Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 11, 2020)
Hey hey Ė itís time for Nicolas Cageís first direct-to-video flick of 2020! Okay, so technically Grand Isle got minor theatrical exhibition in 2019, but dammit Ė it still smells like a 2020 direct-to-video flick to me!
Set in 1988, 20-something Buddy (Luke Benward) struggles to support his young wife Lisa (Emily Marie Palmer) and infant daughter Emily. To make ends meet, he does handyman work.
This leads him to the home of Walter Franklin (Cage) and his wife Fancy (KaDee Strickland). An unhappy married couple, they bicker relentlessly and involve him in their affairs.
Literally, as the sex-starved Fancy tries to seduce Buddy. Due to a violent storm, Buddy finds himself stuck with the antagonistic couple, a situation with potentially tragic results.
When I last saw Cage, he starred in Primal, a release that crept out just before New Yearís 2019. A pretty awful action flick, it marked Cageís sixth effort of 2019, and it finished his year on a sour note.
While I wonít call Isle an especially good movie, at the very least, it manages decent intrigue at times. Essentially a mix of Whoís Afraid of Virginia Woolf, film noir and Southern gothic, the film never soars, but it manages moderate entertainment value.
For a while, at least. Although the film never turns into a stinker, Isle does get sillier as it goes.
Still, it brings some quirky charms, especially as we get to know Walter and Fancy. Cage and Strickland camp up a storm as the dysfunctional couple, and they evoke dark humor and menace.
As our ostensible main character, Benward fails to create much personality. Still, that may function as a positive, for given the over the top nature of the other two leads, we probably need a less dramatic character in between them.
The awkward threesome manages decent tension for the first act or so, though a dopey framework damages the tale. The movie chooses to come as a flashback, so we get occasional scenes between Buddy and a police detective (Kelsey Grammer) who interrogates him.
These let us know that a crime occurred, though we donít learn more until much later. Still, this structure lets us know Buddy survives, and it undercuts a lot of the potential drama in the Franklin home.
After that moderately satisfying first act, Isle runs out of logical ways to sustain the narrative, so it starts to go off the rails. Though some of this comes with camp charm, the movie becomes too goofy and it loses the basic positives of the interactions among the leads.
Isle goes for too many gimmicky choices as it proceeds. These may provide curveballs, but they donít bring tension or drama, as they just seem too silly.
Cage offers a pretty typical Cage performance, for better or for worse. He canít elevate the material, but his particular skill set adds a bit of intrigue.
Ultimately, though, Grand Isle becomes a forgettable thriller. It disappoints because it loses its way after a moderately solid beginning.