03/12/2012 07:07 am ET Updated May 12, 2012

Movie review: Seeking Justice

Playing like some disjointed hybrid of Strangers on a Train and The Parallax View by way of Death Wish, Seeking Justice is never terrible - just never terribly anything else, either.

Having a seasoned action pro like Roger Donaldson at the helm helps. On the other hand, putting Nicolas Cage at the center of this Fugitive-like chase can't help but be a distraction.

No doubt, there are still movie-goers who can watch Nicolas Cage with a straight face. And certainly there are those of us who recall Cage when he was an eccentrically passionate young actor, never afraid to throw himself completely into a character - and there were some distinctive characters in his first movie decade.

In recent years, however, Cage has become a caricature of himself, raging and winking his way through what seem like hundreds of bad movies, from big-budget Jerry Bruckheimer schlock to the films of John Woo and even Werner Herzog. As a result, it's hard to watch him in a role as a seemingly normal person because, well, he's so obviously not.

In Seeking Justice, he plays Will Gerard, a high-school English teacher whose wife Laura (January Jones) is brutally raped on her way home one evening. Will rushes to the hospital - and ends up sitting mournfully in the waiting room, while she lies unconscious in the E.R.

As he waits, Will is approached by a stranger, Simon (Guy Pearce, with a buzzcut), who offers to punish the man who attacked Will's wife. Simon knows who and where the assailant is because he's part of a group that makes it their mission to hunt down criminals who beat a too-lenient system. In exchange, Will agrees to do an unspecified favor for Simon at some point in the future.

When his wife's rapist turns up dead, Will feels both relieved and guilty. But he somehow doesn't expect to be called to account - until Simon asks him to mail a letter at a certain time and a certain mailbox. Except, of course, it's not that simple. One thing leads to another - and Will finds himself tasked with killing a stranger, a child pornographer, according to Simon.

As it turns out, his target is apparently wary of potential attackers - and Will, who just wants to talk to him, winds up struggling with the man on a walkway over a freeway. The man attacks Will and eventually goes hurtling to his death on to the highway below. Suddenly Will is wanted by the police for murder - though even they seem to be in on the conspiracy at times.

The plot's twists occasionally provide a surprise, but not often enough. You're tipped early on that this is a movie full of reversals, and begin to expect them. Cage's character doesn't, apparently.

Cage doesn't phone in his performance - but as hard as he works, he's not someone you buy as a normal suburban teacher (the same way you wouldn't buy Christopher Walken in that role). Jones shows the same steeliness that she does on "Mad Men." Pearce, scary in the basic-training haircut, is chill-inducing, because even his sincerity has an icy edge to it.

Seeking Justice is what used to be called a programmer, designed for the lower-half of a double bill. They lasted a week, about the same as this innocuous film will.

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