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Seeking Justice
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Slay It Forward"
1 stars

The film beat offers up plenty of sorry spectacles that one is forced to contemplate these days--unnecessary 3-D, found-footage idiocies, the inexplicable ascension of uber-hack Todd Phillips to the apparent position of being this generation's Ivan Reitman and so on--but there are few that are as disheartening to bear witness to than the continued devolution of the career of Nicolas Cage. Once upon a time, he was the quirky firebrand whose oddball demeanor and simultaneously intense and insane livened up virtually ever film that had the wit and taste to display them. However, instead of merely turning into the modern-day Timothy Carey, he somehow managed to parlay the weirdness into a mainstream Hollywood career that saw him able to handle comedy and drama with equal aplomb and which culminated in his winning the Best Actor Oscar for his still-heartbreaking performance in "Leaving Las Vegas." From this point, he shifted into mega-movie mode and while he still made time for the occasional off-beat projects like "Adaptation," he was more often found in blockbuster behemoths like "The Rock" and "Face/Off" and while fans of his earlier work may have begun to despair that he was spending too much time on silly action epics, they could at least take consolation that as noisy movie meatballs went, they were better than most of the competition. After a while, however, it became obvious that he was deploying the kind of critical judgement in selecting what he was going to do more commonly associated with a drunken freshman at his/her first frat party. Again, he would still pick out the occasional gem--his work in Werner Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" was one of the best performances of his career,"Knowing" was a trippy mind-bender that is just begging to be rediscovered and my strange fondness for the "Wicker Man" remake has been noted in the past--but for the most part, the films were as difficult to justify on any artistic level as they were to sit through and after such recent disasters as "Trespass" and "Ghost Rider: Whatever the Hell It Was Subtitled," it has begun to seem as though he was just randomly picking every other project that arrived on his doorstep that agreed to meet his quote.

If there is nothing else that one might say about his latest effort, the weak-sauce vigilante thriller "Seeking Justice"--and there really isn't, though I fear I must plow ahead anyway--it is that this is definitely an Other movie through and through, a brainless rehash of elements that have been lifted wholesale from previously successful films by people who apparently have no idea of what made them work in the first place and performances so lazy that cast might as well be delivering their lines from comfy sofas. Two decades ago, hackwork like this would have featured the likes of Eric Roberts & Tanya Roberts, been shot in a couple of weeks on the lowest budget imaginable and premiered at your local video store (though even Kramer himself might have balked at renting it). Nowadays, the budget is a little bigger and the stars are of a somewhat higher caliber--yes, even Cage--but the end result is so asinine, even by the standards of crummy revenge dramas, that the only thing that seems to be debuting, however half-heartedly, in theaters instead of at your local Blockbuster is that your local Blockbuster most likely doesn't exist anymore. That said, spending 90-odd minutes roaming the lot where it once stood might actually be preferable to sitting through this gibberish, a film that desperately wants to be a modern equivalent of the queasy classic "Death Wish" but which doesn't even live up to the less-than-august standards of "Death Wish 4."

Cage stars as Will Gerard, an impassioned English teacher at a run-down New Orleans high school who specializes in teaching the kind of classroom lessons that will inevitably be reflected in future events. One night, while out playing chess with longtime buddy and colleague Jimmy (Harold Perrineau), his musician wife Laura (January Jones) is the victim of a brutal sexual assault while walking to her car after practice. While sitting in the waiting room awaiting further word of her condition, Will is approached by a mysterious man who introduces himself as Simon (Guy Pearce) and who offers him a potentially irresistible proposition. Simon claims to know the identity and whereabouts of the man that attacked Laura but is not in favor of giving it to the cops for the usual reasons--even if they do arrest him, it will be a long time before he goes to trial, it will force Laura to relive the entire nightmare when it comes time for her to testify and there is no real certainty that he will even be found guilty in the end. Instead, Simon says that he represents a certain shadowy group that will, on Will's say-so, take care of the brute, in the Samuel L. Jackson sense of the word. All this comes at absolutely no cost to Will. At most, Simon admits, the group might ask him to do some kind of minor favor for him at some point in the future.

After an anxious 20 minutes or so of the soul--complete with a trip to the vending machines that is simply fraught with portent--Will decides to let Simon and his men deploy their own brand of justice and before the night is through, they deliver him both a crime scene photo of the newly corpsed baddie and the necklace that he had just given Laura and which had been stolen during the attack. Between this and Laura awakening from her coma (at least technically--she is played by January Jones, after all), Will seems relieved that all of this unpleasantness in the past. Six months later, Laura has more or less recovered (although she does want to buy a gun in order to defend herself and add a bit of foreshadowing to the proceedings) but before you can say "Dude, didn't you ever see "The Godfather"--your uncle directed the goddamn thing!," Simon contacts Will asking him to do the first of a series of small services that eventually lead to him being contracted to murder a miscreant that has destroyed someone else's life. Naturally, Will finds the notion of doing such a thing to be abhorrent but in his efforts to evade his duty, his target winds up dying anyway and he is rather quickly picked up by the cops. He gets and tries to get to the bottom of Simon's real agenda before getting arrested by the cops or killed by Simon and his ever-expanding array of amateur assassins.

