'Seeking Justice' (R)

Seeking Justice, this week’s movie starring Nicolas Cage, starts intriguingly, turning the Death Wish-formula inside out. Will (Nicolas Cage), a high school English teacher, is distraught after his wife Laura (Mad Men’s January Jones) is beated and raped and left clinging to life. In the hospital waiting room, a sharp-dressed man named Simon (Guy Pearce) approaches Will with an offer he can’t refuse. Instead of having to wait for the cops to apprehend the perp — if they ever even catch him — and enduring a drawn-out trial that could result in a lenient sentence, Simon offers to track down and dispose of the cretin, completely free of charge. All he needs is Will’s permission.

Understandably angry and upset over the crime, Will concedes. Turns out there is one little catch after all: Simon forgot to tell Will, “Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.” Seeking Justice was directed by Roger Donaldson (The Recruit, Thirteen Days, The Bank Job), a filmmaker of somewhat higher pedigree than those Cage usually works with, and the first half of the movie is undeniably effective, exploring the toll of vigilante justice in a way I had never seen another film do.

Eventually, though, Seeking Justice devolves into the usual business of chases and elaborate double-crosses that leave behind all vestiges of realism for the sake of popcorn thrills. One important scene late in the film takes place during a monster-truck rally. Still, Cage’s performance is surprisingly good and measured, elevating the film instead of dragging it down to the level of B-movie camp. The bloody Kevin Bacon revenge picture Death Sentence, which no one I know has ever seen, is a better bet if you’re looking for an all-out insane reprise of Charles Bronson formulas.

Seeking Justice is memorable only because it contains what may be my favorite new Cage line reading of all time: During a stressful moment, when a secretary asks him if it’s proper grammar to capitalize the second word in a hyphenated compound, Cage patiently replies “Only if it’s a noun and the words have equal weight. Like ‘Homeland-Security.’ If it’s a participle modifying the first word, you better keep it lower case.”

Even Brando couldn’t have pulled that one off.

Cast: Nicolas Cage, January Jones, Guy Pearce, Jennifer Carpenter, Harold Perrineau.

Director: Roger Donaldson.

Screenwriter: Robert Tannen.

Producers: Ram Bergman, Tobey Maguire, James D. Stern.

An Anchor Bay Films release. Running time: 105 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, adult themes. Opens Friday March 16 at area theaters.


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