Cage is thoroughly uninspired here.
An increasingly pasty-faced, middle-aged actor who will apparently show up for anything drives down the highway with a green screen taking note of the barren post-apocalyptic landscape that passes him by. This is the fate of Nicolas Cage, doomed to wander the planet in a seemingly endless cinematic purgatory, and The Humanity Bureau is his latest descent into subgenre mediocrity. Director Rob W. King, whose recent work includes 32 episodes of a Canadian paranormal investigation series, at first wrangles a level of art design and competent cinematography that has often eluded Cage’s recent projects. Unfortunately, Dave Schultz’ script doesn’t give Cage room for the kind of bug-eyed freak-out that the actor’s fans long for in this stage of his career.
The movie is set in 2030, a near future (that looks alarmingly like today!) in which residents of a mostly uninhabitable Earth are rounded up for deportation to the supposedly promising colony of New Eden. Cage plays Humanity Bureau agent Noah Cross, who with a biblical name borrowed from the character John Huston plays in Chinatown (to which this movie bears no further resemblance whatsoever) investigates citizens whom the government determines are no longer productive members of society. Cross is happy to dispatch uncooperative stragglers—it’s just part of his job—but he has suspicions about this New Eden thing. And for some reason, he takes a special shine to his next case, Rachel (Sarah Lind), who’d rather just stay and live on the farm where she and her pre-teen son Lucas (Jakob Davies) get by. Besides, this single-parent family is scheduled to be relocated on a day that conflicts with an important milestone in the boy’s life.
You see, Lucas has a “recital” scheduled that day, and when Cross inevitably pays a visit to the school auditorium where this recital is about to take place, he finds Lucas singing along with his class to “Amazing Grace” in front of a huge American flag—and for his “solo,“ Lucas recites the Pledge of Allegiance.
The joke has already been made in outlets with a much higher readership than ours, but Oh, the humanity indeed. The Humanity Bureau isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds. The movie starts off with some surprisingly effective minimalist visuals, from desert landscapes to sterile government buildings, and the process shots of Cage driving through this American tundra have a B-movie quality that’s almost endearing; such footage is great fodder for an enterprising mashup artist to use in a clip-reel that sets the actor along a life’s highway of one bad movie role after another.
Unfortunately, Cage is thoroughly uninspired here, and a third-act plot twist (Spoiler Alert: that patriotic young American is Cross’ son!) feels both obvious and inconsequential. Somehow, The Humanity Bureau warrants a limited theatrical release for what should have been another straight-to-streaming product in the actor’s languishing career. Where are the B-movie kingpins of yesteryear who could throw together something tastelessly entertaining on a meager budget and provide an easy paycheck for over-the-top actors? As sloppy as last year’s horror-satire Mom and Dad was, at least it gave Cage room to scream. This wan disaster might as well have just chained him to a soul-sucking desk job, toiling away as a faceless bureaucrat, his colorful days of insect-eating long behind him.