Steven Seagal's career post Under Siege has been one in constant need of resurgence. On Deadly Ground was greeted with acid tongued derision from critics, thus followed up by Under Siege 2, an upturn, though still unfavourable in comparison to the first. Exit Wounds followed another string of poorly received outings. Then the downward spiral hit high gear with the odd (and only slight) upturn in films like Belly Of The Beast and Into The Sun. In 2007 it's seemingly a crunch moment. Seagal needs an upturn. His fan base is in danger of decimating, perhaps jumping ship to Jean Claude, Wesley or Dolph, heck maybe even Don Wilson when you consider how bad Attack Force was. Urban Justice needed to be decent, needed to hit the high notes. But did it? Well overall
it kinda did. Not to say it's a great film by any means, but it's an upturn in fortune for Seagal, and most importantly, the man himself really comes out of his corner throwing some big shots again. He's not been out for the count quite yet, and with a few rounds left in him, maybe he can still turn this fight in his favour (nice analogy huh?).
Urban Justice firstly steers clear of the trend of Seagal's post Exit Wounds flicks, and that is CIA/FBI conspiracy subplots that eat away at the pacing and clarity of his recent flicks. This plot line is simple, straight and laid out. Seagal's son gets killed, and he wants the killer, nothing more. There's nothing too much on the side that gets in the way of Seagal getting from A to B. Secondly the film features Seagal as prominently as a leading man actually should feature, both in screen time (some of his recent flicks have him disappear for sometimes 15 minutes at a time!) and ADR participation (no dubbing this time folks). Above all Seagal manages to bring back some of his charisma that had seemingly been left behind in the early 90's somewhere along with Kelly Le Brocks hotness. Seagal's cool again, he's badass! Sure a little chunky and sweaty still, but he kicks ass! The action in this film is pretty good too. There's a plethora of hand to hand fights, which believe it or not, actually feature Seagal himself! Yes amazing given recent history. His stand in, stunt double and ADR double sat around twiddling there thumbs in this picture, and that's good. Seagal fans don't want those guys too busy. The fights are pretty decent though and Seagal unleashes some pretty savage beat-downs. We get vintage moves here. He breaks every conceivable bone in the human body during this flick, a femur on one guy, and a couple of ribs on another and so on. Best and coolest of all is the fact that Seagal once again looks like he could kick most guys assess! He's quick in this film I'm telling you. It's that old school Seagal who can virtually stand on the spot, but a few lightening moves of the arms and hands, and big ol' size 16 boots from no where, and the bad guys are floored. The fights are well edited and though tightly shot, they pack a punch, and the sound design is top notch. As for the rest of the action, we have disappointingly lame car chase. Not so much down to budget, but down to a complete lack of any kinetic energy and imaginative stunt work. The shoot outs are almost Hard Target insane! Meaning entire clips are unloaded on each individual bad guy, and blood shoots out all over the damn place! In fact the blood impacts in this film are the most insane I've ever seen and totally illogical, but I love it. It's the kind of super-violence Seagal used to produce. Seagal also gives his best performance in a few years. He seems interested, engaged and as I said shows off his charisma here.
The director Don E Fauntleroy was previously responsible for two of Seagal's shoddiest works. His inclusion in this was a worry, but while those first two collaborations with Big Pappa lacked any real autuership of any kind, here it's different. Fauntleroy manages to project some vision here, some style. We're not talking Scorsese, but for these sorts of flicks he's serviceable. Elsewhere the co-stars are not too bad. In particular there's a decent cameo from Danny Trejo, while Eddie Griffin makes for a somewhat cartoony but well suited villain.
On the negative side, though the plot is very simple, it's simplicity should have lent itself to a quicker pace of movie. The mid section suffers some lag, with too many gangster based dialogue scenes. That might not have been so bad if anything important was being said, and also the script is problematic in that the hip hop dialogue isn't very realistic. It's as if the writer knew only a couple of hood words and decided to repeat them endlessly. "Aaaaaaariiiiggghhht", "Mother-f**ker" and in particular "n***er" are words that are overused to levels of almost annoyance. The relationship between Seagal and his snitch and also landlady could have been developed but instead feel needless and pasted in. Above all it would have been a few more scenes with Seagal. Elsewhere the score is pretty bad. It's a rush job without question and one that jars against the competent direction, editing, and an in form Seagal.
Overall this isn't exactly a great film, but in Seagal's recent canon, it's top notch. Importantly, the man himself is back to his old self again. If a better film can be put around him, he'll surely be able to deliver a film to rival his best ones. As it is, Urban Justice is a welcome filler and good solid Saturday night home entertainment. Coming from one of Seagal's harshest (though I maintain, realist) fans, that's saying something. **1/2