Outcast is a movie about a young Chinese prince called Zhao, whose father has chosen him to be heir over his older warrior brother, and his sister Lian – and the former Crusaders who help them. It’s a B-movie epic with some seriously great swordplay, a herky jerky plot and intermittent acting.
Hayden Christensen is the soulfully damned ex-Crusader whom they hire to help them; Nicolas Cage is the former Crusader turned bandit (The White Ghost) who finds himself drawn into their cause much against his better judgement.
Outcast opens in the Middle East during the Crusades. The Crusaders, led by Gallain (Cage) and Jacob (Christensen) are methodically taking a town and dispatching their foes. Gallain is tired of the fighting and certain that this is not God’s work. The two split up.
Three years later, in China, a dying king designates his younger son, Zhao (Bill Su Jiahang) his heir and sends him off with the royal seal, and under the protection of his sister, Lian (Liu Yifei) to meet with ‘the generals’ and secure the kingdom. They escape just before older brother Shing (Andy On) arrives and hastens the king’s death before accusing his brother of the murder and sending the Black Guards after them.
At an inn along the way, Zhao and Lian are caught by Black Guards, but, after Lian gives him gold, Jacob decides to help them. From here, Outcast is, essentially, a chase film with cool swordplay.
When things get tight(er) after a betrayal, Jacob sends the pair into a forest that home to the bandits led by The White Ghost – Gallain, now with a blinded eye and a mute wife. Despite his better judgement, and perhaps a bit of a time issue, Gallain chooses to help Lian and Zhao.
Frankly, Outcast’s script, by James Dormer, is a bit of a hodgepodge that’s not helped by former stunt coordinator Nick Powell’s pedestrian direction – except for the fighting and swordplay (that stuff is very entertaining). Thank goodness they’ve got a cast that is too busy having fun to notice. That helps, a lot.
Christensen is suitably glowery and brings actual gravitas to his role (seriously, if he’d been half this good in that Star Wars prequel it might not have been quite so abominable). As Lian and Zhao get through to him, Christensen makes his shift in perspective work. Liu is very persuasive as Lian; Jiahang is suitably earnest and impetuous as the fourteen-year old princeling.
What can I say about Cage? There are basically three types of Nicolas Cage performances: quality, bat$#!+ crazy and quality bat$#!+ crazy. Here, he is both quietly bat$#!+ crazy and over-the-top bat$#!+ crazy. Though he’s only in about half the movie, his presence looms over it even when he’s offscreen.
The end result is a movie that should be horrible but winds up being one of those movies that, if you stumbled on it on cable at three in the morning, you’d probably be unable to look away (and not just because of Christensen’s Bieber-esque do).
Outcast is the classic instance of a movie being so bad it’s good.
Final Grade: B-