Justice

Fri, Nov 18, 2011, 00:00

Directed by Roger Donaldson. Starring Nicolas Cage, Guy Pearce, January Jones, Harold Perrineau 15A cert, general release, 104 min

AH, NICOLAS Cage, you donkey- faced old ham. When did you finally give up on acting and abandon yourself totally to self-parody?

There is now something of Leslie Nielsen about the ridiculous star. Cage has been delivering his lines with the same po-faced solemnity for many, many decades. But, like Nielsen, somewhere in middle-age, without altering that performance, he shifted from upright leading man to comic genius. The difference is that, unlike The Naked Gunor Airplane!,Cage’s recent films (the sublime Bad Lieutenantaside) aren’t really supposed to be funny.

Justiceis an anti-classic of the genre, although the plot is perfectly serviceable. Cage plays a teacher in a working-class section of New Orleans. One evening, while he is playing chess, an archetypal thug sexually assaults his unfortunate wife (the immobile January Jones). Cage makes his way to the hospital, where he encounters a strange man (Guy Pearce) with a shaved head. Understandably distracted, Cage half-heartedly agrees to a Faustian pact: the man will arrange for the assailant to be punished, but Cage must repay the debt at a later stage.

Well, you know how these things go. Time passes. The physical wounds heel, but Ms Jones still jumps whenever there’s a knock at the door. Then the bald man returns and – after an interminable series of complications – asks Nic to murder an alleged sex offender.

There are some awful bits of business in Roger Donaldson’s film. Despite being painted as a minor genius, Cage hides his wife’s necklace (retrieved from the rapist’s house) in the glove compartment of the family car. Why not just wear it as a decorative bridle round his fat nag’s neck? A wake in an “Irish bar” will cause domestic viewers to shiver with refracted embarrassment.

Justicewould, however, be only modestly terrible without the staggeringly unrestrained performance at its heart. The man can’t buy a pint of milk without burying head in hands and unleashing that stream of irrational syllabic stresses. “AND a box of matCHES, please.” Didn’t you once win an Oscar?