On a trip to Brazil surly big game hunter Frank Walsh (Nicolas Cage) bags a rare and deadly white jaguar to add to a haul of exotic animals he intends to deliver to a zoo. While arranging transportation, Frank winds up unexpectedly sharing a ship with a crack military unit overseen by Agent Freed (The Sopranos' Michael Imperioli), no-nonsense squad leader Ringer (LaMonica Garrett) and naval physician Dr. Ellen Taylor (Famke Janssen). The team are transporting their own deadly predator stateside: Loffler (Kevin Durand), a psychotic assassin trained by the U.S. government but since disowned and wanted on criminal charges. At sea Loffler makes a brutal escape and even worse, lets the animals loose forcing Frank to try to take down both a relentless killer and man-eating jaguar.
Nicolas Cage continues his strange evolution from Academy Award winning serious actor to V.O.D. schlock staple with Primal, a perfunctory but still entertaining B-thriller. Our first glimpse of Cage as the grouchy and antisocial Frank Walsh, whom the script insists likes animals more than people, finds him sat atop a tree deep in the Brazilian rainforest right before he hand tranqs a CGI jaguar then yells at a parrot. In other words: classic Cage. Fully aware of the B-movie tradition in which he is working the always watchable Cage pitches his performance in the mould of such histrionic "great white hunters" as Victor Mature in Safari (1956), Donald Pleasance in Night Creature (1978) and Henry Silva in Alligator (1980).
The interesting aspect of the film is that it pits Cage’s hunter against dueling predators, both the jaguar (whom superstitious locals dub: "the ghost cat") and Durand’s psycho killer who with his shark grin and nervous tics seems to be channeling the younger Nic Cage from Face/Off (1997). Richard Leder’s screenplay takes a vague stab at weaving a twisted psychological bond between Frank and Loffler (both hunters relentlessly pursuing their prey) but it is skin deep. The videogame style plot is very basic and leaves little room for subtext. That said Cage energizes proceedings with a committed, full-throttle star turn as, inevitably, Frank exhibits more compassion and concern for his fellow humans under the influence of Famke Janssen's steadfast medic and Jeremy Nazario's imperiled urchin.
The computer animated animals are for the most part convincing and only occasionally veer into distractingly fake. However British stunt coordinator turned director Nick Powell, who previously directed Cage, Hayden Christensen and Mulan (2020) star Crystal Liu Yi-Fei in the Medieval action-adventure Outcast (2014), makes far less of the killer cat than the set up leads one to expect. Indeed Primal essentially boils down to yet another retread of a Nineties psycho-on-the-loose movie with a Paul Reiser in Aliens (1986) type twist that does not make much sense.