Nic Cage famously bought two albino king cobras, a Mongolian dinosaur skull, and the reportedly haunted LaLaurie mansion in New Orleans, so it figures he would have an affinity for a hunter who bags a rare white jaguar. However, this hunter-trapper is motivated by mercenary motive rather than a collector’s impulse. Yet, he is not the worst passenger on this slow boat to danger in Nick Powell’s Primal, which releases today on DVD.
Frank Walsh briefly worked at ten zoos before finding his calling as a freelance trapper and seller of rare computer-generated beasts. When he bags the fabled white jag, he sees nothing but dollar signs, but getting it to his transfer point in Mexico will require some off-the-books transit. The dodgy freighter, the Mimer, is his paperwork-free ship of choice, but this time he will have company. The U.S. Marshall Service must transport an apprehended cartel assassin out of Brazil fast, before the government reverts back old 1970s methods of criminal justice. Uncle Sam wants to try Richard Loffler legally, but he has a rare neurologically condition that precludes air-flight.
Naturally, Loffler soon escapes and turns loose Walsh’s beasts to distract his former captors. The white jag is the deadliest of the menagerie, but there are also two venomous snakes unaccounted for. Right, Primal is a lot like Snakes on a Plane on a boat, with Nic Cage thrown in for extra irony. That could be decently entertaining, but screenwriter Richard Leder goes out of its way to tell us the U.S. military trained Loffler to kill, offering him up as a simple-minded microcosm of American foreign policy. Inevitably, the secret bad guy turns out to be an NSA agent, which makes no sense, since the NSA specializes in electronic intel rather than field work. Seriously, if you’re going to slander than American intelligence community, you should at least take the trouble to slime the right agency.
So, this screenplay is pretty dumb and the laughable jaguar CGI just makes it worse. Of course, Cage fully commits as Walsh, whom the film portrays as an utterly disreputable and thoroughly unlikable figure. Famke Janssen plays Navy doctor Dr. Ellen Taylor with undisguised boredom, except when vehemently expressing contempt for Walsh. Arguably, LaMonica Garrett (The Monitor in the CW’s DC shows) displays the strongest screen presence and action chops as Deputy Marshall John Ringer, but Kevin Durand’s weird preening as Loffler seems better suited for a horror movie featuring killer clowns who prey on children.
Somehow, it feels strangely appropriate to close out the year with another train-wreck starring the man who won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas. This could have been like B. Traven with big cats, but instead it is bad CGI with bad writing and bad political point-scoring. Not recommended, Primal is now available on DVD And BluRay, to end your year with a rueful face-palm.