The course of Nicolas Cage’s career has been as fascinating as his best movie work. Unlike such masters as Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, Cage did not arrive on screen as a mature talent; since his film debut in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High his reputation has mutated from Favored Nephew (he was born Nicolas Coppola) to Weird Tyro (the publicity machine got great mileage out of his eating a live cockroach on screen) to Great Actor (see above). For showbiz observers, such professional transformations are always fun to watch. But the real bonus for movie lovers is that even in his worst pictures (such as 1991’s dreadful Zalman King-with-a-philosophy-Ph.D. erotic melodrama Zandalee) Cage, whose angular features are both hangdog and sinister, is always up to something startling. Aside from Leaving Las Vegas, an early lead role in Vampire’s Kiss and a more recent character part in Kiss of Death best illuminate Cage’s method and madness.
He’s at his most manic in the bizarre Vampire’s Kiss, a hit-and-miss comedy-thriller that doesn’t quite manage to sell its hysterical, self-consciously misogynist premise. Cage plays a New York literary agent who, after being bitten during sex by a mysterious woman who is at the very least a vamp, becomes convinced that she’s undead and he’s been infected. He takes to wearing sunglasses to work, terrorizing his secretary more than usual, and eating bugs (the aforementioned cockroach bit). Playing a sleazeball who has stumbled upon an excellent excuse for his bent, Cage holds the movie together as best he can. More important, he nails down his unique approach to acting, managing to be simultaneously stylized and naturalistic. C