Brian Taylor is one half of Neveldine/Taylor, two vulgar auteurs who got some notoriety for Crank and Crank: High Voltage. Those films starred Jason Statham Chev Chelios, a hitman who needed to maintain high adrenaline levels in order to survive. The Crank films were hyper to an obscene degree, reveling in debauched, sex-crazed humor that would please your average college sophomore. Once you got past the sex and violence, there was an artistry there, too: the action sequences were imaginative, and the camera technique was uniquely frenzied.
Mom and Dad is Brian Taylor’s first film in six years, and his first without Mark Neveldine. Instead of the mid-tier of his previous work, Taylor works within more modest means. Aside from the meager stakes and set-pieces, all the hallmarks of his work are still there: this is a high concept thriller, with streaks of black humor, and an uncompromising celebration of violence. His concept even is intriguing, particularly since many of Crank’s original fans might just be starting families of their own. Few things are quite as subversive as a family in the throes of violence, so Mom and Dad embraces the concept like hands around the jugular.
If any actor’s gifts are suited to Taylor’s sensibilities, that actor is Nicolas Cage. He plays Brent, a mild-mannered father who suffers from suburban ennui. He hates his job, resents his family, so he daydreams about the time he stole his dad’s muscle car and fucked his girlfriend in the driver’s seat. Selma Blair plays Kendall, Brent’s wife, and she has the same quiet desperation. Their kids Carly (Anne Winters) and Josh (Zackary Arthur) are self-absorbed, at least until something strange happens during school one day. All the parents are oddly obsessed with picking up their children. The bell finally rings, and the parents swam over the school like death-crazed super zombies. Amidst the mayhem, Carly and Josh escape to their home, where their Mom and Dad are psychotic in their pursuit of parenticide.
We only learn about the cause of his mayhem through news reports. It seems that the change is part of psychological warfare: through some strange transmission, the urge to protect one’s children has become an urge to ravage them. The simplicity of the conceit has some depth behind it. New parents like to say “I’m going to eat you up,” and Taylor blurs that line between affection and rage. This is the sort of thing that George Romero or John Carpenter would appreciate, since the premise is an opportunity to explore the trappings of parenthood, or suburbia. When Brent’s parents finally show up, the stakes are even more bizarre. The love between a grandparent and their grandchildren is the only genuine thing left.
Nearly all the interesting, darkly comic moments occur in the first half. The highlight – or maybe lowlight – is when Kendall helps her sister give birth. Before the doctor can even slap the baby’s backside, Kendall’s sister lunges after the newborn with a scalpel. It’s disgusting, morbid, and gloriously crude. Unfortunately, Taylor pads out the rest with flashbacks and a tedious suspense sequence straight out of Panic Room. Josh and Carly bunker down in the basement, with their parents doing everything they can to break down the door.
After fireballs and unexpected gunplay, the film’s only set piece leads to a chase through the house, with nods to everything from Halloween to Mommie Dearest. It is as if Taylor does not have the funds to fully explore his premise. We already know from Crank he has the imagination, so Mom and Dad – even on top exaggerated murder – suffers from a lack of resources. The flashbacks do not add much, so maybe Taylor should have made a deranged short film instead of a half-cocked feature.
Now I know what you’re probably wondering: what about Nicolas Cage? When he is in the film, which is not often, he steals the show. His performance is chaotic, and always in high gear. At one point, Cage sings “The Hokey Pokey” while destroying his basement with a sledge hammer, his over-the-top acting is a perfect fit for the material. Still, there is little sense of chemistry – no one can cage the Cage – and his inhumanity makes his psychosis more plausible than him as a family man. No one can match Cage’s frenzied style, so Mom and Dad suffers when he is not on screen. It suffers in other crucial ways, too, until its smart ideas give way to something typical. And up until now, “typical” is a word Taylor’s work managed to avoid.