What Not To Watch: American Justice
When I first came across American Justice, the novelty of Tommy “Tiny” Lister in the main protagonist role had me intrigued. If that wasn’t enough TV’s John Schneider was cast in the role of the main antagonist, again that was something I wanted to see. So I went into American Justice with a sense of anticipation and really wanting to like the movie.
- The Premise: Lister plays a reckless cop with the LAPD named Jack Justice (with a name like that he was destined to be in law enforcement). Justice is a loose cannon and after two criminals shoot his partner during a robbery at a sporting goods store, Justice shoots one of them in the head with a crossbow and then literally beats the life out of the other one right on the street (The beating is so brutal the blood gets on the camera lens). Justice’s superior immediately suspends him from active duty and tells him to get as far away from Los Angeles as he can… so Jack Justice packs some things and heads down Mexico way to visit his father who had retired there. But as Justice is driving through the small town of Red Mesa, Texas he notices some strange police activities. Soon he becomes the scapegoat for the corrupt and racist police force in Red Mesa, as they try to cover up the murder of a drug dealer and an officer. But this redneck police force soon find out they are messing with the wrong man.
- The Good: John Schneider of Dukes of Hazzard and Smallville fame, plays Sheriff Payden, the head of the corrupt police force in Red Mesa. Schneider steals the show time and time again in American Justice as he acts circles around the rest of the cast. I am used to seeing Schneider on the side of good, so to see him as a hateful, unethical law man was surprising and more importantly, entertaining. At one point his character says “I’m in a cesspool of idiots”, that could have just as easily been Schneider himself talking about the talent level of his co-stars. I think the worst of the cast may have been Vida Guerra, who played Officer Alexa, but I’m pretty sure she was hired for the junk in her trunk and not her acting prowess… Business does pick up when Jack Justice starts taking out the corrupt cops using extreme measures like blowing up a house and using farming equipment as death machines… There was also an entertaining fight between Santana the drug dealer and Officer Reid played by John Hennigan (wrestling fans will recognize him as John Morrison of WWE fame or Johnny Mundo in Lucha Underground). Hennigan delivers a corkscrew kick that rivaled the ones I saw Marko Zorer utilize in Redeemer. I also liked the fact that Hennigan’s character Officer Reid is chastised for his long hair by Sheriff Payden. If the entire movie incorporated that attention to detail, the end product could have been much better.
- The Bad: As I mentioned above, the majority of the acting performances in American Justice left a lot to be desired. The story itself was not overly complicated and it is a story that has been told many, many times in other action movies. But it felt like it was very challenging for American Justice to do. I mean, how hard is it to pull off a movie about an outsider who comes into town, that decides to step up and take on the corrupt system with some vigilante style justice!? That is Action Movie 101, but again American Justice kept coming up short. American Justice was one of those movies that had the elements to make a decent movie, but things seemed a little off the entire duration of the movie… The Nick Hawk rap video that plays over the end credits didn’t do American Justice any favors either. It literally ended the movie on a sour note.
- The Ugly: Tommy “Tiny” Lister certainly isn’t your typical leading man, but neither is Danny Trejo and he has been able to successfully pull it off in movies like Bullet. From the beginning of the film to the very end, I never bought Lister in the leading man role in American Justice. He seemed out of place and it felt like he didn’t even feel comfortable in the role. And if the actor himself isn’t believing it, there’s no way the audience will. Does Lister have the ability to be the main protagonist in an action movie? It is possible, but it will have to be the right movie and the right character. American Justice was not a good vehicle to try to get Lister over as the ass kicking hero.
As I said at the top, I really wanted to like American Justice. But the negatives eventually outweighed the positives in my eyes. American Justice is not on the level of bad of a Fighting Spirit, Reflex Action or Ironheart, but it is on the level of bad that unless you are a “loyal to a fault” fan of one of the cast members, you would be better off not watching.