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Cage match! “Seeking Justice” and “Trespass”

November 28, 2011

  Hey, are we in for a treat this time! We have a heaping double helping of Cagey goodness with a double-tap of the third and fourth movies Nicolas Cage has starred in this year. Yeah, you read that right: Nicolas Cage has been in four movies this year. I guess that whole personal bankruptcy thing is our gain, am I right or am I right? Because while Cage rarely makes what any sane human being would call a good movie, he really does throw himself wholeheartedly into the bad ones he routinely makes. I mean, I have serious doubts that Cage actually reads the scripts he’s offered, but when he shows up on the set, he brings nothing but his A-game. God help us all.

Okay, so let’s work our way backward and start with his most recent role, Seeking Justice, in which Cage plays a dedicated New Orleans public school English teacher. Yeah, the prospect of Nicolas Cage molding and shaping young minds horrifies me, too. Anyway, one night while he’s at and adults chess club (a club where chess is played by adults and not, like, a chess-themed strip club—though that’s not a terrible idea…I wonder if I could get a small-business loan for that), his loving wife (January Jones) is raped and savagely beaten.

Some chicks just can't resist the crazy.

As Cage waits in the hospital for her to regain consciousness, he’s approached by a man named Simon (Guy Pearce), a shaved-headed, genteel thug, who explains that he is a part of an “organization” that has already found the rapist and can take him out if Cage gives him the green light. In exchange for this, he will someday ask Cage for a favor. Something small and innocuous…probably. Well, Cage is appalled by the idea at first, but then flashes back to five minutes earlier when he saw his wife’s ravaged face and agrees. Now, despite having just verbally told Simon to do it, he has to signify it by going to the hospital vending machine and buying two of a special brand of candy bars. I don’t get it, either.

So, later that  night, while the rapist is relaxing after a long day of raping by drinking whiskey out of the bottle and breathing heavily, a very nervous man breaks into his place and shoots him, but not before explaining that his wife was murdered, and he is paying back a debt to the people who killed her murderer. He signals Simon by calling and saying, “the hungry rabbit jumps.” It’s kind of the organization’s code and gets repeated many, many times in the course of the film and never ceases to be hilarious.

A couple months later, Simon and his buds call Cage to collect his debt. Initially, he just has to do some goofy stuff, but eventually they task him with the big payoff: murdering a child-pornographer. Again, Cage hems and haws, but after some none-too-subtle threats against his wife, Cage agrees. Well, he doesn’t quite murder the guy, but the guy ends up dead. Problem is, the cops have camera footage showing him leaving the scene. Bigger problem is the guy wasn’t a pornographer, but an investigative reporter.

Cage is cut loose from the station by the homicide squad’s lieutenant—who also invokes the group’s phrase—and he goes on the run. The rest of the movie is Cage’s increasingly frantic attempts to outwit Simon and clear his name. It takes a little while, but pretty soon Cage gets amped up to his usual level of hysterical overacting. In the meantime, we get some choice WTF? moments such as:

* When Cage, Jones and a couple friends (Jennifer Carpenter and Harold Perrineau) celebrate Mardi Gras, Cage dances around wearing a green sequined mask. What do you want to bet that was never in the script, and Cage just wore the thing to the set that day?

"Okay, I'm here. Let's shoot this movie!"

* A guy gets executed when a black SUV forces his car off a rooftop parking lot. It takes several minutes, and the guy never even tries to get out of the car—even when he’s teetering on the edge.

* At one point Cage reads a passage from Shakespeare to his class, while keeping his back to them the whole time.

* The bad guys intimidate Cage by spelling out the word “choose” with his letter refrigerator magnets. You know, the menace just doesn’t register when the threat is delivered vial brightly-colored letters.

* Cage loses his shit (naturally…you knew it was only a matter of time), and punches out a student. Perrineau chews him out, telling him, “You know it’s a mandatory three-week suspension for hitting a student!’ Really? Three weeks beach time for assaulting a student? Then what? You gotta write “I will not cold-cock one of my students” a hundred times on the blackboard?

* When one of Simon’s guys gets run over by a truck while chasing Cage, Simon just spits an annoyed, “Aw goddamn it!”

* A lot of people in on this organization seem to have no qualms killing friends and co-workers. Is this a vigilante group or a cult?

* Pearce delivers his character’s big explanatory speech right into the camera, which zooms in and out. So you get this almost-disembodied Guy Pearce head getting bigger and smaller as he rants about society’s rot. I cracked up.

* “The hungry rabbit jumps.” No, seriously, say that with great solemnity and see if you can keep a straight face.

"The angry lemur eats...Nope. The laconic badger blogs. No...The hungry rabbit jumps. Boo-yah! That's the one."

Yeah, this movie doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why and when this secret cabal of vigilantes began is never addressed, and the fact that New Orleans is especially prone to civic dysfunction is danced around delicately. This is a city, remember, whose police department mostly fled in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (though to be fair some dedicated few stayed). But all this remains in the background, so the movie’s worldview lacks the sting it might have had. But, hey, we get Cage in a Green Lantern mask. That’s something, right?

