Directed and co-written by Ryan Combs, Caged Animal was actually originally released with the more appropriate title of Wraith Of Cain - in fact, it was released on DVD in the UK under that title. Why it's been retitled here is anyone's guess, though it was likely a marketing ploy to make this prison film seem more fierce and violent than it actually is and to appeal to the action movie crowd.
The film stars Ving Rhames as Miles 'Cain' Skinner, a former nightclub owner who had some criminal ties who is currently incarcerated for life. He was put behind bars when a rival gangster named Redfoot (Robert Lasardo) stormed into his club and got into a firefight with him over a turf dispute. The results left Skinner's girlfriend dead, though somehow Redfoot managed to evade capture. This all changes when he's busted by the cops and sent to the same prison where Cain has been locked up. Of course, as soon as these two enemies are locked up together, old feuds find new life and after Cain defends himself from an attack by Redfoot, he's put into solitary by no nonsense Warden Dean (Robert Patrick).
Cain's outlook on life starts to change, however, when he's diagnosed with terminal cancer and not given much time to live. Inspired to make a difference before it's too late, he plans to get back in touch with some people from his past.
Caged Animal is entertaining enough but there are a few aspects of it that make it a little tough to take too seriously. First and foremost is the acting. Rhames more or less walks through this movie with very little emotion. Even towards the end when things are wrapping up and he's got a reason to be more of a real person and less of a stereotypical hard ass, you just don't get the sense that he's really feeling it. Lasardo is okay as the cold blooded Redfoot but the rest of the cast are all variations on the same 'urban prisoner' cliché we've seen time and again. Robert Patrick, who looks unusually tanned in this movie, is wasted in his supporting role and doesn't really bring anything of interest to the film, his character little more than a cardboard cut-out.
There are also a few poorly staged set pieces that really hurt the film. The aforementioned shoot out between Cain and Redfoot that takes place in the nightclub, shot from the side, shows Redfoot firing rather blindly at Cain unable to hit him, while Cain (who sports a ridiculous looking pimp suit and hat), holding his woman up, fires blindly back - these two are about ten feet apart and seemingly fire enough bullets to take out a small army, yet the only casualty is Cain's lady. Another groan inducing seen features Warden Dead supervising a prisoner speaking on prison property to a few pre-teen boys presumably sent there on a school trip in an attempt to scare them straight. While obviously prisoners aren't always the most polite of people, this guy drops a few pretty heavy F-bombs in front of those kids, and the warden, who would theoretically be adverse to such things, doesn't even bat an eye. Then there's the fight scenes - poorly staged, not very well photographed, and obviously fake, each and every one of them.
The film does have its entertainment value in that it moves at a good pace and features enough trash talking and bad action to keep it going, but by the time Cain's search for redemption comes full circle, it's hard to care about him or anyone else in this movie. Combs tries here and hits on a few interesting ideas and concepts along the way, but it never really comes together the way that it should.
Caged Animal looks okay in this 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Some scenes look softer than others and since so much of the film takes place inside a prison it isn't a particularly colorful movie, but the transfer is perfectly sufficient even if it won't win any awards for image quality. Some minor shimmering is noticeable but there aren't any problems with print damage or mpeg compression. Skin tones look lifelike and realistic enough. For a low budget affair, Caged Animal looks okay.
Audio tracks are provided in English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and 2.0 Stereo. The packaging advertise English closed captioning but there's none to be found on the disc nor are there any subtitle options or alternate language options. The 5.1 track edges out the stereo track by placing some ambient sound effects in the rear channels and spreading the score out a bit but both tracks sound fine. Dialogue is always clean and clear and well balanced and there are no problems to report with any noticeable hiss or distortion. The surround mix isn't as aggressive as it could have been and bass response, while certainly there, could have been stronger but overall it sounds fine.
Extras? There aren't any. There are few promos for other Phase 4 films that play before you get to the menu screen, but that's it - there isn't even a trailer for the feature itself.
Caged Animal is entertaining enough and it's heart is in the right place, but it gets mired under some bad acting, poorly staged action and fight scenes and a very heavy handed message devoid of subtlety. Rhames doesn't seem into the film, he coasts through it, while the rest of the cast vary wildly in terms of their ability. Phase 4's DVD looks and sounds as good as the source material likely allows for, but this isn't one you'll need to see. Prison movie fans will want to rent it, everyone else can skip it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.