True Justice Review
For those who have clicked on this review to check out the latest Seagal movie, just a little warning: this is not a movie. This is now the fifth release from an ongoing TV series entitled True Justice. If you’ve never heard about it, then it might be worth looking up my reviews of the previous three instalments, Street Wars, Dark Vengeance, and Lethal Justice.
The series follows tough unit commander Elijah Kane and his crack force of ‘special’ officers as they have to deal with Russian smugglers, serial killers and drug wars. The routine is fairly simple – Seagal’s Kane stomps around and kicks some criminal’s ass (whether or not this bit is relevant to the story is neither here nor there); he then dispatches his team to try and follow up leads and deal with the case themselves; halfway through (i.e. at the end of the first episode), we get a reasonable conclusion where Kane magically appears to save his team and gets to kick more ass. The second episode in each set follows suit, sometimes having crossover characters and sub-story-arcs following on from the first and slowly building the core characters across the entire series.
I have to assume that anybody reading this review has either seen the previous episodes, or, at least, read parts of my previous reviews. The latest Blu-ray is the fifth released so far, containing episodes 11 and 12, sub-named Urban Warfare Part 1 and Part 2. “Episodes 11 and 12? What happened to Episodes 9 and 10?” I hear you ask, but there’s no adequate answer. This isn’t the first time they’ve botched up the release of this series. Unfortunately, whatever little character development the show offers is quickly squandered by the way in which it has been violated in terms of promotion.
Let’s have a quick look back: the first release was on DVD only, back in December 2010 (I guess they didn’t have Blu-rays back then...!) and it was titled Deadly Crossing, containing Episodes 1 and 2. This was a good start; it would have been unforgiveable to mess up the pilot release. The second release was April 2011’s Street Wars, containing Episodes 5 and 6. Ooops, they’ve messed it up already. You seem to have skipped one there, fellas, but no biggie – hopefully nobody will notice, and you don’t care even if they do because you’ve already got the money. The third release was October 2011’s Dark Vengeance, containing – can you guess? – Episodes 3 and 4. So those ones filled in the missing gap, although they would have made little sense if you watched these releases in release order! Then the fourth release came late last year: Lethal Justice, actually contained episodes 7 and 8, so they did not continue on from the third release. But, at least we were back on track to finish off the series in its correct order... Or not. Rather than offering up the next two episodes, 9 and 10 – dubbed Brotherhood Part 1 and Part 2, this latest release sports the closing episodes in the series which crescendo into the 13th episode Season 1 cliffhanger, Payback Part 1. This is great, but what happens in a couple of months when Brotherhood comes out?!
Anyways, back to Urban Warfare.
Perhaps what is most disappointing about the mistreatment of this release is that it’s actually the best double-episode set in the series so far. Although it’s still far from capable of being a standalone feature film (like every set released has been promoted as), the cross-episode story-arc is the strongest out of all of them, standing out above the inter-episode stories.
In the first part we follow Kane and his crew as they track a serial rapist who has escalated to murder. The case is passed down from the Special Victims Unit and strikes a personal chord with one member of the team in particular (followers of the series will know who I’m talking about). Needless to say, it’s fairly familiar, clichéd stuff, but it’s handled well and crescendos to a reasonably satisfying conclusion. The second story concerns Russian diamond smugglers who leave a pile of dead bodies in their wake as they conduct their business. Needless to say Kane & Co. have to shut them down.
Both of these are interesting, strong, stories – at least insofar as this particular TV show goes, but the overriding story about Kane’s dark black-ops path is considerably more compelling, and, whilst it isn’t given quite as much time as it should have been – nor a particularly satisfactory conclusion – it is a great bit of character back-story that allows for flashbacks to Afghanistan, Seagal’s Kane sporting a ridiculous-redneck-beard and killing a whole bunch of random Muslim extremists, and also plenty of present-day shenanigans with other black-ops assassins (who are all, needless to say, hapless punching bags for Seagal to throw around).
It’s also the darkest release thus far. Right from the punchy pre-credits sequence to the unusual titles and moody accompanying music, you know that these chapters are amidst the most atmospheric in the series. That may not be saying a great deal, but it’s still a considerable step up. The director is series regular Keoni Waxman, who also worked with Seagal on a couple of his recent DTV releases: The Keeper and A Dangerous Man, both of which were amidst the more professional straight-to-DVD releases that the Big Man has had over the last decade. Waxman’s also the man behind the camera on half of the True Justice series, having directed the competent pilot double-bill and subsequent two-parter, Deadly Crossing and Dark Vengeance, respectively (although they were released in the wrong order, as aforementioned). Urban Warfare, however, is clearly evidence of the Waxman/Seagal union finally paying off for the show, and reaching their peak.
As a hopeless Seagal apologist I thoroughly enjoyed this latest release. I still stand firmly by the fact that anybody who wants to give this series even a fraction of the respect that it deserves (or probably doesn’t, as is the case) should wait for a box-set with the episodes in the correct order. Those who, like me, can’t help themselves, will just have to put up with it as is, but it’s a real shame, particularly since these episodes directly precede and directly lead into the season finale. And yet, no doubt, the next two episodes to be released will be the ones before Urban Warfare, not after it. Sigh!
Of course there is an entirely different way to watch this release – as a drinking game. I’m not being sarcastic: Seagal films over the last two decades have basically been – more often than not – good fun only because there’s so much to laugh at that you can’t help but be entertained. It’s called “The Showgirls Effect”. Films as bad as some of Seagal’s have been recently are simply and truly so bad that they are good fun.
Within the first few seconds we’re treated to an evil assassin who’s after Seagal’s Kane and happens to have a younger picture of his target to track him with... is that a picture of Seagal in character from Executive Decision? Is this man out to kill the portly almost-OAP ass-kicker, or is he... out for an autograph? Seriously, why don’t you try watching this film and having two finger-widths every time you see Seagal’s double wandering around the set (here’s a clue on how to spot him: if you can’t see his face, it’s not Seagal, but the guy does do a great, semi-parody impression of the Big Man’s gait). Or try drinking every time you hear his voice double speaking from on high (another clue: it’s roughly 50% of the times Seagal speaks when you can’t see his face, and thus can’t see his lips move). I suspect large chunks of this show were filmed without him even being on set at the same time as all of his co-stars (at the end of the last episode on the last release, Lethal Justice, he managed to have an entire group-discussion/back-patting scene without even being in the same frame as them; it’s a piece of genius logistics and superior time-management!).
All kidding aside, Seagal fans will enjoy this piece, and those who don’t love the guy have no reason to have even read this far. The only world where True Justice is considered a good cop show is the same world where CSI: Miami is considered a great one. That said, for the same folk who, like me, enjoy both avidly following and lightheartedly poking fun at our heroes – in True Justice’s case, it’s Seagal; for Miami, it’s David Caruso – then this is an entertaining series. And Urban Warfare is the best double-episode release from the series thus far. It’s just a shame that the series has been so poorly treated in terms of releases.
What do we have to look forward to next? Brotherhood: the two-parter that directly precedes Urban Warfare. Then, sometime after that, we’ll get the Season 1 cliffhanger which – unsurprisingly – directly follows Urban Warfare. How does that make any sense? The only way this show will ever really work is if you a) wait for the box set or b) wait until all of the episodes are released and then watch them in the correct order.