season-of-the-witchSet in the years following the Crusades, “Season of the Witch” sees Nicolas Cage go all medieval on the forces of evil and, very possibly, his credibility as an actor.

Cage and Ron “Hellboy” Perlman play AWOL knights who fled the Crusades after being forced to slaughter women and children in the name of God. When they are apprehended and accused of being deserters they save themselves from rotting in a plague ridden dungeon by making a deal to transport a known witch cross country to where she can be tried and hopefully, put an end to the Black Plague. Of course, even though they have the help of a colourful cast of characters — including a priest, a criminal and a God’s warrior wannabe — they have a devil of a time getting her to the sanctuary.

I’ve lost track trying to list the career phases of Nicolas Cage. There was the loose-limbed eccentricity of “Wild at Heart” and “Raising Arizona.” The method acting of “Leaving Las Vegas” and extreme jazz riffing of “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” among others but his latest movie seems to indicate a new chapter. It’s no secret that Cage is suffering some financial difficulties these days, but “Season of the Witch,” a pay cheque movie if there ever was one, suggests that he is not only financially bankrupt but artistically as well.

I wasn’t a big fan of his larger-than-life acting in “Bangkok Dangerous” and “Knowing,” but at least he seemed to be putting some effort into his work. Here he’s lifeless and flat, as though simply showing up with hairpiece intact is enough to constitute a performance. I miss the extreme Nicolas Cage, the actor who wasn’t afraid to take chances, not the confounding Cage who buries his talent under a pay cheque.

Cage’s performance is simply the cherry on top of this rancid Sundae. Director Dominic Sena — what’s happened to this guy since he made “Kalifornia”? –does his best Uwe Boll impression behind the camera, junking up the story with bad buddy-cop-dialogue-with-a-1332 AD-twist — “We’re gonna need more holy water!” — and even worse special effects.

It’s too early to call “Season of the Witch” one of the worst movies of the year but it does set the bar awfully high… or low.