In previous MYOF Case Files, I introduced The Great Gazoo Theory as a way of explaining Marlon Brando’s sad descent from the most influential, gifted, charismatic, and sexual actor in the world to a mountainous walking freakshow. The theory, which swept academia and is now being taught in community-college film courses throughout the greater Tri-State area, proposed that after Last Tango In Paris, Brando fell under the Svengali-like influence of The Great Gazoo, the effeminate, condescending, lime-green alien that only Fred Flintstone could see.
I would like to expand on The Great Gazoo Theory by arguing that after Brando’s professional decline in the ’80s, the mischief-making trickster-god of prehistoric animated comedies turned his attentions to another actor who combines genius with batshit insanity: Nicolas Cage. How else can you explain Cage’s bizarre shift from Raising Arizona, Moonstruck, and Peggy Sue Got Married to Fire Birds, Time To Kill, Deadfall, Trapped In Paradise, and today’s entry in My Year Of Flops, the direct-to-video 1991 erotic thriller Zandalee?
Even the masterpieces of Cage’s lost years—1989’s Vampire’s Kiss and 1990’s Wild At Heart—are crazier than 2Pac in that flick called Juice. Cage doesn’t exactly need much help in the lunacy department—he shares an ex-wife with Michael Jackson—but I like to think it was The Great Gazoo who sarcastically urged him to eat a real cockroach for Vampire’s Kiss. You know, for verisimilitude. I can also easily imagine Gazoo whispering maliciously into Cage’s ear, “You better take that movie where you dress up like a bear and go around punching and kicking women, or you’ll never get that second Oscar, dum-dum.”
A lot of people dislike Nicolas Cage because he makes so many terrible movies and does things like name his son Kal-El. I, on the other hand, love the guy. Think of all the gutsy, unforgettable performances he’s given through the years in movies like Valley Girl, Rumble Fish, Raising Arizona, Moonstruck, Red Rock West, Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off, Bringing Out The Dead, Adaptation, Matchstick Men, The Weather Man, and Lord Of War. That’s lifetime-pass credentials for sure. And his Werner Herzog Bad Lieutenant movie promises to be great, wonderfully terrible, or both.
Like R. Kelly, even when Cage is terrible, he’s pretty terrific. You could even argue that when he’s terrible, Cage is especially awesome, on multiple levels. He’s a legitimately great actor. He’s also a great bad actor, a great crazy actor, and a great over-actor.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Cage’s primary criteria for choosing roles seemed to be:
- How ridiculous will my accent be? Will it sound like a dialect never spoken by anyone, ever, in the history of time?
- How about facial hair? Can it look like fake hair haphazardly placed on me by a blind man with an odd sense of humor?
- Will I be called upon to shamelessly overact or go completely fucking nuts?
By those criteria, Zandalee is the perfect role for Cage at his Nicolas Cagiest. He sports a goatee, mustache, soul patch, and hair that looks disconcertingly like Tommy Wiseau’s Prince Valiant ’do in The Room—a film Zandalee mirrors in countless other ways as well. He speaks in an insane hipster drawl that sounds like a New Orleans Elvis mumbling with a mouthful of peanut butter. Cage’s ridiculous look can only be read as a symbol of his individuality and belief in personal freedom.
Zandalee gives Cage the mother of all dramatic entrances. Cage isn’t onscreen for one minute before he’s indulged in a crazy circular hair-flip, gyrated erratically, and licked whipped cream off a stripper’s breasts. Maybe the Great Gazoo was onto something after all when he encouraged—nay, demanded—that Cage appear in the film. (The following clip is, as you might guess, NSFW.)
The Great Gazoo no doubt thought the film would be especially appropriate for Cage, since it let the eccentric thespian play a direct-to-video Stanley Kowalski. Zandalee aspires to update Tennessee Williams for the ’90s; instead, it’s a Southern-fried version of The Room, complete with wooden dialogue, painful acting, sex scenes so perversely unappealing that they seem destined to create a generation of eunuchs, and a central love triangle between a cuckolded nice guy who ends up committing suicide, his good friend, and a vixen who just can’t resist the danger and excitement of the wrong man.
The vixen in question here is Erika Anderson, a former radio personality (though I use the word “personality” very loosely) and model with exactly one expression. Throughout the film, Anderson looks simultaneously horny, confused, and mildly threatened. In this scene, the oft-unclad Anderson tries out her default expression while being introduced to Cage. The sexual tension is palpable, by which I mean creepy and nonexistent.
Zandalee takes place in New Orleans, or rather a kitschy cinematic theme park N’Awlins awash in overwrought Southern Gothic atmosphere, from Aaron Neville’s supporting turn as a bartender to Joe Pantoliano’s memorable performance as Anderson’s cross-dressing boss.
