Directors Werner Herzog and David Gordon Green help the American Cinematheque pay tribute to one of Hollywood’s most successful actors

By Michael Aushenker

nicolas-cage-picture-3There’s little doubt that Nicolas Cage has earned the three-day tribute American Cinematheque is throwing him this weekend at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.

Once upon a time, Cage was one of our ballsiest young actors, turning in deft comedic performances such as the working-class schmoe courting Cher in “Moonstruck,” the enervated detective Jack Singer in Andrew Bergman’s madcap “Honeymoon in Vegas” and a put-upon Secret Service agent tangling with Shirley MacLaine’s pain-in-the-butt former First Lady in the dramedy “Guarding Tess.” On the dramatic side, Cage starred in John Dahl’s best neo-noir thriller, “Red Rock West,” opposite Dennis Hopper, and in one of David Lynch’s stranger movies, “Wild at Heart.” In short time, the former Nicolas Coppola, nephew of Francis Ford, had proved his career was no nepotistic fluke.

To a large extent, much of the work Cage, 50, has done since winning the Academy Award for 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas” would also constitute a tribute to Jerry Bruckheimer (already the subject of a recent Aero series). The Cinematheque, however, has chosen to sidestep movies such as “Con Air,” “Gone in 60 Seconds” and the “National Treasure” flicks to focus on a more varied slate of Cage performances.

On Friday evening, Cage and director Werner Herzog appear in person when the Cinematheque screens Herzog’s 2009 film “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans,” an eccentric sequel starring Cage in one of his most epic scenery-chewing performances as a coked-out, corrupt cop in The Big Easy post-Katrina. The movie, co-starring Val Kilmer and Cage’s “Ghost Rider” love interest Eva Mendes, is being paired alongside Alan Parker’s 1984 drama “Birdy,” starring Cage and Matthew Modine as childhood buddies forever changed by the Vietnam War.

Saturday night, the Aero screens “Raising Arizona,” the Coen Brothers’ second movie featuring Cage as a white trash goof caught up in an insane kidnapping scheme with Holly Hunter. The Aero screens this 1987 comedy with the quirky, quasi-surreal “Adaptation” — Cage’s 2002 acclaimed respite from Bruckheimerland in which he plays a pair of twins, one of them named after the film’s screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman — in this oddball reunion of “Being John Malkovich” collaborators Kaufman and director Spike Jonze.

Come Sunday night, Cage returns for an advanced screening of “Joe,” a darling of last year’s film festivals awaiting widespread theatrical release. In the vein of his partnership with Jonze, Cage aligns himself with auteur David Gordon Green on this adaptation of the Larry Brown novel — a drama about an ex-con who crosses paths with a teen shouldering even greater problems. Cage appears in person with Green, a filmmaker adept at both crazy comedy (“Pineapple Express,” “Eastbound and Down”) and serious fare (“George Washington”).

“Out on a Limb: A Tribute to Nicolas Cage” runs Friday through Sunday, with Cage appearing in person at 7 p.m. on Friday and Sunday at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. $15 or $12 for students and seniors. Call (323) 466-3456 or visit