Running With the Devil is a dull, disjointed affair that unfortunately wastes the talents of its high-profile ensemble cast.
Nicolas Cage arguably has one of the most peculiar careers in film. His résumé includes box office hits (The Rock), auteur-driven fare (Adaptation), and even an Oscar win (Leaving Las Vegas). But perhaps to most viewers, he's now best-known for taking on a plethora of projects, many of which receive only the smallest theatrical release before going straight to VOD or streaming. His latest endeavor there is crime drama Running With the Devil, which marks the directorial debut of Jason Cabell. While no one goes into a Nic Cage VOD movie expecting high-quality cinema, the hope is that it could ideally be some guilty pleasure fun that's entertaining in its ridiculousness. Sadly, this film falls short of achieving even that. Running With the Devil is a dull, disjointed affair that unfortunately wastes the talents of its high-profile ensemble cast.
Running With the Devil is set in the world of the drug trade. Kingpin The Boss (Barry Pepper) wants to find out who's responsible for over cutting his product. He tasks one of his most trusted associates, The Cook (Cage), to investigate the situation. The Cook embarks on a long and winding odyssey, following the drugs through all their various stops around the world to keep an eye on things. Meanwhile, The Agent in Charge (Leslie Bibb) becomes determined to take The Boss' operation down after people close to her die from taking the over cut drugs.
A globe-trotting examination of a drug batch's journey from manufacturer to distributor is ambitious for a first-time director, and Cabell overreaches a bit here. He struggles to organically weave between the various story threads and subplots and doesn't find a proper narrative flow. This is most apparent early on in the first act, as the filmmaker jumps around to introduce the main players of this saga rather awkwardly with a collection of short, mostly disconnected scenes. Rather than illustrate the plot's grand scope, this approach at times is more confusing than enlightening and hurts the film's ability to engage the audience in the crucial first few moments. In the hands of a more accomplished director, Running With the Devil might have had more success pulling this off, but Cabell simply lacks the experience necessary.
Running With the Devil is shot like and presented as a straight drama, which makes some of Cabell's other creative choices all the more confounding. The decision to give all the main characters stereotypical crime monikers like "The Man" or "The Snitch" (in place of regular names) is a jarring juxtaposition. These titles are conveyed to the audience via splashy graphics that pop up across the screen as the characters appear onscreen, coming across as a knock-off Suicide Squad. This would fit the film if it was going for a more pulpy, heightened vibe, but Running With the Devil is meant to be more grounded in execution. And because of that, the movie never really pops or comes alive. It's all fairly run-of-the-mill material that's been done before, going through the motions. Running With the Devil is under two hours, but feels longer due to its inability to immerse the viewer.
Normally, in a film like this, Cage can be the saving grace with one of his trademark unhinged performances, but Running With the Devil never allows him to go "full Cage" in all his glory. By his standards, he's pretty subdued as The Cook. Laurence Fishburne is actually the one with the showiest role here, playing an absolute sleaze bag known as "The Man," who's addicted to many vices. This is a different kind of part for the actor to play, and he's clearly having fun with it. The Man is definitely the most memorable character, but that isn't saying much given the others in the cast. None of the performances are all that memorable, and everyone here's done better work. It's admittedly bizarre to see the likes of Fishburne, Bibb, Pepper, Adam Goldberg, and others starring in a film such as this, knowing that they're all capable of more.
Given how it's being released to the general public, nobody felt Running With the Devil had the potential to be a dark horse in the awards race, but that isn't an excuse for the final product. The film is largely boring and doesn't have any real surprises in store. As such, that makes it difficult to recommend to people - unless one is a die-hard fan of any of the big names in the cast. With all the major releases coming out for the fall movie season, something like Running With the Devil is going to struggle to catch on.
Running With the Devil is now available On Demand and digitally. It runs 100 minutes and is rated R for violence and disturbing images, drug use, strong sexual content, and language.
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