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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Steele Justice (Blu-ray)
Steele Justice (Blu-ray)
Kino // R // May 3, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 5, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
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Not good enough to generate a single thrill and too dull to be unintentionally funny, 1987's Steele Justice feels like a textbook example of the kinds of movies that are, for the most part, rightfully lost to the sands of time. Fans of corny '80s action thrillers will probably be tempted by the punny title and cliched tagline ("You don't recruit John Steele, you unleash him"), but this is a stunningly inept slog that doesn't even warrant ironic intrigue.

Martin Kove plays John Steele, a Vietnam vet who stumbles upon General Bon Soong Kwan (Soon-Tek Oh) trying to steal millions in gold coins as the Americans begin pulling out. General Kwan and his men fire upon Steele and his closest friend, Lee Van Minh, but Steele ultimately gets both himself and Lee out alive by sticking a knife in the General's gut and threatening his commanding officer (Joseph Campanella). Several years later, and Lee's become a California cop trying to bust a drug ring that happens to be run by General Kwan himself. When Kwan frames Lee as dirty and then murders him and most of his family in front of the entire neighborhood, Steele's had enough: as far as he's concerned, he's back in the heat of battle.

One reason Steele Justice might have seemed slightly more appealing as a catalog title compared to other forgotten, poorly-made action films is director/writer Robert Boris, who has the cult film Electra Glide in Blue on his resume. There's nothing particularly memorable about Steele Justice's screenplay, which feels like a a pretty generic riff on First Blood with a bit of Commando thrown in, but it's fair to say that it could've been a passable diversion in the hands of a director that knew what they were doing. Instead, Boris struggles to even frame the movie properly, often putting crucial visual information outside the frame (such as Steele grabbing a hand brandishing a knife, or the tops of people's heads). Sets are filmed in ways that underlines the movie's limited budget: Vietnam looks kind of like someone's backyard, and a supposedly explosive finale never quite packs the destructive punch Boris clearly desires. In fact, Boris can't even edit together a sequence of Steele emerging from a hole in the ground smoothly, cutting from two awkward shots of his massive rifle popping out of the hole to Steele simply standing on the street.

Of course, saying the script might've been okay in someone else's hands isn't necessarily enough to let Boris' writing off the hook, either. The notion that Lee has been painted as a dirty cop feel unnecessary next to the fact that the villains murder him and most of his family in cold blood, but leave his daughter (Jan Gan Boyd) alive by mistake. When Steele is first re-introduced as a civilian, he's tending to wild horses, but it later turns out he's a former cop who left the job when he couldn't handle the pressure. General Kwan has remade himself into a respectable member of society, but his status in the modern world reads as confusing given his betrayal in Vietnam involved murdering a number of people as well as shooting both Steele and Lee, not to mention Steele left him on a beach with a knife in his stomach. Even so, Steele does not seem to be surprised to encounter Kwan alive, now a rich entrepreneur, nor do Kwan's criminal acts at the end of the war seem to have been reported to anyone, despite two of the victims being alive and capable of having done so. Later, after a number of brutal shootouts in which henchmen have shown up and tried to murder Lee's daughter, Steele inexplicably brings her along as he goes to scout out the bad guys' shipyard.

Steele's final injustice is not even being a thrilling or entertaining action movie. Boris' ineptitude as a director extends to the fight scenes, which often take place in long shots or at strange angles that do nothing to hide the actors' rehearsed and often sluggish choreography, which is pretty generic to begin with. A chunk of the movie's disappointingly short, supposedly climactic sword fight just has the characters struggling with the blades pressed against each other. Shootouts have no sense of direction or geography, and Boris has no sense of rhythm or build. Despite all this, Boris makes room for two major closing setpieces, neither of which works. The only bit of brightness in the entire movie is an early performance by Sela Ward, whose naturalistic performance (even when dealing with hackneyed dialogue) and killer smile are far too good for the movie surrounding them.

The Blu-ray
Steele Justice arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics, with the original painted poster art of Kove in military fatigues intact. The single-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Steele Justice's 1.85:1 1080p AVC video presentation is in the "adequate" range. Detail is pretty good, although grain tends to look a little noisy. Colors are only occasionally vivid, but basically accurate. Print damage is frequent, but there are no signs of irritating noise reduction, edge enhancement, or any serious compression artifacts. Fans will be satisfied without ever being particularly impressed. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. Dialogue is often muddy and hard to understand, which may be a flaw with the original recording but nonetheless made the movie a chore to listen to. Sound effects are on the flat side, and music sounds fine. Sadly, no subtitles or captions of any kind have been provided to help with the dialogue.

The Extras
Only an original theatrical trailer.

Conclusion
Neither good-good or bad-good, Steele Justice is leaden regardless of why someone would want to watch it. Skip it.


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