I don’t have kids, a fact for which humanity should forever count their blessings. But amongst the many careers I’ve tried on for size over the years was a stint as a ‘manny’, childminding in London’s Notting Hell, so I do know just how awkward, annoying, belligerent, frustrating, let’s be honest, downright hateable kids can be. Sometimes, no matter how much you love the little darlings, you just wanna kill them! So I’ve a certain amount of sympathy for Brent and Kendall Ryan (Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair) the titular loving parents turned filicidal maniacs at the heart of Brian Taylor’s Mom And Dad.

The Ryans are your typical apple pie, middle class, all-American family; Dad Brent is struggling with his midlife crisis, his teenage dreams of boobs, bongs and muscle cars as shattered as the impulse buy pool table he impulsively smashes up in his basement. Mom Kendall pines for the career she gave up for life as a housewife and wonders when stroppy daughter Carly (Anne Winters) stopped being her best friend. Like any teenager, Carly is terminally embarrassed by her parents, resents their rules and their interference, their refusal to accept nice African-American boyfriend Damon (Robert T. Cunningham) while little brother Josh (Zachary Arthur) just wants to grow up to be just like the Daddy he hero worships. They’re just like any other family, on any other street in the country.

But when violence burns through the school like wildfire, zombie-like parents murderously falling on their children as they leave an exam, Damon’s dad tries to kill him with a broken bottle and Carly finds her bestie being cheerfully strangled by her beatifically smiling mother, Carly realises something very, very wrong is going on and rushes home to protect Josh, their loving, happy-ish family home erupting into cartoonish mayhem as Mom and Dad declare war on their offspring. Having brought them into the world, they’re determined now to take them out…

Ever seen Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining? Of course you have, you’re Movie Ramblings readers, I’m an idiot for even asking. You love it. Most people do. Depending on who you ask it’s a tense, chilling, slow-burning study in claustrophobic terror, a terrifying portrait of a man haunted by addiction and a child’s fear of abandonment/abuse or it’s Kubrick’s elaborate confession to faking the Moon Landings.

Whatever it is though, it’s hard not to agree with author Stephen King (who famously hated Kubrick’s movie so much he readapted his book for a TV miniseries!) who believed mad, bad Jack Nicholson was badly miscast as his troubled but essentially decent writer and father, caught in the grip of alcoholism and eaten alive by his own demons. And why did he argue against Jack’s casting?

Well, from the first moment he unleashes that sleazy, Mephistophelean trademark smirking grin, in the car ON THE WAY TO THE FRAKKIN INTERVIEW while discussing the cannibalism of the ill-fated Donner Party with HIS FIVE-YEAR OLD SON you already know, you Goddam KNOW that Nicholson is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, completely batshit crazy! His very presence renders the film not an exercise in tension and terror but one of voyeuristic scopophilia, it’s captive audience patiently, eagerly, waiting for the moment Nicholson finally ties one on, touches up the decaying naked ghost hag in Room 237, breaks out the fireaxe and starts chopping locked bathroom doors and weary would-be chef saviours down to size before going after the wife and wean. And be honest – who doesn’t wanna see shrill Shelley Duvall take a hatchet to the face?

While Kubrick’s magnum opus is far from a model for Mom And Dad (for starters Mom And Dad is fun), it may will be Nicolas Cage’s Shining, his loving father obviously a twitchy, bug-eyed homicidal maniac from the start, at no point leading us to believe he won’t be taking a power saw to his kids or smashing up a pool table while singing the Hokey Cokey before the end of the film. Written and directed by Brian Taylor, one half of Neveldine/Taylor, the Ritalin-deficient duo who brought us the live-action Looney Tunes delights of the Crank movies and the frenetic Gamer, Mom And Dad reunites Taylor with Cage (having worked together previously on the tedious Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance), the director inspiring the wayward Coppola scion to finally cut loose after a decade or so of lacklustre turns in DTV movies – hey, do you think those castles, dinosaur skulls and massive tax bills just pay themselves? – and indulge his operatic, Nouveau Shamanic excesses to deliver his most enjoyably bonkers performance in ages.

While Selma Blair brings real pathos to her role as Kendall, her understandable bitterness, desperation and weariness at the path her life has taken written in her eyes (or maybe that’s what having worked with Charlie Sheen just does to you…?), Cage goes over the top so hard you’d think he’s storming the Somme singlehanded, chewing the scenery like it’s Kobe beef, his performance a major return to form for modern cinema’s tastiest ham but his scenes with Blair are wonderful, their pent-up frustrations and sour parental disillusionment giving the film a believable backbone. Winters and Arthur are refreshingly sympathetic as the kids who really should have Childline on speed-dial while still being annoying enough that you could see why a parent may want to kill them and the film is grounded by Carly and Josh’s perspective on their parent’s slide into insanity.

In amongst the inspired lunacy, Taylor’s deployment of Roxette’s syrupy “It Must Have Been Love” both horrific and pant-wettingly funny, the startled hooting noise Cage makes as he’s repeatedly stabbed in the arse by screen legend and horror icon Lance Henriksen playing his dad (and if that isn’t inspired casting, I don’t know what is…), the director also finds moments that quietly chill, his row of silent, murderous fathers pressed against the windows of a maternity ward full of babies staying with you long after the film ends.

Bonkers, bloody fun, why not treat your parents and get them a copy of Mom And Dad.

DVD Review: Mom And Dad
4.0Overall Score
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