Primal (2020) review


By David Dent

Nicolas Cage plays Frank Walsh, bounty hunter, tracking prize beasts in the Brazilian rain forest, whose latest acquisitions, in amongst the usual monkeys and birds, include the prized and almost mythical white jaguar.

Emerging from the jungle Walsh loads his caged beasts on board a ship, hoping to offload them to the highest bidder. But there’s a problem: the men in black from the authorities arrive with a criminal who they’ve arrested and who must be transported for trial by boat, rather than plane, for medical reasons: specifically, the same boat on which Walsh and his menagerie are travelling.

The criminal is Richard Loffler (a perma grinning Kevin Durand), counter terrorist and murderer of a politician, who is being extradited for a variety of crimes in different countries. His medical condition is being monitored by Dr Ellen Taylor (Famke Janssen), who wants no nonsense from the wise cracking Walsh, albeit his only concern is his precious animal cargo.

As the ship sets off from harbour, the occupants maintain an uneasy alliance, which is thrown into disarray when Loffler breaks free of the cage in which he’s being kept while being administered drugs, and liberates many of Walsh’s acquisitions too, including the jaguar: I didn’t say this film was subtle. With the killer free, but still trapped on the boat, it’s a cat and mouse game – or more precisely a jaguar and assassin game – with both Loffler and the wild animal prowling the ship and taking out anyone who gets in their way.

Nicolas Cage starred in 6 movies in 2019 – clearly an actor with one eye on his pension pot. But whatever the material on offer Cage gives 110% to his parts, and his role in stuntman turned director Nick Powell’s second feature is no different. How can you dislike a movie in which our first shot of the hero, dressed as an old school adventurer, sees him sitting halfway up a tree, chewing on a stogie and reading a real estate magazine?

‘Primal’ is very much a high concept ‘put-two-unlikely-things-together-and-see-what-happens’ movie, rather like, say, 2006’s ‘Snakes on a Plane.’ And although it’s dumb as a box of frogs, it knows exactly what it’s doing. The ship setting makes things very claustrophobic, and Durand makes a pretty menacing villain who also handily knows his way round a ship too. The CGI jaguar might be slightly ropey, and the set’s lighting does nothing for Ms Janssen’s facial nip/tucks, but this is still a lot of fun, providing you don’t take it remotely seriously.

‘Primal’ is on Digital Download 10 February and DVD 17 February from Lionsgate UK

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