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Hard Justice (1996)

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Score: 5/10

Genre: Action Running Time: 1 hr. 28 min.

Release Date: October 1st, 1996 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Greg Yaitanes Actors: David Bradley, Charles Napier, Yuji Okumoto, Clabe Hartley, Benita Andre, Jim Maniaci, Adam Clark, Vernon Wells, Mali Hofesh

A

gun deal is about to go down, with Nick Adams (David Bradley), codenamed “Falcon,” circling in a helicopter just above the warehouse location. When Adams drops through a skylight and sticks a gun in mob boss Jimmy Wong’s (Yuji Okumoto) face, all hell breaks loose, leading to a successful halt to the transaction but the death of an innocent bystander. Blaming himself for the casualty, Nick disappears, leaving his fellow Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents to handle Los Angeles crime without him.

When best friend and undercover cop Mani (Doug Kruse) is murdered in San Quentin, Nick insists on entering the facility to discover the responsible inmates. But he demands that only his captain, Larry Dickerson (Clabe Hartley), know about the operation, leaving Adams in a sticky situation when sadistic warden Pike (Charles Napier) has his oversized minion Riggs (Alon Stivi) not only beat the new fish with his baton, but also throw him in a cell with Mr. Clean (Jim Maniaci), a particularly muscular brute intent on demonstrating dominion. When Adams pokes around and asks too many questions, he’s immediately attacked by one gang after another, while information men Squid (Adam Clark) and Galaxy 500 (Vernon Wells) aren’t able to reveal much without similarly getting strong-armed by Asian thugs – certainly connected to the incarcerated Jimmy Wong.

The opening scene is ludicrously explosive and overly busy (blatantly copying John Woo’s stylistic gunplay), as if the filmmakers wanted to best every action sequence from every movie prior to this straight-to-video production. From an ambush to a shootout to a detonative onslaught to a grenade showdown to a foot chase to a hostage situation to a botched negotiation, the rambunctiousness literally never stops. This is all followed by a brief bit of exposition at the ATF headquarters, where Hartley and love interest Benita Andre can exhibit exceptionally pitiful performances. But then the prison violence picks up again and remains uninterrupted. Unfortunately, though sustained and brutal, the action choreography isn’t innovative or visually impressive, barely able to show off Bradley’s real karate skills.

Every convict has a shiv or chain or improvised weapon, and none of the numerous armed guards bother to intervene in lengthy cafeteria fights. In fact, Riggs regularly opts to join in, mercilessly beating anyone within arm’s reach. The amount of widespread corruption might be the only unpredictable element of the film. With one relentless brawl after another, there are plenty of opportunities for martial arts combat and destructiveness, but the many savagely knockabout moments have little resonance when all of the players display such bland personalities and mediocre acting capabilities. Additionally, the typical mistakes of wordy confrontations, failure to simply kill the opponents, unoriginal repetition of plot points, and unlimited ammo are so overdone that they border on comedy. The result is a largely forgettable excuse for some moderately impressive stunts, clever utilization of a deceptively limited budget, massive riots, messy shootouts, and a high body count. Admittedly, sharpshooting a grenade held in the hand of an antagonist just before he lobs it into the air is a relatively amusing gimmick.

– Mike Massie

 



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