Ah, but back to the plot. Anderson is married to Judge Reinhold, a talented poet with the mustache, long hair, and thick drawl of a flamboyant Confederate colonel. Once upon a time, Reinhold was a man of conviction and integrity, but he sold out and got a straight job at his dead father’s soul-crushing business. He’s also impotent, so before long, Anderson decides he can’t satisfy her with his little worm, whereas Cage can burst her out with his super-sperm.
Anderson spends roughly half the film running through the soft summer rain with her trademark look of horniness, confusion, and mild fright. This affords Cage many opportunities to sexually proposition her. In this clip, Cage seduces her with a phrase that has never worked for me, no matter how often I use it: “I wanna shake you naked and eat you alive, Zandalee.” Have you guys had better luck with it? I think it probably helps if you’re hitting on someone actually named Zandalee. (NSFW? Very!)
The femme fatale is faced with a stark choice: a sweet, gentle, soused husband who can’t get a hard-on with a handful of free boner coupons in an erection factory, or a strutting rooster of a bohemian so virile, he all but ejaculates on strangers as an introduction. Soon, Cage and Anderson are having crazy sex in a variety of colorful positions and locales.
Anderson is initially repulsed by Cage because he says things like “Without creativity, without life, then you are truly unable to go straight up the devil’s ass, look him right in the face, smile, and survive,” or “When that big red snatch is coming right up in your face like a freight train, it’s hard to paint, I tell you what.” Nonetheless, they wind up in a steamy, sordid affair.
In this scene, Cage comes to Reinhold and Anderson’s house with ditsy date Marisa Tomei and sets about shtupping his friend’s wife on a washer-dryer combo while their respective partners eat dinner. The key to this scene is the presence of multiple Oscar winners. Let’s face it: If it were populated by only a single Oscar-winner, it could have come off as silly, if not insultingly stupid.
Cage is relentless in his pursuit of Anderson. When Anderson tells him that she married Reinhold because he was a poet, he utters the immortal words, “What about this? Isn’t this poetry?”
This raises an interesting question: Is getting fingered by Nicolas Cage while out for a run poetry? I know there’s an ongoing debate as to whether lyrics constitute poetry, but I think we can all agree that getting finger-banged by a slumming Nicolas Cage is the highest form of poetry. (Not as NSFW, but still pretty NSFW.)
But fucking isn’t just poetry to Cage, it’s also religion. In this clip, he angrily decides to take Anderson from behind in a confessional as an expression of his belief that hot, dirty sex in churches represents God’s highest aspiration for man. Mmm, that’s good sacrilege!
“Paraplegic of the soul” Reinhold eventually wakes the fuck up and realizes that his wife is getting the old salami surprise from his old friend in a variety of cinematic backdrops. Reinhold and Anderson head out to the bayou to mend their broken relationship, but just when it appears they’re on the road to reconciliation and spiritual wholeness, Cage shows up unannounced, coked up, and intent on winning Anderson back. In this clip, Cage and Reinhold engage in some red-hot hate-dancing that goes on and on and on.
As in The Room, the cuckolded man takes his life in poor directions. In this case, Reinhold chooses to drown rather than put up with Anderson’s shameless Cage-fucking. Cage expresses his grief and anguish the only way he knows how: by slashing a bunch of canvasses and coating himself in black paint. After that, all that’s left is for Anderson to sacrifice herself, horny-Jesus-style, by leaping in front of a bullet intended for Cage in the most unintentionally hilarious death scene since Cage’s cousin Sofia Coppola caught the big one in The Godfather Part III.
I first became conscious of Zandalee’s curious existence in a Premiere or Movieline article many years back, in which Anderson described it as, if I remember her phrasing correctly, “a total fucking art film.” That’s true, I guess, in that Zandalee has pretensions to art, and totally involves fucking.
Looking back at surreal pop-culture detritus like Zandalee, it’s important to remember that even people involved in something this transcendently silly and purple had high hopes for it. Anderson clearly saw it as her star-making turn, a Basic Instinct-like scorcher that would propel her from actress-model-whatever to major sex symbol.
Reinhold, whose production company helped make the film, obviously saw it as an opportunity to escape the light-comedy ghetto and establish himself as a dramatic actor. For Cage, it was an opportunity to channel Brando. For Pantoliano, it was a rare and wondrous chance to wear a dress in public without being ridiculed. Yet their hopes and dreams were wonderfully, gloriously shattered when the film went direct to video.
So, is Zandalee a Fiasco or a Secret Success? I’m going to argue that it’s a Secret Success, especially for Cage buffs. It’s right up there with Wicker Man on the Nicolas Cage guilty pleasureometer, a lost camp gem filled with inadvertent hilarity and populated by heavyweight actors who would go on to do great things, including Steve Buscemi as a zany, horny, oddly philosophical thief who pops up at random intervals. Oh, and also Judge Reinhold.
All I know is that after watching Zandalee a second time, I felt as if I’d gone straight up the devil’s ass, looked him right in the face, smiled, and survived.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Secret Success