The "e" was dropped when it was discovered Seagal didn’t own a tie.
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STUDIO: Sony Pictures
RUNNING TIME: 96 Minutes
Out for Justice on half the budget.
Steven Seagal (My Giant), Eddie Griffin (The Last Boy Scout), Kirk B.R. Woller (Minority Report), Carmen Serano, Cory Hart (Road House 2), Danny Trejo (Once Upon a Time in Mexico)
Just one more reason not to eat at the Golden Arches.
Simon Ballister (Seagal) hits the road to revenge when his son Max (Hart), a police officer, is murdered after photographing dirty cops robbing drug dealers. He rumbles through LA’s (Albuquerque) gangland demanding answers, and leaves in his wake a trail of splintered bones, both human and Popeye’s.
Mr. Seagal’s had a rough time of it since getting dumped into the DTV ghetto in the early 00s. Not financially mind you, since he was recently reported to still be earning $4 million per picture, even when waning budgets reduced craft services to Saltines and Juicy Juice. The films themselves, however, have been a deplorably sorry lot, so discouraging that often Seagal can’t be bothered to record his own dialog. There have been a few mildly bright spots like Belly of the Beast, but his last three outings were soul-crushingly awful. I used to think Requiem for a Dream was the ultimate razor blade film, but I’ve never stared more deeply into the abyss than in the final half hour of Attack Force.
"I’m telling you Steven, I can’t get your script in front of Rodriguez. Hell, I don’t even have his number. He just picks me up in front of 7-Eleven sometimes."
I felt a cautious rush of optimism when Seagal’s latest project Once Upon a Time in The Hood was announced, much as I did prior to the Dolphins’ 2007 season (sobs quietly). In the first place, it had more syllables than any previous Seagal title. Second, it was to feature B-movie A-listers Trejo and Griffin. Third it was to be shot not in the usual Eastern European backwater but in the good ol’ US of A. Fourth, Don E. FauntLeRoy was returning to the director’s chair, having previously helmed the last decent Seagal DTV Mercenary for Justice.
Then came the news the title was being dumped for the disturbingly lazy "Urban Justice," and I had sweat soaked flashbacks of the same thing happening with Attack Force. Would Seagal somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory once more?
When Griffin agreed to work for food, he really should have been more specific.
Thankfully, FauntLeRoy’s third Seagal odyssey proves to be his best. No one will mistake it for one of Seagal’s theatrical releases, but it stands with the best of his DTVs and heck, it’s more entertaining than the lifeless Fire Down Below. Next to Attack Force it’s The Godfather.
Critically, FauntLeRoy has learned what not to do in a Seagal picture, perhaps thanks to the educated opinions of certain concerned fans. First, don’t bother with a pointlessly convoluted plot when all any fan wants to see is asskickings. Urban Justice keeps the story extremely simple and out of the way.
"Those Red Bull punks are gonna regret dealing in Lightning Bolt territory."
Next, don’t waste the audience’s time with ill-defined secondary characters they couldn’t care less about. After the prologue, Ballister rarely leaves the screen, apart from the villains’ brief planning sessions. He does have two accomplices in a teenage gang informant and the improbably beautiful landlady (Serano) of the rundown apartment he rents, but they never steal the spotlight. In the film’s tensest scene Ballister and the landlady seem headed toward a blubbery embrace, but luckily the moment is shattered by gunfire.
Speaking of which, don’t skimp on the action, the sole reason anyone plunks down his $4 rental fee. Here’s where Urban Justice really shows it means business. There may be nothing flashy like the tank and rocket launcher in Mercenary, but that isn’t really what people are looking for in a Seagal picture anyway. They want to see him throw down, and he does so far more than in any film since Belly. The fights do tend to be brief, but they are unquestionably brutal. Once he beats a tubby gangbanger nearly unconscious, and then snaps the helpless guy’s neck. Better yet it turns out the guy had nothing to do with Max’s murder. The film had me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see whether Seagal would rack up more of his trademark sleight of hand disarmings, or finishing blows to the nuts. It was neck and neck at five apiece going into the climax, when suddenly Seagal puts the game out of reach by kicking a crooked cop in the forbidden zone eleven times.
By crotch kick number 4 Seagal doesn’t even bother with the pump fake.
Seagal does it all with very little assistance this time. There doesn’t seem to be any dubbing, and if there is a stunt double he’s nearly invisible. One may have been used for two seconds when Ballister gets shot, but only because the audience knows the genuine article is bulletproof. There are some fight close-ups of limbs that could belong to a stunt person, but usually we see Seagal landing the blows, even some high kicks.
Though it may not be saying much, Seagal gives his most focused and energetic performance since the beginning of the DTV days. He still does some whispering and that curious Cajun drawl, but also injects some of the old attitude, as in the following exchange:
Wishing-he-had-a-better-dental-plan gangbanger: "Fuck you!"
Ballister: "I’m gonna be doing the fucking now."
No points for the terribly trite "I never spent enough time with my son" speech, but the horribly Photoshopped pics of family memories are hilarious.
"Boy, it seems like only yesterday that Junior and I… uh, did that thing."
The other major players are well above average for a Seagal DTV. Trejo’s gangster is barely present, but Woller’s corrupt cop is suitably menacing and becomes engagingly unhinged in the final fight. Though Griffin’s drug kingpin is full of clichés like Scarface worship, he adds some much needed charisma and a few fun lines to this mostly dry affair. On the subject of Christmas:
"Fuck Santa Claus. He never got me shit. That’s why I sell dope."
It’s too bad this is one of the rougher looking Seagal productions. Nondescript warehouses account for the majority of the locations, and many scenes are dark and grainy. It’s cool that the gunfights are soaked in blood, but someone needs a little more practice with squibs. One comical confrontation resembles the Bellagio fountain with geysers of blood spraying back and forth, the victims often not reacting until they’re down a quart.
"Quick! Bump Big Foot to page 2. We’ve got a coatless Seagal sighting!"
The laughable Photoshop work on the cover admittedly inspires little confidence. Seagal does appear to have slimmed down a little for this film, but he hasn’t been that svelte since Bush senior was in office. Though this Sony release predictably has no extras, the subtitles are a godsend.
Casual action fans can keep on walking, but Seagal and DTV enthusiasts will definitely want a taste of Urban Justice. The old dog’s still got some fight left in him. I wouldn’t get too close without a cup.