A couple of years ago, an eccentric award-winning actor had a choice: He could star in an unreasonable amount of movies of declining quality, stockpiling paychecks as his reputation and brand diminished, or he could sell his dinosaur bones and castles to appease the IRS and become significantly less weird. Well, here’s to Nicolas Cage for keeping it weirder than ever, movies be damned.
“Seeking Justice” finds Cage starring as New Orleans high school teacher Will Gerard. It’s a storybook life, as we see him (unconvincingly) partying with friends while holding the hand of beautiful wife Laura (January Jones, placeholder). An evening of canoodling ends in bed as he gifts her with a necklace, a token of his still-strong affections. So far, so generic.
One night, Laura is attacked, a victim of a random sexual assault, and Will rushes to her side. Awash with guilt and fear in the waiting room, he’s greeted by natty-suited Simon (Guy Pearce, slumming). We can get the guy responsible, says Simon, but you’ll owe us. Stricken with the sort of movie-grief that fuels bad decisions in bad movies, Will opts for revenge. Because Simon is so under-the-radar, WIll has to prove his allegiance by following a continuing set of arcane orders, including a drawn-out suspense sequence where he must order two of the same exact candy bar from a machine. Pearce plays Simon with a polite menace, but surely he’s offscreen somewhere cracking up at all this.
Years later, the still-happily-married Will is called into action, via threat: we know where you work, we know where she is, report for duty. Will is assigned the task of roughing up an accused pedophile, sending him to his death with a semi-unfriendly nudge off a walkway. If Will agreed to this without a fight, it would only be a short film, so instead Will tries to avoid his assigned tasks, earning him phone calls, direct threats and near-death encounters. Poor January Jones, who is forced to show absolutely no awareness of her husband’s predicament, is eternally a half hour behind the rest of the story. In these types of movies, Playing Dumb is often the sole option for the actress starring as the Supportive Wife.
Simon’s vigilante operation, sort of a Pay It Forward In Blood operation, doesn’t rely on high-tech gizmos or heavy artillery, but rather one person at a time, doing their part to preserve a world less accomodating to evil. Of course, Simon’s operation has long since corrupted, catering to personal interests, which makes sense: there’s very little Real Evil in the world, just corrupt morality trying to keep their own houses in order, bureacracy attempting to ensure a less bumpy ride. No doubt this is what attracted director Roger Donaldson to the material, as the journeyman has long been bringing a sense of intelligence to genre offal like “Species” and “The Recruit.” Unfortunately, whatever character that had been given to the shadowy Simon was left on the cutting-room floor, a pity when an actor of Guy Pearce’s caliber has been hired. What could have been a compromised modern Machiavelli comes across instead as a sneering, gun-toting villain.
Will’s somewhat-unlikely everyman heroism seems incongruous in this scenario, particularly considering Will is such a classic contemporary shlump, a stark contrast to Simon and his casual control of a tightly-knit social network. Wearing an endless supply of sweaters and sporting a middle-aged safety goatee, Cage is far less manic than he has been in recent memory. The world-weary exhaustion he’s sported in more emotionally taxing material is in full bloom, as the vaguely unhinged, frequently cackling star of “Con Air” and “Adaptation” is stuck playing an underwritten Average Joe. With his shoulders slumped, constantly looking over his shoulder, you’d believe that the sleepy-eyed madman beneath this unconvincing suburban facade is absolutely sick of owning castles. [C-]