Nicolas Cage, Dying (And Humping January Jones) Before Our Very EyesS

We have reached the point where the release of a new Nicolas Cage movie is less fodder for humor than it is an indignity upon everyone involved with its making. It is odd, actually, that movies like Seeking Justice, which will slink across 250 screens today, less a movie release than a walk of shame, keep getting bankrolled in the first place. It is well-known that Cage desperately needs to work to keep the money coming in, but it's not so understood why anyone keeps putting him in movies anymore. Surely, at some point during the making of Seeking Justice, someone must have looked around the set and thought, "Oh, man, we're making a Nicolas Cage movie ... shut it down!"

Nicolas Cage has become the carcass of a movie star, a zombie still plodding forward, with everyone strangely playing along—for his sake maybe?—that he's still the same human being. Part of this, I'm sure, is because Cage, at his peak, was breathtaking, a loose-screw firebrand who kept finding ways to harness his inherent madness and use its power for good. (Leaving Las Vegas is generally considered his best performance, but Cage will always be the Elvis of Wild at Heart to me.) Perversely, Cage also generates some legitimate fan warmth through the ubiquity of memes he inevitably inspires, from Nicolas Cage Is A Vampire to the random naked Fudgsicle man to of course everything involved with The Wicker Man, which, I feel obliged to remind, was written and directed by Neil freaking LaBute.

Cage's inescapable Cage-ness, this sense that he is in on the joke but not really but kinda, continues to buy him goodwill, to keep everyone holding out hope that, eventually, he'll figure it out and give another great Cage performance. (It is a reason his weirdness is held in a different, more benign regard than, say, Tom Cruise's, even though Cruise still makes good movies and clearly works about a thousand times harder than Cage does.) People keep waiting for Cage to come back to us, to be the charming lunatic of Vampire's Kiss, that loopy lunkhead dreamer of Raising Arizona. We have such fondness for that Cage that we think he still cares.

But he doesn't. He checked out a long time ago, and any flashes of the old Cage are just that, flashes. His only two performances since Adaptation—his last undeniably great film—to be held in any sort of esteem are his extended walk-on in Kick-Ass (which benefited from Cage's short screen time and his obvious ardor for the material) and his "wild" work as a New Orleans cop in Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans. I've never quite understood the critical praise for that film; it's Herzog at his most untethered and self-indulgent, a half-assed doodle that everyone all pretend was somehow unhinged and brilliant because Herzog made an iguana cam. (Honestly, people, see Into the Abyss, which is Herzog at his absolute best.) I will credit Cage for trying Bad Lieutenant, and the undeniable rubber-necking queasiness of "Nigga Elk" ... but it's not a real performance from Cage. It's a freak show.

Oh, if only we'd get the freak show anymore. Seeking Justice makes the fundamental mistake all the dullest late-era Cage films make: It treats him as if he is a normal human being, rather than a crazy alien. Cage has reached the stage in his career where it's impossible to accept him doing regular-people things, like jogging, or playing pool, or eating a sandwich. And don't get me started on his sex scene with January Jones. (Really. That's something that happens. They filmed it.) Cage plays a New Orleans schoolteacher who, after his wife is attacked, ends up embroiled in a ridiculous secret society of vigilantes (led by Guy Pearce, who should be done with this sort of silliness by now) who chase and terrorize him throughout various Big Easy landmarks. (The movie inadvertently makes a terrific case for tearing down the Superdome.) It's a nonsensical, lazy innocent-man-wrongly-accused film, and Cage, perhaps justifiably, sleepwalks through it, rushing through his scenes like he has a meeting with one of his lawyers in an hour. Of all the Curiously Uninvested Cage Performances of recent years (Bangkok Dangerous, Trespass, Season of the Witch), this is the most-tired, most-done-with-this-shit Cage I've seen. He doesn't even bother to crank up the craziness from time to time. He just looks ready to go home.

I don't know what's going on with Cage's personal or financial life, and I do not care to know. But as an actor, he has clearly, and maybe irrevocably, checked out. Eventually they're going to stop bankrolling these things. We will go from lamenting what has happened to Nicolas Cage to oblige him to make these terrible movies to wondering, "Hey ... whatever happened to that guy?" Nicolas Cage died long ago. We're just watching the death spasms now. Soon: Rigor mortis, and then he's just gone.

Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.