Review: 'Mindcage' is an ambitious albeit flawed thriller

Posted January 31,2023 - 04:34 PM

If Mindcage were made in the mid-1990s, it's possible that it would have been right up there with Seven in terms of culturally-relevant filmmaking, but alas it's 2023. While viewing Mindcage is sort of a trip to a simpler time when serial killers were all the rage, it didn't pack in all the conveniences of the intervening 30 years and we are left with a bit of a nostalgic fluff piece where the parts are definitely more than its sum.

And yet, there is just something mesmerizing about John Malkovich and his performance alone is worth a watch. That said, I'm not surprised that critics are mostly panning this movie while audiences seem to be connecting with it in a much more positive way.

We constantly talk about the disconnect between critics and "real audiences," but this void is the greatest when it comes to mindless fun movies where the audience isn't asked to think too much. In some ways, this is just par for the course, but I think it's a bit of laziness on the part of a critic.

It's OK to love a flawed film and it's not necessary for every little thing to have resonance to something greater. Mindcage will never be mistaken for a Christopher Nolan and that's perfectly fine. I think you will find plenty of entertainment value in Mindcage, and really, isn't that enough?

In this spellbinding thriller, detectives Jake Doyle (Martin Lawrence) and Mary Kelly (Melissa Roxburgh) seek the help of an incarcerated serial killer named The Artist (John Malkovich) when a copycat killer strikes. While Mary searches for clues in The Artist's brilliant but twisted psyche, she and Jake are lured into a diabolical game of cat and mouse, racing against time to stay one step ahead of The Artist and his copycat.

First, can we talk about how good it is to see Martin Lawrence back in a film? It's been a hot minute since Martin was all that and a bag of chips, but he was almost removed completely from movies before the latest Bad Boys film from a couple of years ago.

Speaking of getting better reception if Mindcage were released in the mid-1990s, having Martin Lawrence in your movie during this time was a license to print money. As detective Jake Doyle though, Lawrence needed to pull on all of the gravitas of the last 30 years to make it work, so there's that.

As the veteran cop to Melissa Roxburgh's rookie detective, Lawrence is tasked with bringing that experience to the role and guiding the young detective in her pursuit of the truth since the jailed killer won't deal with him directly. While the chemistry between them is lacking at times, it's not far off of the dynamic between Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman in Seven.

Speaking of Seven, it's the one film that I think the filmmakers were aspiring towards when making Mindcage. The elaborate staging of the victims will have you yearning for the earlier film. While it's clear that Mindcage is paying homage to the serial killer classic, this comparison only further erodes the audience's enjoyment of the film.

On its own merits, Mindcage is fine, but it doesn't hold a candle to Seven and I spent a good portion of the film's running time wishing that I was watching that movie instead of Mindcage. That earlier movie spent so much time developing the atmosphere of the setting that you truly felt that you were wasting away in the depravity of Seven.

Mindcage never reaches these heights and, in fact, almost tries to present a more vanilla setting than it deserves. Set in the South, Mindcage could have been a classic Southern Gothic thriller had it simply leaned into the eerie ambiance of its setting. Instead, the filmmakers almost pretended that the film was set elsewhere or at the very least in a generic part of the country with no discernible personality.

Take a movie like The Gift that embraces the Georgian aesthetic so much that it almost becomes a character in and of itself. All these 22 years later, I still remember the grime and murkiness of The Gift and how it elevated the film beyond what was written on the page.

In some respects, I think the filmmakers could have created something truly unique had they simply injected the movie with some of the charms of Arkansas, where it was filmed. Instead, Mindcage is a bit stunted and all of its warts are on full display for all to see.

Don't get me wrong, Mindcage isn't going to be confused with a great film, but it does have merits. There are some rather interesting twists in the third act, although it's debatable as to whether the movie earns them. It provides for an adequate 90 minutes of entertainment, but something that you will most likely forget once the credits starts to roll.

Your mileage may vary, but Mindcage is a worthy watch on a late night when you simply want to shut off your brain and enjoy the wonder that is John Malkovich. He plays "The Artist" with his trademark style while resisting the urge to delve into caricature.

Mindcage is now available on Blu-ray.