For a vigilante film of this sort to have a chance at working at all, it needs to properly fulfill a few conventions of the genre. It needs to properly establish the kind of the kind of close and convincing relationship between the future anti-hero and the doomed relation whose victimization his or her rampage of twisted justice. The bad guys, whomever they may be, have to be nasty enough to warrant being taken down without tripping over the line into cartoonish super-villainy . Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the scenes of vengeance have to satisfy that audience bloodlust without becoming too silly to be believed as well. Needless to say, "Seeking Justice" up those three central elements and pretty much all of the lesser ones to boot. Not only does the film fail to establish Cage and Jones as the kind of couple whose devotion to each other is so strong that a violation along these lines towards one of them would send the other unhesitatingly towards the dark side, they are so remotely unconvincing in their scenes together that the opening sequence chronicling their anniversary looks, thanks to his bluster and her utter aloofness, as though it were actually a blind date gone horribly wrong. The bad guys, on the other hand, are supposedly part of a vast underground network that does their evil deeds in the shadows but their entire concept of farming out their crimes is utterly ludicrous--the film doesn't even try to explain how such an apparatus could possibly exist in any detail--and there have been grade school dodgeball games with a greater sense of organization than what is seen here. As for the vengeance-related scenes, the film doggedly follows the principle that believes that the audience won't like Cage's character if he actually personally kills someone and so the story makes sure there is always someone else around to do that dirty work for him--in one of the goofier parts, there is no one else around and so his intended victim helpfully throws himself over an expressway overpass in order to keep things moving along.

Unfortunately, not only does "Seeking Justice" fail on the level of a gripping and violent thriller, it also fails on the level of being a weirdo Nicolas Cage crapfest. As I stated earlier, Cage has been in a lot of bad movies over the last few years but at least some of them have had the compensatory factor of being vaguely entertaining despite (or often because of) their artistic failings--a film like "Drive Angry" is some kind of trash classic for the ages and even a piece of junk like the failed home invasion epic "Trespass" goes off the rails so spectacularly, in large part due to his incredibly hammy attempt to come across like a normal guy, that it actually becomes kind of entertaining, albeit in the most inadvertent ways imaginable. As the film opens, Cage's blustering and overblown attempts to demonstrate to viewers that he is a man who is passionately devoted to both his wife and his job as an educator are just screwy enough to suggest that another camp classic performance is about to unfurl before us. Sadly, while the film as a whole grows sillier and sillier as it progresses, Cage instead becomes more and more aloof and detached, investing so little of himself into the proceedings that it almost feels as if the sound of him calculating his salary in his head is in danger of drowning out the dialogue that he is delivering in the most listless manner imaginable. To be fair, however, there is one moment in the film that is almost certain to turn up in one of those montages of his more flamboyant on-screen moments that pop up on YouTube from time to time. You know how in movies like this, a character is sometimes given a profession or trait early in the proceedings that seems extraneous until that key moment in which they are saved from a potentially dire situation by calling on those very same abilities? Well, at one point late in the proceedings, Cage's character finds himself in a tight spot and wouldn't you know it, he is able to get out of it by using his mad skills as an English teacher--no doubt realizing just how utterly bonkers this scene is, Cage invests it with the kind of crackpot energy that the rest of the film could have sorely used.

Aside from brief moments along this line (including a riff on the old bit where the bad guy has the drop on the good guy and, instead of simply shooting him, proceeds to explain his entire plan in excruciatingly unlikely detail that plunges headlong into self-parody), "Seeking Justice" is an agonizingly banal exercise in generic filmmaking makes even the most run-of-the-mill made-for-TV potboiler seem like a Charlie Kaufman head-spinner by comparison. In fact, the only moment of genuine surprise that I felt in regards to it came after it was all over and I discovered to my shock that, instead of the easily malleable newcomers that Cage has been working with lately for the most part, the film was directed by Roger Donaldson, the man behind such impressive and varied works as "Smash Palace," "The Bounty," "Now Way Out," "Species" (yeah, "Species"), "Thirteen Days" and the wildly underrated and hugely entertaining "The Bank Job." Sure, the guy has also made some crummy movies before but at least when he has stumbled into garbage like "Cocktail," "Dante's Peak" and "The Recruit," at least he did so with a certain flair--they were lousy films but they at least embraced their lousiness in weird ways. Here, he seems as bored with the proceedings as everyone else and can't even muster the energy to make it into something amusing awful despite seemingly having all the ingredients on hand for such a thing. At this point, I might have been tempted to conclude this review by suggesting that "Seeking Justice" will leave most viewers seeking another movie instead. However, the film is so tired and useless that as hackneyed and unfunny as that line may be, even it is better than "Seeking Justice" deserves.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23293&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/15/12 16:01:31
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User Comments

9/14/12 mr.mike As a free Library rental it was good for me. 4 stars
7/29/12 action movie fan unlawful entry meets death wish in this tense vigilante thriller 4 stars
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  09-Mar-2012 (R)
  DVD: 19-Jun-2012



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