When you put together the words “Francis Ford Coppola” and “neo noir,” you would think that it would be the opposite of a complete disaster. But The Cotton Club, Coppola’s 1984 attempt at showing the public that – hey! 1920’s Harlem was really into this jazz thing – didn’t go quite as spectacularly as he might have planned. However, it did give us Richard Gere playing the hell out of a coronet and Nicolas Cage being (what else?) his fumbling brother who doesn’t recognize that tangoing with the mob isn’t the brightest of ideas.

It’s a confusing, slick film that can’t quite decide what it’s after; do we want to focus on Gere and his music dreams, the dancers and the fate of the infamous Cotton Club — or is this purely a mob movie that claims Gere and the infinitely moldable Cage in its clutches? Gere, as Dixie Dwyer and his lady love Vera Cicero (Diane Lane, who won a few Razzies for this atrocity), are constant presences throughout the film as they fight their corrupt mob boss (Gregory Hines) and attempt to find convenient places to make out discretely. It’s a rough life, the 20s.

But those times we’re not dwelling on Gere’s woes give us pockets to see what his rascally, dumdum brother Vincent (Cage) is up to — it’s usually something terrible. It’s 1984 and Cage is still 19 years old, making this yet another film he’s made in just the first two years of his so young career. Cage has nurtured his skills and you can see the progress, taking roles in different genres to exercise his chops. Of course, we haven’t gotten to the nonsensical action star, jumping out of a moving car, sci-fi stage of his career, so we can’t say he’s tried everything. But be patient; he’s getting there.

Vincent is a simple man who’s not that impressed with his musician brother like everyone else seems to be; he elopes with his girlfriend (Jennifer Grey) after a fairly short amount of time because screw you, that’s why. Despite his brother’s best arguments, our good man Vincent decides to join up with the Sandman’s cause to get a little work done out on the streets of New York — you know, gentle, honest work.

Flash forward to Cage thumping through dark alleyways in a haze of gunfire — both his own and the kind that he’s trying to dodge — when things get a little salty. It’s easy money! Why doesn’t anyone understand? His ambition in life has dwindled in life from being a young husband and breadwinner, to being a thug and hired gun tied to the whims of a madmen. Sure, he’s got a life of excitement, but his days at the office usually end with him bleeding in the back of a jalopy somewhere.

While Cage has mastered the art of the “long hair, don’t care” mentality that has carried him throughout several brooding, bad dude roles, The Cotton Club doesn’t afford him the time to explore his character as much as the rest of us would like. It’s not his problem; it’s not necessarily the film’s problem, because this was Gere’s starrer. Although, thinking about it — that probably could have solved a few problems.

Tune in next time, when we discuss yet another film from 1984 — god, that man has an insane work ethic — Alan Parker’s Birdy.