Prisoners of the Ghostland
When does an actor "jump the shark?" Is it when they begin appearing in lame commercials for EZ loans and Cup of Pizza-type gimmick eateries? Is it when they get caught in a scandal, sex or otherwise? Is it when they try to create attention for themselves by writing a tell-all book that promises to "reveal everything."
In the case of actor Nicolas Cage, it might be when the positive quote promoting the film is by the star himself.
"The Wildest Movie I've Ever Made." -Nicolas Cage
Cage has made an impressive career for himself. If anyone wants to talk any trash about how he's in a new movie every two weeks, he can easily knock them upside their head with the Oscar he was deservedly awarded for 1996's Leaving Las Vegas.
Younger moviegoers know him mostly by the multitude of memes and GIFs that feature Cage, never going back into his career to enjoy Valley Girl (1983), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Raising Arizona (1987), Moonstruck (1987) or even his small part in Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982).
Throughout the 90's he was an A-lister, rising in the ranks as a must-see action star in such films as The Rock (1996), Con Air (1997) and Face/Off (1997), and then later Kick-Ass (2010) and Drive Angry (2011).
He hasn't slowed down. His IMDb entry includes more than a hundred acting credits, many of those credits from the last ten years unknown to many Cage fans. In 2018, however, Cage caught my attention again with the darkly fun, fast moving 2017 horror thriller Mom and Dad. Since then, more and more of his films have been catching my attention and whatever they may be, they are entertaining. Mandy (2018), Color Out of Space (2019), Jiu Jitsu (2020), and WIlly's Wonderland (2021) being a favorite. (I have yet to watch 2021's Pig.)
Now we get to Prisoners of the Ghostland. The DVD cover includes the abovementioned Cage quote. Since Cage is the only actor to successfully pull off the fashion no-no of wearing a tee-shirt with your own face on it, I have to assume he knows what he's talking about here.
Cage is Hero, a criminal brought to a quarantined zone where everyone wanders around like rejects from a Enzo Castellari post-apoc flick. The Governor (played by Bill Moseley) wants Hero to go into the Ghostland- a wasteland for the spirits of the dead, I think- and find his "niece." "Niece" is in quotes because this guy has a whole gaggle of "nieces" and I think it's safe to say none of them are really related to him.
Cage sets out to find Bernice (played by Sofia Boutella) and does what he can to help the spirits get time ticking again. Crusty toxic mutants lead by his former partner Psycho (played by Nick Cassavetes under a lot of really good make-up) keep crashing Hero's plans.
Director Sion Sono has delivered a movie that looks magnificent. It is a throwback to the dead cities that populated the post-apocalypse actions movies after the success of Mad Max and then The Road Warrior. (Parts of it called to mind Albert Pyun's Cyborg (1989).)
There are some great moments of action and swordplay, a couple funny lines and Cage is pretty much Cage throughout. Prisoners of the Ghostland benefits from really impressive visuals, however, the narrative sputters a bit from time to time. I think you will get more from it if you don't get hung up on linear thinking and watch it as if it is a dream.
Is it the wildest movie Nic Cage has ever made? That's hard to say. Is there anything like the scene where he drinks out of the skull of his enemy at the end of Drive Angry? Does anything top his crank-sniffing, chainsaw-toting vengeance spree in Mandy? Is there any shock that out ranks the roach eating in Vampire's Kiss?
I think the answer to that question depends on what Nic Cage films you have seen and what you consider "wild."