Season of the Witch, the latest in a series of Nic Cage projects that were, I assume, born from Cage's inherent need to be in front of a camera (I guess technically Drive Angry was the latest, but I enjoyed that) is a film about nothing, even if it'd present itself to you as a film about Templars, plague, guilt and (and!) witches. That's heavy stuff for what was clearly once a summer blockbuster hopeful, but fear not: Season of the Witch's aspirations as serious business are cast aside the minute Nic Cage and Ron Pearlman, standing on a hill of sand before a sherbet-colored sky, begin cracking wise about going out for a few drinks after dispatching a few hundred Moors.
Nic Cage: Behmen
Ron Pearlman: Felson
Stephen Campbell Moore: Debelzaq
Christopher Lee: Cardinal D'Ambroise
Claire Foy: The Girl
Shut the Fuck Up, Donny
"I'm working up a powerful thirst," Pearlman says, bear-hugging a man roughly his size to death.
Later, having deserted the Templars after being forced to kill one (1) woman, ex-Templars Behmen (Cage) and Felson (Pearlman) discover that, while they were out, bubonic plague has ravaged the land. Felson seems disturbed by the boil-ridden dead bodies and, while riding with Behmen to Parts Unknown, opines on the fate of those pour souls, thusly:
"We've seen much death, you and I. But what does one do to deserve a death like that?"
"Nothing," observes Behmen, stoically.
Then the camera swoops out from them, showing a town off in the distance.
"Finally," Behmen says, as if finishing his taxes. "A town."
That sort of exchange happens quite often in Season of the Witch, a movie that knows all the old adventure movie clichés (rope bridges, spooky forests, steep mountain passes), but doesn't have the slightest clue about what made those tropes reliable stand-bys. When the crew of men tasked with taking a supposed witch (Claire Foy)--which eventually includes a priest, a knight, a swindler and a sword-able alter boy--overlook their route, marking the spooky forest ("Wormwood forrest. Not a place to be trifled with.") and mountain pass, Felson and Behmen react like they've read this particular script hundreds of times, more "Not this again" than "Let's be off, then!" Considering how old the ex-Templars are, that makes a certain bit of sense, but, really, what the hell else were they going to do with their time, sit in a dungeon and make comments about the smell?
You can probably guess what happens along the way. There are a few action scenes, a couple of people die, the girl in the cage that's being wheeled across the countryside may or may not be a witch, etc. This movie's cardinal sin, in my estimation, is that it blows nearly every opportunity it has to be entertaining. The Church's position here is that the bubonic plague is being caused by this witch. The movie's position is that the bubonic plague is not unlike whatever Hollywood-fashioned disease causes dead bodies to rise up and hunger for human flesh. It's got a bunch of Templars, who were a pretty corrupt, devious bunch. Nic Cage, Ron Pearlman and Christopher Lee (in a bubonic plague make-up) are along for the ride, and the early scenes where Cage and Pearlman sack and pillage Muslim stronghold after Muslim stronghold are shot against backdrops that are, at best, completely unreal. This could have been a movie about paranoia and fear and psychological stress and whatever illicit drugs Templars were doing--a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for the medieval set--but instead the movie settles into its stilted dialog and eventually accepts shadow, fog and dirt as its color palate and, despite the best efforts of some low-budget CGI, decides to be a shallow, boring husk of a film.
I can't say that I've exactly enjoyed director Dominic Sena's previous movies, but at least in other genre schlock films he's done, like Gone in 60 Seconds or Swordfish, he's gotten his actors to perform with some degree of immediacy. The three men traveling with the Templars are here because the movie both needs to kill people who aren't Cage and Pearlman, and because it needs survivors who aren't them, either. They act as you might expect from cannon fodder. Ron Pearlman is as authentic as a wax figurine, Christopher Lee is criminally squandered, and Nic Cage seems like he's always just woken up from the world's worst nap. Not worthy of even so-bad-it's-good aficionados, Season of the Witch is a 90-minute shrug of the shoulders. It's bad, but at least it wasn't Your Highness.