Monday, 27 October 2008

Renegade Justice (2007)

It's hard to make out, but this is Seagal kicking a guy in the nuts eleven times

I was looking for this film at the video rental store for a while, but I couldn't find it on the shelves. I figured that even Seagal wasn't above the law of diminishing returns, and it was no longer profitable to ship his films all the way to Australia. However, it turns out I was only looking under the wrong title. Seems that somewhere between the US and Australia the name was changed from Urban Justice to Renegade Justice, presumably because the word "urban" doesn't have the same ethnic connotation here.

Seagal plays Simon Ballister, a man with a mysterious past (duh) who seeks revenge after his son Max is murdered in an apparent gang shooting. You could say he's Out for Justice, but that would be a terrible film-title pun so please don't. Plus it's not even accurate. Seagal admits himself that his quest is all about vengeance. He just wants to kill the guy who pulled the trigger, he doesn't care who ordered the hit. So he rents a fleabag apartment in the scummiest area of LA and proceeds to bust all manner of heads as he tracks down his son's killer. That's pretty much it. No double-crosses, no CIA shenanigans, just a straight-forward revenge plot. Refreshingly simple compared to some of Seagal's recent convoluted offerings.

Seagal's mysterious past is never made clear, although at one point he claims to be not quite a cop and at another point not quite a soldier. Maybe he's a mechanic, since the damage sustained to his vehicle in a car chase is completely repaired by the next day. Continuity nitpicks aside, this film might come off a little racist if it was just about Seagal rolling into town and beating up every black guy and Mexican that comes within arms reach. Fortunately he does some other things to balance the equation such as saving a kid from a gang of skinheads. Also, the bad guy turns out to be a (white) crooked cop. I guess I should put a spoiler warning, but if you can't solve that brainbuster within a few seconds of seeing the guy then you haven't seen too many Seagal films. Good for you.

Eddie Griffin plays Armand Tucker, the head gangster. He's a pretty funny stereotype, sitting around with a bunch of women in his expensive apartment, quoting Scarface. What is it with these gangster types and Scarface? Did the point of the movie go over their heads? Is there a special Gangster Cut where Tony Montana survives the massacre and lives a long and happy life on a pile of money, cocaine and bitches? Anyway, for all his money he seems pretty cheap, because it a lot of his gangsters seem to share the same Lincoln town car. Maybe he got a bunch of them on a fleet discount, who knows. Although they put his face on the box, Danny Trejo is in the film for all of five minutes as a rival gang leader. Good job on that cover art, by the way, they'll never tell you MS-Painted Seagal's bloated mug (complete with creepy widow's peak) onto someone else's body, unless they have functioning eyes.

One thing you could fault most of Seagal's recent films for is a lack of action, but this film delivers. There a large number of fist-fights in this film and they are fast and brutal, with stunt doubles kept to a minimum. There is a lot of camera and editing trickery, you'll never mistake it for Out for Justice Seagal, but it's good to see a film where Seagal does something other than walking and talking. The film also features several bloody gunfights, and I do mean that literally. Every time someone is shot, a double-stuffed squib shoots a geyser of blood ten feet in the air. Almost every bullet goes right through the body so they can have double the amount of blood spray. I approve of this level of tasteless and gratuitous violence, even though it rarely makes sense.

I am (technically) a man, so like all men I derive a sick thrill from watching someone getting kicked in the balls. You can imagine my delight when Seagal kicks a guy in the balls eleven times. Eleven times! Then he kicks him in the face and throws him down a staircase. I can imagine the sweet release of unconsciousness (possibly death) would have come as a relief after that punishment. Nothing will top the Marked for Death trifecta of being eye-gouged, back-broken and tossed down an elevator shaft, but eleven successive ball-kicks is pretty good. Seagal also breaks a bunch of random bones and even breaks the neck of some goon after he loses consciousness. That's pretty cold, I think I'd like to see Seagal breaking bones of unconscious opponents more often. He also says "motherfucker" a lot in this movie. I mean, a lot. On the plus side, it's him actually saying it, not some random guy dubbing him.

Renegade Justice is the third Don E. FauntLeRoy/Seagal film, the previous being 2006's Mercenary for Justice. I'm not sure if Seagal's character in that film was for Renegade Justice or just the regular type, or how this relates to the (as descriped by Lance Henriksen) "Extra-Curricular Justice" Seagal's character distributed in Pistol Whipped. Anyway this film is definitely the best Don E. FaultLeRoy/Seagal film out of the two I've seen and probably the best Direct-to-Video Seagal film in recent memory. Renegade Justice: Surprisingly competent. Good job!

Seagal Bloatwatch Threat Level: Elevated. He's not at his fattest here (I think Out of Reach was probably the high point) but he's big, which they try to conceal with his usual brown leather trench coats. Seagal's Windsor glasses (featured prominently in The Patriot) make a special guest appearance as well. They also surround him with morbidly obese gangsters so he looks thinner by comparison.

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