Review: A Certain Justice
Cung Le comes back after enduring hellacious shit fighting in Iraq, and struggling to pull it together. After rescuing a frankly ungrateful hooker (Briana Evigan) from some sleazebags, a couple of whom he kills. This sets off events our hero might wish he’d never have started after pimp/drug/porno king Hollis (Dolph Lundgren!) decides to target the man’s family. That said, perhaps it’s Hollis (probably the most irredeemably nasty creep Lundgren has ever played) who will live to regret fucking with the wrong Iraq War vet. Gianni Capaldi plays one of Hollis’ underlings asked to do vicious deeds he becomes uneasy about. Vinnie Jones turns up briefly as a drug dealer, Jonathan Kowalsky is Cung Le’s disabled war buddy, James C. Burns is a good cop, and Sean O’Bryan plays a corrupt cop.
You know you’re not watching a very good film when the most memorable thing is a ridiculous but undeniably entertaining performance by Dolph Lundgren with a ponytail and the least convincing moustache outside of Groucho Marx. This 2014 action-drama from Giorgio Serafini and writer/co-director James Coyne (who co-produced the not-awful “Tekken” movie) sadly isn’t about Lundgren’s long-haired, weirdly expert martial artist pimp turned-pornographer character (I’m not saying there aren’t any porno guys out there who can kick some arse, it just all seems to be a bit much). Instead it’s Vietnamese-born American arse-kicker Cung Le (who co-produced along with co-stars Lundgren and Gianni Capaldi) pounding the shit out of people as a brooding ex-military who simply wants to be left the fuck alone. It’s sadly not as fun as it might sound.
I was annoyed right from the get-go with co-directors Coyne and Serafini both getting separate ‘directed by’ credits instead of the sensible decision to list them together under one directorial credit. Their irritating use of sun spots and lens flares early on doesn’t help, either. Definitely not helping is the screenplay, which for at least 30 minutes is so all over the shop that nothing really hangs together or feels organic. It takes a long while to work out just what’s going on here, which is weird because at its heart, the story is a very simple revenge story. It’s just been told really badly and far too cluttered. I liked that you only slowly learn of the interconnectedness of it all, but for the most part it’s just too messy and ungainly. That’s probably because there’s a few too many characters who aren’t especially necessary. The Briana Evigan character really ought not to have been here, Vinnie Jones and Gianni Capaldi’s characters don’t seem all that necessary, and veteran henchman Robert LaSardo barely even gets a walk-on, let alone is he an important part of the plot.
To be honest, Cung Le’s not especially interesting as a protagonist here. He gets a little better once the film heads into “John Wick” territory, but for the most part he’s low-key brooding and has no business whatsoever doing a hard-boiled narration. Cung Le can do certain things right (and sure is quick and agile for someone so ripped and bulked up!), but he only does about 25% of things right in this film. That’s not a particularly good percentage for our leading man. I know he’s meant to be playing a quiet family man with a past he broods over, but he’s a bit stiff, really. He can kick arse convincingly on screen, but that’s not very hard when the bad guys come at you one at a time, helpfully. I actually do think one day he could be well utilised on film, I just haven’t seen it happen yet because he’s either been given lead roles he’s not right for, or cameos that don’t allow him to do much of anything. The lens flares also spoil some of the fun in the fights by the way, which is a real kick in the nads for an action movie fan. It’s really counter-productive to entertainment because at times you really can’t see shit because of them. Hell, one fight scene between Le and Vinnie Jones contains smudges on the lens. I think it’s deliberate. I know it’s an eyesore. That’s a shame, because although brief, the scene does suggest Le (quite a versatile fighter, actually) and Jones could put together a fun, rough-and-tumble fight scene. Sadly, the smudges continue throughout. With that and the lens flares I kept wanting to clean my glasses.
The film itself contains elements of an earlier Serafini/Capaldi/Lundgren/Vinnie Jones flick, “Ambushed”. In that one, Capaldi and another guy tried to impress gangster Vinnie Jones, whereas this time it’s just Capaldi trying to impress gangster Jones. “Ambushed” was a much better film though (Cung Le plays a more sympathetic protagonist than the jerk from “Ambushed” admittedly), and Capaldi was much better in it. His role here is rather colourless and he can’t do enough with it. Part of that is because I don’t think he’s the right fit for the part, which is a reluctant bad guy character. Most of it is just that the character is barely given any screen time to work anyway. Briana Evigan gets saddled with a clichéd ‘Hooker with a no-nudity clause in her contract’ role. Seriously, why play someone in the sex industry if you don’t want to nude-up? It’s a fair question, and not sleazy at all. It’s surely a pre-requisite to the role, or else there’d be no scene in the film where it’s made blatantly obvious that you’ve got that clause in your contract. Lundgren’s character, whatever you may make of it, at least has no counterpart in “Ambushed” and while absurd and laughable…he’s different. It’s something. His performance is near “Johnny Mnemonic” levels of silliness, and from memory as hammy as he was in that film, he was the only thing that didn’t bore the ever-lovin’ shit out of me (Lundgren usually does entertain more in bad guy or at least nutso parts. He was easily the best thing in the first “Expendables” movie, playing by far the least sane of the ‘heroes’).
The film gives us an extremely scummy, but rather convoluted underworld the film never quite convincingly brings together to be honest, and Cung Le appears to be acting in his own film altogether. The film his character is in, is somewhere in the vicinity of one of those first action vehicles for one of the less charismatic martial arts stars of the 80s/90s like “Angel Town” or “The Perfect Weapon” crossed with “John Wick” and with about ¼ “First Blood” tacked onto it. The latter involves Cung Le’s own Col. Trautman rip-off character played ridiculously by Christian Levatino in a truly dreadful scene that didn’t really belong here. Speaking of ridiculous, how does Cung Le, an ex-con living in a shitty motel end up driving an awesome red sports car? Nothing about this film convinces, really. I did like the action climax though, which is more “Commando” than “John Wick”. Still, it woke me up, and Le even busts out the camo paint, ala John Matrix himself.
A ridiculous-looking Dolph Lundgren is entertaining in most of the wrong ways, but he’s just about the only entertainment value you’re gonna get here and certainly brings a lot of swagger with him. A dour lead, a routine story poorly handled, and a director who manages to get in the way of everything, leading to a pretty disappointing affair. No, this one just doesn’t cut it.