Cage is back, as a man trapped in a web of violent vigilantism

as Laura and Nick Gerard. He receives a favor from a group of vigilantes, then finds out that there's a catch involved. Anchor Bay Films

The movie-loving world years ago split into two camps - those who have given up on Nicolas Cage, dismissing everything he touches as tainted, and those who still see the Oscar-winning actor underneath the bad choices and the ham.

His remaining fans see his offscreen issues - taxes and personal demons - as simply more obstacles for him to overcome. And the manic, over-the-top performances? What would you expect from a fellow whose problems would reduce mere mortals to tears?

Cage's latest, Seeking Justice, is a routine thriller in the vein of Strangers on a Train and Star Chamber. Crime victims are promised swift, brutal, and sure justice by vigilantes.

And the catch?

"We may ask a favor of you at some point in the future."

Cage plays - and underplays - Will Gerard, a tolerant, Saab-driving high school English teacher whose cellist wife (January Jones) is raped near their New Orleans home. In shock, in the hospital with her, Will is approached by Simon (Guy Pearce), who promises him closure, revenge, and justice. Simon's "organization" can arrange this at no charge. All Will has to do is signal "yes."

But when Will, in the heat of the moment, agrees, the real problems start.

What will he have to do to repay the favor? How far does this organization reach? Whom can he trust (he doesn't tell his wife)?

Action auteur Roger Donaldson (World's Fastest Indian) quickens the pace to match Will's growing agitation about the trap he finds himself in. The camera closes in on Cage as his eyes start to bug out, something Cage fans wait for in all of his movies. That's when the chases, and the mayhem, truly begin. (Cage spares us his Nutty Nic persona, but then Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance had plenty of that.)

Seeking Justice is a puzzle too easily decoded, but Donaldson finds enough blind alleys to keep us distracted. Random bits pay off - Will lecturing a newspaper reporter on the rules of English grammar, a punk student suddenly afraid when Will mentions he's wanted for murder.

No, it's not much better than the dreck Cage has been shoveling at us in recent years - a tad smarter, perhaps. But as in life, he keeps getting up off the mat and coming back for more, even if much of his audience isn't returning the favor.

Seeking Justice

Directed by Roger Donaldson. With Jennifer Carpenter, Nicolas Cage, Joe Chrest, Monica Acosta, Xander Berkeley, Guy Pearce, Harold Perrineau, January Jones, Donna Duplantier. Distributed by Anchor bay Entertainment.

Running time: 1 hours, 45 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for violence, language and brief sexuality).