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Nick Cassavetes, left, and Nicolas Cage in Prisoners of the Ghostland.Courtesy of Mongrel Media

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  • Prisoners of the Ghostland
  • Directed Sion Sono
  • Written by Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai
  • Starring Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella and Nick Cassavetes
  • Classification R; 100 minutes
  • Opens Sept. 17 in select Canadian theatres

I suppose it was only a matter of time until Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono – infamous in art-house/midnight movie circles for Tokyo Tribe, Suicide Club and dozens of other freak-out features – got to make his very own Mad Max film. And, as might be expected from Sono, it is an overstuffed, manic, exhausting piece of instant movie-meme catnip – likely impenetrable to all but the hardest of hardcore genre devotees.

Nicolas Cage, fresh off garnering the best reviews in years for his quietly devastating work in this summer’s Pig, is back to full-on freak-out mode, starring as a criminal named Hero (yes) who is jailed in a post-apocalyptic Japan for a bank robbery gone wrong. He is, however, given a shot at redemption, tasked with rescuing the daughter of the local governor (Bill Moseley) who has been abducted beyond the reach of the law. There is a catch: the badlands where Bernice (Sofia Boutella) is held are cursed by some supernatural entity. Or something. It’s never quite made clear. Oh, and also: Hero’s testicles are wired to an explosive device. If he were to veer off-mission, it’s bye-bye manhood.

There is, if you couldn’t already tell, a lot going on here. But also, as happens with the brashest Sono concepts, not nearly enough. As the director traces Hero’s not-all-that-heroic journey, with frequent flash-backs to the bloody heist that got him locked up, Sono conjures a thrill-ride that is more blah than bombastic. Prisoners of the Ghostland seems to scream its gonzo bona fides at the top of its lungs. But the only thing that we can hear is a hoarse, dry cough of a wild idea turned bland. As a typically twitchy Cage utters at one point, “You’re all nuts!” But just calling yourself crazy doesn’t make it so.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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