Okay, so next up is Trespass, a hostage-thriller that had me laughing from beginning to end. Needless to say, that was probably unintentional on the part of director Joel Schumacher, but when you have a guy that incompetent holding Cage’s leash, you know you’re in for a ride. In this film, Cage plays a wealthy diamond merchant who is largely neglecting his beautiful wife Sarah (Nicole Kidman), and does business from his home office in a three-piece suit and orange-tinted glasses. Again, I’m thinking those were Cage’s idea.

One night, a quartet of burglars break in and hold Cage, Sarah, and their teenage daughter Avery (Liana Liberato) hostage and demands that he hand over all his money and his stash of diamonds. Cage, however, refuses, knowing that they’ll all be murdered if he gives the burglars what they want. So what we get is a very long battle of wits between a twitchy, frantic Cage and the not-terribly-bright burglars.

Compounding the problem is the fact that one of the burglars (Cam Gigandet), is the guy who installed their security system and has a huge crush on Sarah. Oh, and he’s a schizophrenic. The quartet’s lone female member is a tweaker who spends much of the home-invasion smoking meth and trying on Sarah’s dresses. Only one of them seems genuinely dangerous and spends as much time threatening the other members of his crew as he does Cage’s family. You’ll come to sympathize with him by the end.

Cage is fine form in this movie, starting about level eight, and dialing it up to level How did it get burned!  within about twenty minutes. Cage is so fidgety and nebbishy, you just know he’s giving it his all. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that he prepped for shooting by staring at himself in the mirror and mumbling, “You’re weak! A weak, little man who neglected his family and is desperate to conceal from them the fact he’s actually broke! You’re weak and broke and a failure, but you will protect them! You will protect them at any cost! That’s who you are! That’s who you are!’ Then he punched himself in the groin a couple times and walked out of his trailer.

"Okay, I'm here. Let's shoot this movie!"

But the better news is, everyone else goes completely over-the-top, too. I mean, when you have an ensemble that tries to match Cage for overacting, well, how do you not have fun? For example:

* The home invaders wear masks so revealing you can pretty much make out their faces. That’s how Kidman recognized Gigandet. Next time, guys, don’t make your masks out of mesh.

"I had a little trouble with the scissors."

* In one scene, the supposed ringleader forces Kidman to shout “I deserve to die” over and over again. This after he very reasonably explained to them how they wouldn’t be hurt if they just cooperate. Every scene in this movie seems like it was directed by a different person. Reading a different script.

* On two occasions, characters just seem to teleport to different locations, such as when Sarah tries to escape in their car, only to be confronted by Gigandet holding Cage at gunpoint at the base of their driveway…when we saw them a moment earlier inside the house a solid three hundred yards behind her!

* In a bid to get Cage to open the safe, one of the bad guys weeps and tells a story about how they need the money to buy his mother a new kidney. I mean, the writers just stopped trying at that point.

* Oh, and then they tell Cage that if they don’t get the money they’ll have to take a kidney from one of his family members for her. Um, guys? Human organ transplants don’t work that way, okay? It’s not like plugging in a flash drive.

* Cage has a shotgun pointed to his head, and they’re ready to kill him and cut their losses, when Cage says “Do you know the etymology of the word diamond?” Who talks that way? Ever? Like even when a shotgun isn’t pointed at their head?

"Now let's talk about the root form of the verb 'equivicate.'"

* Cage believes Sarah had an affair with Gigandet while he was installing the alarm system, and spits out this choice line: “Your filthy lust invited them in!” Again, who talks that way? I mean, I certainly will now, but who would do that naturally.

* To score a massive stash of cash, they send the tweaker out with the daughter to a friend’s house. Yeah, nothing can wrong with that plan.

* Cage tearfully recounts his economic collapse to Kidman after the bad guys have discovered the safe is empty and now have no reason to keep any of them alive. “I’m sorry, baby! They fired me. They found someone who’d do the job cheaper.” Okay, this really isn’t the time, dude.

* Great scene: Gigandet, overcome by frustration with his love for Sarah, slaps his head and keens repeatedly. This is so going on his highlights reel.

"Don't worry, once we're married a while you'll figure out how to pronounce my last name."

"Don't worry, once we're married a while you'll figure out how to pronounce my last name."

* A character pretends to thumb back the hammer of his Glock—a pistol that doesn’t have a hammer. It clicks anyway. Jesus…

* The only seriously dangerous bad guy spends his last few moments as he’s bleeding out from several gunshot wounds telling the dark secret of the reason for the heist—a story so involved it has its own flashback. I repeat he does this, knowing that he is bleeding to death.

* By the end, when the bad guys are whittled down to just Gigandet, there are three guns laying around, but Cage kills Gigandet by setting the house on fire. That’s some expensive symbolism, dude.

* This movie set some record for epic failure, grossing less than $25,000 in ten days.

Nicolas Cage has said that Trespass was a personal movie for him, as he was the victim of a home invasion several years ago. He claims that one night he awoke to find a naked man standing over his bed, eating a fudgesicle. Cage. Naked man. Fudgesicle. Yeah, that seems about right.

Really, wasn't it only a matter of time?

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