It's long since become apparent -- long before Season of the Witch -- that Nicolas Cage has lost his ability to discern good scripts from bad.
Or maybe he's just cursed -- that somehow the act of Cage selecting a script transforms it from whatever it was into the basest multiplex fodder, a multi-million dollar POS.
Here's the real question: Who is it that's actually buying tickets to see Nic Cage in the endless series of Jerry Bruckheimer trash -- and worse -- that regularly pops up with Cage's name above the title?
Cage's complete and total sell-out as an actor -- it takes big, big paychecks to run up the kind of debts and foolish investments that he has -- will be the subject of a later commentary. Suffice to say that Season of the Witch is not the movie that's going to make critics stop thinking of him as the action-movie version of Adam Sandler: someone whose movies are too dreadful to bear, yet who somehow keeps churning them out.
In Witch, a weak sword-and-sorcery tale, he plays Behmen, a Crusader who decides he's had enough of the 14th-century battle in God's name, particularly when he's reduced to slaughtering women and children. So he and battle-buddy Felson (Ron Perlman) call it quits and head back to their generically European homeland.
But when they get there, they find the landscape decimated by the black plague. They try to get away from a pestilence-ravaged town they reach, only to be recognized as deserters and tossed in jail. But they're reprieved by the Church, which wants to put them back to work doing God's work.
Specifically, they're given the job of accompanying a witch (Claire Foy), who is to be caged and transported to a distant monastery, which possesses the last known copy of a holy text containing, um, de-witchifying prayers. He and Felson are accompanied by another knight (Ulrich Thomsen), a priest (Stephen Campbell Moore), a novice (Robert Sheehan) and a thief (Stephen Graham) who knows the route.
The sole suspense, such as it is, lies in figuring out which of the supporting players will survive the trip. That's because there's barely anything else of interest amidst the standard-issue action setpieces.
Which leaves you to ponder the film's many imponderables, such as: When the group is surrounded by wolves, why does each wolf suddenly transform from a regular wolf to a less-realistic, computer-adjusted monster-movie wolf just before attacking?
Or why is it that the wolves -- we're talking dozens, even hundreds of wolves -- stop attacking the group once four or five of them have brought down and eaten a single traveler?
And another question: When they're forced to take their horses and wagon across a rotting rope-and-plank bridge -- and the bridge falls into the bottomless ravine below just behind them -- well, how will subsequent travelers get across the ravine? Who's going to put up the "Bridge Out" sign for anyone who comes after them?
I could go on, but why bother? These are not questions that concerned the filmmakers, who seemed preoccupied with Cage's gnarly hair extensions, which look like a bad version of the rug he wore in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Nor were they concerned that the endless modern wisecracks that Behman and Felson exchange sound too modern.
Season of the Witch is genre garbage, served up with a straight face as though it means something. But all it means is that P.T. Barnum and H.L. Mencken remain inarguably correct in their assessment of the public's gullibility and appetite.
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