There are two names that are synonymous with insane action cinema for me: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. The two have worked together on the Crank films, Gamer, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and Jonah Hex (which they both wrote, but didn’t direct). As their filmography has continued on, one might argue that they lost a bit of the sensibility to create a cohesive narrative that has more than just bloodshed and high-octane action at every corner. Each movie becomes increasingly less interesting on the story front, but tend to feature moments straight out of a fever dream.
Stepping out on his own as a director with no help from Neveldine, Taylor has brought along the king of insane acting, Nicolas Cage, and crafted a premise that is both relatable and absolutely bonkers. Mom and Dad is the definition of trashy, unrelenting action filmmaking, and it’s led by Cage and Selma Blair, who both take turns chewing scenery and bashing in skulls while reminiscing about life with their kids and the life they had before them. Taking the unique premise of a mysterious hysteria that overcomes and makes parents want to kill their children instead of love them, Taylor deftly moves between horror, comedy, and action to create another gonzo cinematic experience that only the creator of Crank could do so well.
Cage and Blair play the titular mom and dad, and we watch them go through their day as the hysteria begins to go into full swing as the world around them starts turning on their young. Blair leads the movie, as she reminisces about how much her daughter, Carly (Anne Winters), and her use to talk — a gap that has only worsened as she has gotten older. Bratty as she may be, Carly quickly recognizes the responsibility she has to protect her family from each other when the parents come home and begin a night of torture and sadism against her and her brother, Josh (Zackary Arthur).
It’s easy to just enjoy the ride of Mom and Dad — and it often encourages you to just sit back and indulge — but there’s an uneasy feeling at the center of the film that makes it occasionally difficult to wrestle with. An incredibly mortifying set piece in a hospital partakes in uncomfortable notions, but also tries to have its cake and eat it too. Never afraid to go for a laugh, Taylor sometimes turns Mom and Dad into a tonally weird film, and those moments are unfortunate in an otherwise skillfully-made genre exercise.
There are these great moments where Cage and Blair’s characters reflect on their pasts, and you see how things have gone downhill for them since having kids and being married for so long. The two have a great chemistry with each other on film, and watching the brief moments that exist of them just talking and understanding one another aids in seeing why they are so fun to watch while trying to kill their own children. Those flashbacks are also often punctuated by quick cuts back to the present, and highlight some of the terrifying things parents say without even knowing the ramifications of the comments. Cage’s character threatening to kill his own son if he touches his car again is only made more palpable when juxtaposed against him wielding a handsaw and chasing him around their house.
There are a lot of films that try to do fun concepts like this, but few manage to put a heart at the center of it. Mom and Dad may have some of the best performances from Blair and Cage, but it also feels nuanced in the way its structured. The flashbacks give great character motivation, and pry each character’s head open so that we can see their regrets. Meanwhile, the parent-versus-child angle lets both sides of the equation explain why you should care about them living. Parents just want their old lives back, and kids just want their lives to begin, and Mom and Dad is more than willing to let you root for whatever side you want.
But if you want to see Nicolas Cage smashing a pool table with a sledgehammer and singing the Hokey Pokey, then you may want to root for the parents.