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Primal (2019)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Ship For Fools"
2 stars

At this point in time, the relentlessly prolific filmography of Nicolas Cage can be roughly broken down into three key sections. There are the occasional films that are a little more ambitious than usual and/or offer him unique challenges for his still-considerable skill set as an actor—these would include films ranging from the intense drama “Joe” to the legitimately jaw-dropping revenge thriller “Mandy.” There are the junk films that he seems to select almost at random and which he delivers the barest amount of effort required to earn his paycheck—you and I could each select a dozen or so titles fitting this particular bill and there is an excellent chance that the lists would be almost entirely different from each other. Then there are the films containing premises that are so screwy and beyond the pale from a conceptual standpoint that you pretty much know that they are Nicolas Cage movies even before you know that they are Nicolas Cage movies. “Primal” definitely falls into the latter category, though this is one of the unfortunate examples where so much energy evidently went into devising the admittedly nutball premise that there was virtually nothing left in the tank when it came time for the pesky task of executing it.

Cage plays Frank Walsh, a two-fisted, grizzled big-game hunter who specializes in trapping rarer creatures and selling them to the highest bidder, regardless of pesky legalities. As the story opens, he hits the jackpot in the Brazilian jungle when he manages to snare an incredibly rare white jaguar—dubbed the Ghost Cat by superstitious locals—and loads it and the rest of his prizes (including face-ripping monkeys, super-poisonous snakes and the like) on a cargo ship bound for Puerto Rico and a massive payday. Just before the boat leaves, another piece of dangerous cargo comes on board in the form of Richard Loffler (Kevin Durand), a government-trained killer gone rogue being brought back to the U.S. to stand trial for countless crimes under the accompaniment of numerous U.S. Marshalls, a government weasel (Michael Imperioli) and Navy neurologist Dr. Ellen Taylor (Famke Janssen), who is on hand to tend to the medical issue that explains (none too convincingly) why Loffler is being sent back in this manner.

Although kept in a cage and under constant guard, Loffler proves to be smarter than his captors (not that difficult under the circumstances) and before too long, he manages to get loose and begins to wreak havoc on the ship. He starts killing both the guards and crew members with ease, he trashes all but one of the lifeboats, dumps the fresh water supply, reroutes the ship and disrupts all communications with the outside world. As an added bonus, he decides to let all of Frank’s dangerous animals go free to roam the boat as well so that they can attack those that he can’t get around to killing personally. This leads to an inevitable cat-and-mouse pursuit between Frank and Loffler—okay, a cat-and-mouse-and-face-ripping-monkey-and-poisonous-snake pursuit, to be more specific—that seems designed to answer the question “What would happen if someone decided to do a mashup of “Under Siege” and the old “Mutual of Omaha” show with Marlin Perkins?”

Obviously no sane and sober person is going to stumble upon “Primal” expecting anything even vaguely resembling art—this has clearly been designed to be nothing more than junk-food cinema hopefully offering viewers tasty empty calories in exchange for 90 minutes worth of dead brain cells. Even on that level, however, the film turns up painfully short. On paper, the idea of Nicolas Cage tapped at sea on a boat overrun by deadly animals has a weirdo appeal to it that suggests a potentially prime bit of cheesy fun. And yet, whether out of laziness or a last-minute realization by the filmmakers that they could not actually execute such a premise (a possibility suggested by some supremely dodgy CGI), the animals-run-wild element is too often cast to the side for long stretches of time in order to focus more on the far less exciting human killer angle that reduces the film from being perhaps the most deranged “Die Hard” knockoff ever conceived to being just another “Die Hard” knockoff. Even on that reduced level, the film doesn’t work due to a combination of a hackneyed storyline (which also includes such elements as a cute kid, a sass-talking parrot and wildly unconvincing banter between Frank and the Navy doctor that suggests what “The African Queen” might have been like if it had been crap), lackluster visuals and tepid action sequences, including a couple of fight scenes that have been staged so unconvincingly that they make the brawls in “Dolemite” look like the greatest hits of Walter Hill by comparison. (The latter element is especially odd since director Nicholas Powell is a former stunt coordinator.). At its absolute best, “Primal” is never more than blandly efficient and it is very rarely at any level that one could consider to be “the best.”

That pretty much goes for Cage as well. Though he does have a couple of extra-colorful line readings to perk things up a bit here and there, this is not one of the more inspired turns that he has delivered through the course of his admittedly singular career. Most of the time, he just goes through the motions while coming across as more annoyed than anything else. Maybe he too was expecting to be in an extra-crazy Cage classic, only to find out that he was stuck in the middle of a largely middling shipboard thriller instead. Put it this way—whatever kind of movie you conjured up in your mind when you first heard the basic premise of “Primal,” it is almost certainly better than the actual end result.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=33413&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/07/19 23:14:31
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