In the dark

In the dark

For an actor who has such a reputation for histrionics that his last name ought to be Rage rather than Cage, Nicolas plays against the type here as a passive, high school English teacher in this B-movie thriller set in New Orleans. Unfortunately, it doesn’t portray the Crescent City in a very flattering way.From the first scene as Will and his wife Laura (January Jones of “Mad Men”) toast their anniversary in the bar at the Lafitte hotel, it’s established these two love their city. But it turns on them in a cruel way when Laura is savagely beaten and raped. She’s barely checked in to the hospital when a man named Simon (Guy Pearce) approaches Will and tells him he’s part of a secret group that can make the rapist go away — permanently. The catch is if Will agrees, he will be called on to return the favor. Ever the milquetoast, Will declines the offer, but then experiences a change of heart, which sets in motion a series of events that quickly escalate into something beyond his control.

Director Roger Donaldson films all around the city, setting scenes in the Audubon Park Zoo and the French Quarter, which adds some much needed flavor of an otherwise bland action pic. The half-baked premise about some secret vigilante working outside the law to clean up the city doesn’t hold up, especially when it seems half its citizen are running around spouting the secret code phrase.

And what to make of Cage, who less than a month ago made a cameo appearance on “Saturday Night Live” to parody himself as the Ragin’ Cage and then turns up in this as a mouse of a man? Maybe it’s because his co-star is Jones, sadly one actress who cannot fall back on talent should her looks ever fail her.

Even with some lengthy action scenes, this never feels like a feature film but more like episode of some TV cop drama. Co-star Harold Perrineau (“Lost”) as Will’s friend, the school’s principal, is barely around. Same for Jennifer Connally (“Dexter”) who has maybe three lines of dialogue. The vigilantes, led by Pearce’s character, are such thugs that it’s hard to believe they have the welfare of a grateful city in mind. There’s no moral dilemma with them, as there is ultimately with Will — no, they seem to enjoy what they do.

When confronted with the obvious corruption taking place, most of the characters shrug and say, “Well that’s New Orleans.” Gee, thanks. With friendly filmmakers like this, who needs enemies? New Orleans doesn’t need vigilantes; after this movie, it needs a good public relations agent. Come to think of it, Cage does too. Those “Seeking Justice” will not find any here.