This surface-only look at Nicolas Cage's career insults the depth of his work 

Sloppy Salute

Hollywood Salutes Nicolas Cage" is one of those commonplace brain-candy programs designed to keep TV commercials from bumping together too much.

And it's a shame, because Cage deserves better.

He's not my favorite actor, but he's exceedingly talented and has made some excellent — if risky — choices in preparing for certain of his roles. It's more tribute than criticism to say that some of his choices are so dead-solid perfect they give me the willies. Take the way he played the husband as both semimature adult and pimply-faced teen-ager in "Peggy Sue Got Married." I've known adults and kids like that from my own pimply-faced years to the present day — and I've universally loathed them. But Cage's choices were intelligent and wise, and I respected Cage's talent in having made them.

It takes versatility to continue to look for daring and inventive ways to create characters, and Cage can play either heroic or funny. He won an Oscar and a handful of other awards when he played the part of an alcoholic who was drinking himself to death in "Leaving Las Vegas." The reaction wasn't all that huge for "Captain Correlli's Mandolin" most recently, but Cage learned long ago that it's all a crapshoot in Hollywood.

He's worked fairly steadily, and he's got another film coming out this summer. He'll play Sgt. Joe Enders in a World War II story titled "Windwalkers," about two marines who are assigned to protect Navajo communications specialists. And he won a Blockbuster Award for the recent romantic comedy "The Family Man" and just wrapped on another comedy, "Adaptation," in which he plays twins.

Talented and versatile, that's Cage: His career has encompassed "City of Angels," "Face/Off," "Con-Air" and "The Rock." And also "Birdy," which first made people sit up and pay attention to his skills, along with "Moonstruck," "Raising Arizona" and even "Rumblefish," his first feature. (We'll assume that "Valley Girl" was only for the money.) Perhaps it helped that there was never anything else in life Cage wanted to do, even before he played in a school production of "Golden Boy" as a teen-ager.

But you'll get even less of a perspective of Cage's career in "Hollywood Salutes Nicolas Cage" than you've gotten in these few paragraphs. Despite some interesting but all-too-brief footage of Cage as a teen-age wannabe, the Hollywood tribute consists of footage that was already worked to death in movie trailers, strung together with little more than "I like him" statements from fellow celebs, fully half of whom were too busy to do more than ad-lib something meaningless on videotape from wherever they were.

In-person presenters include Lara Flynn Boyle, Dennis Hopper, Dennis Franz, Martin Scorsese, John Travolta and Jay Leno. (Leno centers his tribute on a naughty nuts/bolts gag with props that seems mildly tasteless, but it is cable.) Samuel L. Jackson hosts with moderate success, and Jim Carrey actually hands Cage the award on behalf of American Cinematheque.

What's missing is any thoughtful analysis or critical opinion of Cage's interesting career, and it's a career that warrants way more than this simplistic 48-minute hour.

But to its credit, it ends on time.

Debuts Feb. 26 at 9 p.m. on TNT, which will also be airing films starring Cage that day.


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