Max was a good cop. Until they killed him. Steven Seagal was a shadowy special ops dude and he probably never had a black bag job that involved killing every gang banger in south central L.A. Until they killed his son.
Like a 4XL-sized plague of Egypt destroying the first born (and second, third and fourth) homies all over the Hood, by the end of things Steve has shot, punched, kicked, stabbed, and grenaded his way to the promised land of sweet paternal vengeance.
And though most Seagal fans won’t worry about this much, for a liberal viewer who may have to watch because he or she is visiting relatives on a “Straight to Video Steven Seagal Movie Night”, any concerns that Urban Justice is some sort of racist polemic about how bad black gang members are, can relax and hate the film for other reasons because Steve also beats the piss out of Hispanic gang members, too. Heck, this movie even magically had some skinheads appear in South Central for Steve to pummel as well! That ought to make the film a lock for an award from the Southern Poverty Law Center!
But as admirable as Steve’s colorblind violent streak is, we aren’t here to have tolerance preached at us. (Well, no tolerance that is other than our ability to tolerate another blandly generic Seagal action movie.)
Steve is in town to unravel the mystery of who killed his son. Steve has always been a more in your face kind of investigator than a cunning strategist, so it isn’t terribly surprisingly that he launches his most personal mission ever by driving his big expensive car into the ghetto and renting a room at some run down liquor store right near the murder scene. Then it’s just a matter of waiting for some good actionable intel to drop into his ample lap.
Enter Max’s old snitch Gary. Gary is tore up over Max’s death and tells Steve to check out an old construction site where Max was killed. The Hispanic gang supposedly hangs out there, but all Steve finds is gang members belonging to the gang that Gary’s brother belongs to. In a beat down highlighted by Steve breaking the neck of an unconscious gang member and shooting the ear off of another, he gets zero information.
Steve finds the snitch again and this time he tells Steve to go see the leader of the Hispanic gang, El Chivo, for information. A man to man conversation with El Chivo (Danny Trejo in a three minute cameo) where Chivo swears on his dead mother’s grave that it was the black gang that did the murder and rightfully points out how dumb it would be to kill a cop anyway. Steve finally realizes that Gary has doublecrossed him and is irritated because if you can’t trust your son’s snitch, who can you trust?
Once Trejo and Seagal are done making eyes at each other and Seagal unleashes his “I look at you and see a man like me. A bad man with good intentions” dialogue, Urban Justice quickly descends into an hour of urban blight.
A way too lengthy car chase that is poorly edited (Did they even try to make the close ups look like part of the same chase?) and never feels exciting is only a warm up to the entirely botched home invasion gang leader Armand launches against Steve. (Gang members just keep coming to his front door one right after the other as Steve shoots each in rapid succession.)
In the film’s sole surprising moment, Steve actually gets shot during this confrontation! Steve injured and his life hanging by a thread should ramp up the drama as he tries to simultaneously stay one step ahead of the murderous gang and uncovering his son’s killer, right? It sure does! For two minutes!
Steve’s landlady’s brother is a nurse who sews him up (while Steve endures a brief montage of scenes from earlier in the film) and warns Steve about the stitches getting infected and the wound reopening. But you can tell Steve is thinking, “ok, I did the scene where I got shot and winced a little bit. That should cinch a Golden Globe. Now back to the ass kicking.” The injury is never referenced again as Steve goes out and kills another 50 bangers.
Urban Justice is a nice combination of annoying characters, dull story, and ugly camera work. Eddie Griffin as the gang leader Armand is more obnoxious than sinister with him lamely name checking Al Pacino’s Scarface and his non-stop cursing and use of racial epithets. In fact, the entire film has people saying F this and MF that so much that it goes from funny to annoying to grating in no time.
Nothing excites about the story as it turns out to be the crooked cop we met right at the beginning with Steve being the last person in the universe to realize this. Visually the movie is uninspired with the typically terrible fight scenes and numerous chronically underlit moments at night that leave you squinting at what’s happening.
Like any abusive relationship, when things are this bad, we cling to what we know no matter how poorly we’ve been treated in the past. So it is that Steven Seagal’s usual zombiefied performance, odd line readings delivered without any irony at how he basically says the same couple of pages of dialogue in every film and over-the-hill puffed up presence is the most comforting thing in the film. I could lie at this point and pretend to break off my movie watching relationship with Steve, but who am I kidding? I am constantly F5-ing his IMDB page waiting for his latest low budget lumbering special ops fantasy to get a release date.
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