily endorse I AM WRATH to bad movie enthusiasts.

TOM LEINS:

NAME: Superman

MOVIE: SUPERMAN LIVES

BEST LINE: N/A

In a nutshell: Superman-as-rock-star!

SUPERMAN LIVES, Tim Burton’s intended reboot of the Superman film series was cancelled only three weeks before filming was set to begin in April 1998, with Nic Cage in the lead role. In many ways it is easy to guess how a Tim Burton Superman movie would have panned out:  Helena Bonham-Carter as Lois Lane, Johnny Depp as Lex Luthor, kookiness dialed up to 11. Cage – and his high-impact post-CON-AIR flowing locks would have given the film an edge of genuine unpredictability.

I would have especially loved to have seen long-haired Superman in Clark Kent mode. Cage’s Superman is not a man who would gladly hold down a low-paying media job in order to blend in with society. Cage makes headlines – he doesn’t write them. Sadly, Cage never got to slip into the Man of Steel’s trunks, and the men who did – Brandon Routh and Henry Cavill – probably couldn’t pick one another out of a line-up. If we can have a world-weary Batman, I’m sure we can have a world-weary Superman – preferably one with tax problems and long, synthetic hair.

JORDAN’S JUDGEMENT:

I’m a massive fan of Superman and here, I’d love to heartily award the spoils of victory to Superman Lives. However, Cage’s Kal-El is a whole new flavor of wrong. While Tim Burton’s styleset was ideally suited to the Caped Crusader, Superman remains too iconic to mess with like this. Where Batman benefitted (well, mostly benefitted) from many different interpretations, Superman has barely changed since he first graced the cover of Action Comics. While it would be impossible to look away from a Cagey portrayal of Krypton’s last son, Supes needs to be Supes – and the requirements are too restrictive for a man of his acting calibre. Cage is at his best when unhinged – which is why everybody loves the Ghost Rider movies so much.

While it would have been interesting to see SUPERMAN LIVES, the hair just isn’t on. While Clark Kent has sported his fair share of styles in the comics, on screen it needs to be a side parting and, if you’re sticking to the Reeve series, a forehead curl. Maybe the style could have worked alone, but paired with Cage, it’s just too much.

As a result, I can’t award it heartily, I have to do so grudgingly as it wins simply by virtue of not being a hand-me-down for John Travolta. Adam’s entry into the bonus round is disqualified due to instilling a longing for that very hair to be on the head of Nicolas Cage.

 FINAL SCORECARD:

 Adam 2 – Tom 4

 

 

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