Thursday, March 27, 2008

Urban Justice

The Action Mutant…
would hate to call himself Seagal’s dietician.

Urban Justice

review by Joe Burrows

In looking over Steven Seagal’s IMDB page recently, I was reminded of the fact that he is a vegetarian. As Jim Rome would say…”He’s a vegetarian…allegedly”. I mean, he could be; nothing’s totally out of question. All I’m saying is that must by a hell of a lot of tofu and French fried potaters going into the man on a regular basis. In seeing one of the big man’s latest direct to DVD opuses, it was a little depressing to see him wheeze and lumber through his scenes. It’s also made more depressing by the fact that Seagal’s current state resembles the state of Action films that we once knew. Just direct to DVD fodder that doesn’t get a second look because people would rather play with shinier looking toys. Hopefully, everyone’s favorite wrist snapper will be back in theaters soon, flaunting his chunky physique and equally heavy persona. As an aside, he does have a role in The Onion Movie (whenever it comes out) entitled “Cock Puncher”. How apropos!

The Plot, as it was:
Seagal is Simon Ballister, a man brought out of hiding to attend the funeral of his son. The younger Ballister was a cop that was gunned down in a drive by some gang bangers so Papa decides to return to his old neighborhood to do some interrogating. Of course, Simon’s version of questioning involves lots of busted heads and balls, which raises the ire of gang leader Armand (Eddie Griffith). However, Simon won’t stop until he finds the people responsible, even if it’s not who it seems.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
The first thing noticeable about Urban Justice is Seagal’s current stature. Unless you have been under a substantially sized rock for the past five years or so, you know that Seagal has packed on the poundage. This has led to our hero’s fight scenes being shot a bit differently than before. Whereas the earlier efforts showed the fights in a wide scope with every action on display, director Don E. Fauntleroy (now THAT’S a name!) films them with fast cuts and more close ups on the blows themselves. In other words, because of the quick editing, you don’t see Seagal move very much because…well, it’s not 1990 anymore. This device leaves the fights with very little impact and they lack the visceral punch that Seagal’s earlier stuff used to have. Other than the obvious (familiar story, cardboard characters, etc.), there’s also Seagal’s “urban” accent that is employed throughout. Usually, he doesn’t have to put much effort into sounding tough or streetwise but then again he’s usually in a Northeastern setting. Set in L.A., Seagal tries to talk the West Coast version of “street” and it comes off more like old time grappler Dusty Rhodes, without the trademark lisp (make a drinking game of every time Simon yells “Who killed my sonnnnnnnnn!”). It’s a little embarrassing but it does bring the viewer back to the notion that this flick is closer to an original Seagal romp than his last few DtoDVD films have been. The second half offers up more time for the big guy to move around and do some of his trademark hell-raising, which manages to liven things up enough for a viewable (if familiar) conclusion. In addition, his character isn’t a Superman-like cop/agent or anything so his physical limitations actually ground the character and just makes him an asskicker on a mission. Along with an occasionally amusing turn by Griffith, you have a passable 96 minute time killer that feels like a time warp that you may find welcome (or not).

Body Count/Violence: 38. Jesus Christ Supercop, the blood that is in this flick! The squibs are about the bloodiest I’ve seen since I reviewed State of Grace, as they resemble someone getting a cannon-full of Kool Aid shot out of their ribcage. It goes without saying that mostly everyone is taken out by gunfire, mainly from Stevie’s pistol or sniper rifle. Our slower, meatier hero doesn’t get into many prolonged scuffles to start out (with the editing mentioned before) but the finale should bring a warmness to any fan’s heart. Its old school Seagal as he mixes the artillery with knives to the neck, neck snapping, limb twisting, tosses through furniture and walls, etc. This film may also contain the most kicks to the balls in a Seagal effort in quite some time.

Sexuality/Nudity: There are two lingerie clad beauties at Armand’s palace but there’s not much else.

Language/Dialogue: Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me 70% of the script contained Fs, MFs, F’n MF’rs, F you up your mom’s A with a spiked D…you catch my drift. It’s all pretty constant, with my favorite line coming from Seagal after store clerk Alice (Carmen Serano) tells him he’s just as bad as the gang bangers: “No…I’m a lot fuckin’ worse!”

How bad was it?:
If you read a critic that doesn’t like Seagal’s movies (i.e. about 98% of them), then most likely they have a negative review for this as well. Action critics seem to be mixed on whether this is one of the better of his recent tales.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Once considered a candidate for a theatrical release by Screen Gems, Urban Justice was made on a $12 million budget and released on DVD by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on 11/13/07. It debuted 34th on the DVD rental charts that week, clearing $1.1 million (in comparison, Shrek the Third cleared $10 million more). It was last seen on the Top 50 DVD Rental chart two weeks later, with a total gross of $2.7 million. Needless to say, it may take a while to clear a profit in America though the foreign markets will most likely take care of that.

Film: **/*****
Entertainment value: ***1/2/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.


Anonymous said...

I guess the foreign market has to be pretty strong for Seagal to keep releasing so many Direct-to-DVD flicks.

I was never a big fan, though I do like his early stuff. "Under Siege" and beyond I haven't cared for, but I did give him a chance with his DTV era. I started with "Out for a Kill", which is one of the worst movies I've ever seen, and was foolish enough to go for "Out of Reach" and "Into the Sun" as well.

It's amazing how many movies he still gets bankrolled, but I just don't bother. They're so boring, just retreads really, and his acting is worse than ever.

Joe Burrows said...

This is honestly the first DtoDVD flick of his I've seen in full so my perspective may not be as clear as yours. Senor Seagal was definitely (and defiantly) more badass in his earlier work than now. I think you'll notice that these newer DtoDVD releases are hints of him trying to incorporate newer things into the more tried and true formula. The results seem to have been mixed and I don't honestly see a big theatrical comeback for him anytime soon (though I have been wrong before).