The premise of BETWEEN WORLDS is ridiculous. There is no doubt of that. It feels a bit like Zalman King tried his hand at writing a Twilight Zone episode and filled it with his usual doses of heavy melodramatic erotica. Add to that equation Nicolas Cage playing a tortured truck driver with a tragic past who is seemingly always high on over-the-counter speed/booze/weed and you would seem to have the recipe for some good, trashy fun. Instead, the results are disjointed and surprisingly dull.
Joe (Cage) is an extreme caricature of a southern truck driver. Sporting a few weeks worth of beard, stringy long hair hanging out the back of his trucker cap, and the exhausted expression of a man who stays up days on end, Joe is not exactly the picture of mental or physical health. When he stumbles upon Julie (Franka Potente) being viciously choked by a man in the bathroom of a truck stop, he beats the shit out of the creep, proclaiming, “We don’t choke women, down South!” Yes, that is indicative of the dialogue found throughout the film.
Instead of being grateful, Julie is pissed at Joe. In an exposition dump that can only be described as breathtaking, she explains that she had a near-death experience as a child and can now travel to the area between life and death to make contact with spirits. When Joe interrupted her choking, she was trying to contact her teenage daughter Billie (Penelope Mitchell) who is in a coma from a motorcycle accident. To make it up to her, Joe takes on choking duties and they successfully return Billie’s spirit to her body. Or did they?
In a further exposition dump, Joe lays out his tragic back story. His wife was a fragile person who hated being alone. She begged him to give up his job as a truck driver since he was always away from home. But he didn’t listen to her and, one night, while he was on the road, she fell asleep smoking in bed and burned down the house, killing not only herself, but also their daughter. Got all that?
Joe and Julie strike up a romance, but the labored plot groundwork is complicated even further by Billie’s strange behavior. She is dismissive toward her friends, cold to Julie, and throws seductive looks at Joe. Given the loopy twists in the film to that point, it is no surprise when Billie claims to actually be his dead wife.
The love triangle that results from Billie’s revelation is more than a little icky. Writer/director Maria Pulera mostly jettisons the supernatural angle in favor of a hot-and-bothered sexual melodrama. The problem with taking that angle is that the film eventually boils down to two beautiful women (one of whom is eighteen-years-old—at least physically) grinding up on Nicolas Cage as if he was every guy in MAGIC MIKE rolled into one.
Don’t get me wrong; Cage can still be a magnetic screen presence when he chooses. But—extreme trucker clichés aside—he is a little too believable at portraying a semi-crazed man in his 50’s who has gone to seed to make me buy that he is the object of over-the-top lustful desires of such a very young woman. Even if that young woman is supposed to be possessed by his late wife.
But the discomfort of the May-December romance is only one of the problems that BETWEEN WORLDS faces. Julie’s ability to bring spirits back from the realm between life and death is brought up and then mostly dropped with only fuzzy reasoning to explain how her power works. Maybe the scenes related to her power wound up on the cutting room floor. That would explain why the film feels so awkwardly edited with its rushed conclusion. At a certain point in the second act, the need to justify the action happening on screen seems to be abandoned by Pulera and the film just meanders through stock clichés like a nurse (Gwendolyn Mulamba) with an understanding of Julie’s power showing up to spout yet more exposition.
It is disappointing that BETWEEN WORLDS is such a mess of half-assed plotting and clashing tones because Cage and Potente are actually a fun duo in the early scenes. Cage employs his usual odd mannerisms and line readings, but they work for the character. Potente brings a grounded nature to a thankless role and genuinely seems to be enjoying herself. Together, they find a decent comic chemistry that does allow me to buy the idea that Julie would consider a loser like Joe as a potential romantic partner. But that is as close as the film comes to something resembling actual human behavior.
I wanted to have fun with BETWEEN WORLDS, but other than some of the interplay between Cage and Potente, much of the film is a chore to sit through. The plot twists promise something bonkers, but the tone turns so flat and the editing/directing is so sloppy that it ends up boring. An out-of-nowhere ending that over-reaches is too little too late when it comes to the sort of crazed tone that the rest of the film should have supplied. Sometimes a mess of a film can be worth watching, but sometimes it’s just a mess.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)