The welcome prospect of seeing Nicolas Cage return to the kind of prestige vehicle befitting an Oscar winner goes unrealized in "The Runner," a hollow, listless political drama that could have been a contender.
Set in the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the film stars Cage as an idealistic Louisiana congressman whose senatorial ambitions are derailed when one of his extramarital dalliances catches up with him.
Tossed out by his relentlessly driven wife (Connie Nielsen doing her best Lady Macbeth), he goes about rebuilding his personal post-Katrina life with the support of his former consultant (Sarah Paulson).
Directed and written by producer Austin Stark, this first feature is clearly going after the smart redemptive dramas that Sidney Lumet and Alan J. Pakula were making in the '70s and '80s.
But in Stark's hands, the plodding film goes awfully heavy on script exposition and all too light on character depth, leaving Cage and company — including a smartly cast Peter Fonda as his been-there, done-that alcoholic dad — to come up with their own complexity.
Although Cage's performance errs a bit too much on the side of achingly stoic, it nevertheless feels genuine. "The Runner" may not have taken him to the place he needed to be, but at least he's headed in the right direction.
MPAA rating: R for language, sexual material.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.