Ron Perlman and Nicolas Cage star in "Season of the Witch." (Relativity Media )
It is sort of required these days when discussing Nicolas Cage to make some mention of his ever-evolving hairstyles and personal quirks — the castle and the tax problems — but there are much more immediate issues at hand regarding Cage in "Season of the Witch."
In his latest film, the actor displays only the briefest flashes of the deep commitment to chaos he brings to his best work, as in his recent turns in the delightfully wacked-out "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" or even the watchable junk of "Ghost Rider."
Set during the 14th century with the Crusades and the Black Plague as a backdrop, the film tells the story of two knights (played by Cage and Ron Perlman) who desert from battle only to be redrafted into service for the purpose of transporting an accused witch (Claire Foy) to a remote monastery.
Directed by the perennially hollow Dominic Sena from a script by Bragi Schut, "Season of the Witch" is all seams. It never balances out its competing desires to be a rollicking medieval adventure, a thoughtful meditation on faith and even a buddy road movie.
What's most disappointing, though, is how Cage seems to be sleepwalking through so much of it. He and Perlman are such odd, idiosyncratic actors that they give any scene of the two of them just talking a freewheeling, offhanded energy, like outtakes from an unseen Hope and Crosby picture.
But there are only occasional glimmers of Cage's singularly eccentric line-readings or moments when he turns conventional reaction shots on their head. Mostly they crop up just enough to serve as a reminder of their absence.
The cast is rounded out with wonderful European character actors such as Ulrich Thomsen and Stephen Graham, even the legendary Christopher Lee, but they all have little to do.
"Season of the Witch" is at its worst when it tries to be a straight-ahead action-adventure film. The early sequence set against the epic battles of the Crusades is almost brazenly bad with its unconvincing "300"-style special effects. A scene in which Perlman tests an aspiring young knight in a swordfight should have had a playful, lighthearted feel, but Sena so wildly overshoots it, looking to goose up the moment, that it becomes cluttered and clumsy.
"It's strange, sure is strange," goes the '60s-era Donovan song "Season of the Witch" — pointedly not used here — though what Sena's film needs is exactly that: more life, more energy, more strangeness.
'Season of the Witch'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, violence and disturbing content
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: In general release