There’s a good and bad version of everything. Nicolas Cage movies are no different. His larger-than-life persona and devotion to offbeat character portrayals are often the key ingredient to bolstering some otherwise-lame projects. The bad version gives you something like Sympathy for the Devil, in which Cage dwarfs literally everything else about the movie, leaving the audience waiting on their hands for him to do something crazy and unforgettable. Because when Cage is not, there’s simply nothing else worth caring about.
Sympathy for the Devil is like the vehicular version of Phone Booth, or a poor man’s Collateral with Cage in the Tom Cruise role. The film stars Joel Kinnaman as David, a husband and expectant father racing to the hospital where his wife, who has had pregnancy complications in the past, has gone into labor. But before he can get there, a devilish, red-haired passenger hops into the backseat and holds him at gunpoint. He orders David to drive, but leaves his ultimate goal a mystery.
That mystery is what drives Sympathy for the Devil, as David struggles to understand who this Passenger is and what he wants. Unfortunately, their interactions aren’t terribly interesting. David is pretty bland as a protagonist, except for when he’s momentarily distraught at not being at his wife’s side. The Passenger takes glee at David’s suffering, suggesting a personal stake in the man’s pain.
The truth of David and the Passenger’s connection isn’t worth the long, drawn-out suspense. Long gaps of inactivity grind the film to a halt, including an interminable standoff at a local diner. When the quiet breaks, Cage’s character is recklessly violent, with director Yuvan Adler focusing in on the terrible ramifications of his bloodshed. But we find ourselves just sitting around until Cage can go wild. An impromptu dance break does the trick for a few fleeting moments. Cage snarls and screams, his eyes bulging like they’re about to pop out of his head. With the red streak glowing on his head, he really does look like the Devil incarnate. He’s the only reason to be even slightly invested in Sympathy for the Devil. His most eager fans will want to check it out for completion’s sake, but others will get no sympathy for the time they waste watching it.