Sympathy for the Devil review – a top-tier unhinged Nicolas Cage performance

If you were programming a season of the best of the worst from Nicolas Cage’s filmography – in other words, his most interesting/outlandish/crazed performances in low-budget films – this kooky thriller would certainly be a good candidate. It features an entertainingly deranged performance from Cage, who sports a helmet of bright-red hair and a maroon smoking jacket that makes him look like a leprechaun turned lounge singer, topped off with a broad Boston accent. Cage’s unnamed character crawls without invitation into the car of David (Joel Kinnaman, an excellent straight foil here), who is already late getting to the hospital where his wife is giving birth. Despite David’s protestations that he’s not a taxi or Uber, he pulls a gun on David and insists he start driving. Who would dare to say no to someone with such bright gleaming teeth?

Given the title, viewers might be forgiven for expecting that Cage will turn out to be old Lucifer himself, come to reap his due. It turns out that he is not who you might think he is, but director Yuval Adler and screenwriter Luke Paradise keep up the mystery to the very end, including what’s up with David. The latter’s story remains intriguingly vague throughout: he insists he’s just a guy stressed out about what’s going on at the hospital, where his wife, heard on the phone only, is going through a second difficult birth, but he has a few nifty moves of his own, suggesting there might be more than meets the eye here.

The main set piece – so tightly choreographed that it could almost be standalone short – is a diner scene in which the two stop to get something to eat while the passenger is still holding a gun in his pocket. The bit where Cage orders a tuna melt from Alexis Zollicoffer’s sarky waitress feels like an homage to Jack Nicholson’s immortal food substitution request in Five Easy Pieces. That’s followed up by some delicious goofy dancing and singing along to Alicia Bridges’ disco classic I Love the Nightlife, which no doubt will get Cage fans going over-the-top whooping in the aisles. Even if the ending is a bit of a letdown, otherwise it’s a gas.

Sympathy for the Devil is released on 8 September on digital platforms.