The idea of a movie called “Mom and Dad” starring Nicolas Cage surely doesn’t conjure something warm and sentimental about hearth, home and parental love. If we’re honest, that base level of information doesn’t even make immediately clear which of the two roles Cage would play.
A stronger impression of what lies in store might come from learning that the writer-director is Brian Taylor, half of the duo (credited as Neveldine/Taylor) who steered the Oscar-winner-turned-paycheck-punchline through “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” not to mention a handful of other hyperventilating action exercises (“Crank,” “Gamer”) steeped in the vernacular of genre junkiness.
The reality is both a fair guess and a mild surprise in that yes, “Mom and Dad” is a gleefully trashy horror comedy about the spanking impulse turned homicidal (Cage is the father, Selma Blair the mother), and yet it’s also not exactly terrible in the realm of people-gone-amok movies. Though it’s nothing new — one thinks of “The Shining,” “Parents,” and “Serial Mom” — it’s still disreputably fun to watch, like a viral video of a crazy person in public, or eavesdropping on a drunken spat in a restaurant, or that feeling when channel-flipping lands you on a familiar dumb movie right at your favorite moment.
One can even imagine its use as a prankish discipline tool in unruly households: a harried mom slyly leaving it on her laptop so the little brats can happen upon it and see just what happens when a brink is reached.
The Ryan household is one such hotbed of standard-issue middle-class family chaos, built on squelched dreams and a fuzzy sense of societal obligation. Fragile mom Kendall (Blair), a once thriving career woman turned housewife, endures the snarling impudence of her high school sophomore daughter Carly (Anne Winters) and wonders, Where did my once chummy gal pal of a kid go? Suited-and-tied Brent (Cage), meanwhile, would rather horse around with his grade school-aged son Joshua (Zackary Arthur) or fantasize about his wild youth doing donuts in a Trans Am with a topless girl in his lap than go to an empty job where he sleeps at his desk.
It’s during the school day, however, when parents show up en masse at the outside gates to retrieve their kids (an image designed to call up zombie movies), and then news starts filtering in about bizarre acts of filicide across the city, that Carly begins to suspect something is up. (Though the origins are never explained, cutaways to TV static suggest it’s the portal, “Poltergeist”-style, for this particular unleashed hell.)
Later, after happening upon her best friend (Olivia Crocicchia) being strangled by her smiling mother (Samantha Lemole), then running into her boyfriend Damon (Robert Cunningham) who narrowly avoided his own home attack by an evil-eyed parent, Carly puts the picture together and hurries home to protect Joshua. Together the once-bickering, now-allied siblings try to forestall the inevitable confrontation when a suddenly different ma and pa come home.
Taylor has a solid enough grindhouse premise (turning family platitudes of unconditional love on their ears in a world of well-manicured lawns and untended-to resentments) without trying to intellectualize it. But thankfully his meager attempts to give his horror gimmick satiric meaning — a teacher lecturing on a planned obsolescence culture that routinely looks to reject the old in favor of the new, TV talking heads (including Dr. Oz) calling the epidemic a human version of the young-killing practice known as “savaging” — can be easily ignored as you wait patiently for Cage and Blair to become bloodthirsty lunatics in the second half.
The stars don’t disappoint, either. Blair effectively hollows out her eyes so that her Kendall goes from concerned guardian to had-it-up-to-here psycho with a certain relish. Cage, of course, is an old hand at unhinged, and even if Taylor occasionally lets his penchant for flashy angles, warped-percussion music cues, and whiplash editing step on his star’s zero-to-sixty process, he has obvious respect for the outré beastliness that is unfiltered Cage.
The better metaphor, in fact, for Taylor’s screw-domestic-responsibility scenario might be the star’s bizarre career: Was there only so much box office/awards prestige an inveterate oddball could take before the wheels came off and he started tearing through quality-challenged fringe movies like a streaker on fire?
Taylor saves his best violent gag for the last minutes, when Lance Henriksen shows up to remind us all how valuable and scary a B-movie figure he’s been over the years. And ultimately, that’s what “Mom and Dad” is, an extended gore-goof, blazingly paced and Cage-freed.