Monday 14 November 2011

Pony trap: "Justice"

Uh-oh, Nic Cage has spotted a joblot of rare comic books on eBay again, and we all know what that means: six or so films in as many months, generally of medium-to-low quality. The reportedly shoddy Trespass, released a week ago, will have been and gone by the time you read this; now we have the dumb-as-nuts thriller Justice, whose title I, for one, can’t hear without thinking of the Martin Sheen-voiced capital punishment animatronic from TV’s The Day Today. Cage is here playing Will Gerard, a New Orleans high-school teacher – yes, you see him earnestly lecturing on Shakespeare – whose life is thrown into turmoil when his musician wife Laura (January Jones, getting typecast as trophy wives) is raped coming out of rehearsals one night. In the hospital, Will is approached by Simon (Guy Pearce), the leader of an army of boneheads meting out vigilante justice: with Will’s assent, they arrange to have the rapist killed, but in doing so open a tab they expect our hero to repay in kind, by pushing a pederast off a flyover.

What we’re watching, in effect, is a horse-and-pony show: one of those entertainments where the protagonist is made to jump through hoops until he decides he doesn’t want to jump through hoops anymore, and the hoops, in this instance, are quite patently absurd. Simon pressures Will to order a particular chocolate bar from a vending machine, by way of giving his assent to the hit, then later asks him to post an envelope addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole” as a way of testing his obedience. Other amusing diversions include an eye-opening look at the U.S. education system, where punching a student only lands a teacher a three-week suspension, and da kidz only come to respect an educator like Will once he's landed himself on a murder charge.

That said, the plot mechanics – and the underlying idea of vigilantism as a chain letter, penned by malcontents – prove to be weirdly sound, and the film has a saviour of sorts in veteran Roger Donaldson, who directs as though this were still the early 1990s, and these things weren’t going direct-to-DVD any more: he lends Justice brisk, effective pile-ups and suspense sequences, casts interesting, characterful extras and bit-parts, and generally nudges the whole package along at more or less the right tempo. The hero’s surname gives some indication of what everybody’s aiming for, and if Justice never quite escapes its own murky flyovers, and doesn’t strain for the batshit extremes of such recent Cage fodder as Knowing, it’s nonetheless semi-acceptable schlock: almost certainly no-one’s idea of a good film, but something that functions on its own, unambitiously low level.

Justice opens in cinemas nationwide from Friday.

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