Pardon the broken caps lock, but there’s something to this line. Gary Faulkner, a homeless, couch-riding handyman, just talks like this. Fast, confident, amiably, awkwardly. He’s a little inarticulate, but you know where he stands, and get the sense that he means really well. This is a line Faulkner delivers to a young girl with cerebral palsy while discussing spirit animals. The girl’s amused. It’s sweet. Strange. But sweet nonetheless.
But most important to the enjoyment of Larry Charles’ new movie Army of One is the truth that you can’t keep a good Cage down. Nicolas Cage, the fading star given to pay-for-home viewing play, is really something here. He sees your claims of laziness, and laughs. As Faulkner, he’s a dazzling screwball creation, slightly sillier than the real thing, sporting a samurai sword and a Jimmy Stewart demeanor. This nasal nut is actually a pretty decent fellow. And Cage, through sloppy charisma, moxie, and the crazed Cage-iness for which the actor’s always been known, makes Faulkner.
That’s the minor bombshell of Army of One, a potentially lowbrow, one-note joke made fun by its warmhearted tone, and a hollering lead performance from Cage. It’s a hoot, with heart. Funny, saying that, given the bugshit premise.
Reality check. In 2010, Gary Faulkner managed to make his way into Pakistan and was arrested at the Afghan border. His mission: personally take down Osama Bin Laden. He made many trips. The guy was laughed off by authorities until they found a gun on him, along with a 40-inch sword, a dagger, and handcuffs. And a nice pile of hash. And Christian writings. Was this guy a kook? Trying to score drugs? Or really on a mission from God? Either way, he made the papers. Was a punchy Letterman guest. Was too rare a bird to not make a movie out of him.
Army of One recounts Faulkner, through Quixotan whimsy and geo-political smart aleck humor, which amounts to a quick screwball comedy about a loveable fuckup. Cage doesn’t Rage, but instead cowers and squeals his way through Faulkner’s tale. We meet the man in his underwear, sleeping in a construction site, awakened by his phone. “Pickles!” he screams to a buddy over the phone. The guy’s unflappable.
Gary’s on regular dialysis because of kidney disease, but he doesn’t let it slow him down. He runs his mouth off about foreign products at the Home Depot, not out of spite for other countries, but out of his pride in the American can-do spirit. What a guy. And when he bitches about the armed forces doing a so-so job of ending Bin Laden at a bar, the resulting confrontation with Marines results in good-natured ribbing. And an accidental stabbing at a dart board. But it’s a funny stabbing, promise!
Shockingly, the movie treats Gary with more kindness than you might think. The sporadic narration elaborates that Gary “does not suffer from paranoia, psychosis,” or any of the old familiars. His American flag parasail and American flag goggles, while absurd, are also rooted in a man’s pure love of country. It’s the film’s best quality. He hopes to impress the girl, make some money, and do right for a U.S. still haunted by 9/11. And Army of One’s biggest success is his comedy of failures.