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Gang Justice

Rogue Reviewers Roundtable Review: April ‘05 – Hunky Heartthrobs

http://www.roguereviewers.com/roundtables.html 

Celebrities have to put up with a lot of garbage, not the least of which being the embarrassing career bane known as the bargain movie bin. K-Mart easily has the largest collection of Z-grade DVDs featuring actors and actresses who have gone on to make decent careers for themselves. A blurry Elizabeth Hurley is featured prominently on the cover of Kill Cruise, and Jack Nicholson apparently starred in the original Little Shop of Horrors despite his appearance lasting only minutes. Sure, these films may be of interest to the fan wishing to complete his/her collection of a performer’s filmography, but I highly doubt Ms. Hurley is waiting for Kill Cruise to adopt a cult following.

Among these titles was a copy of Gang Justice, a goofy looking DVD which trumpeted the appearance of its star, Erik Estrada. You may know Mr. Estrada from his work on the TV series CHiPS, where he played a wise-cracking cop who…didn’t play by the rules…or something. In any case, he had a reputation for being quite the heartthrob, so I felt this film would be perfect for April’s Roundtable. It definitely deserves to be on the CineBomb site, since it features a sizable handful of outright hilarious moments.

Gang Justice, otherwise known as Noleul bola america, is a martial arts film which actually stars Erik Estrada about as much as Nicholson starred in Little Shop. True, he gets first billing in the opening credits, but his total screen time couldn’t equal more than ten minutes. His actual role is Billy’s Father, so you can see how much he factors into the important plot points. The story revolves more around Billy and his adversary, an Asian immigrant named Paul. Paul is basically the Karate Kid, a troubled youth who only needs a friend but is surrounded by violence. True, it’s a goofy sort of violence that could never be taken seriously outside of Hollywood, but I’ll get to this later.

At this point I should talk about the falsities inherent in the film’s title. There are no gangs in Gang Justice, but rather a small group of white kids who dress in horrid 1980s clothing and do lame impressions of Christian Slater. I swear, every time one of them opened their mouths I thought they were channeling a Slater performance. Needless to say, a bunch of dorks who go around mugging and laughing in high-pitched Woody Woodpecker giggles is not something I could take to be a threat. Despite this, Paul constantly has to fight these idiots, who are always taken down after a few moments of surprisingly good martial arts.

Paul and Billy are at odds because the mother of the former is married to the father of the latter, so a mixture of racism and resentment fuels their hatred. Erik Estrada tries to cool the fire within Billy by yelling at him and wearing billowy, Bill Cosby-esque sweaters, but nothing seems to work on the hard-hearted youth. At the same time, Paul finds solace in his only two friends: Charlie, an uber-geek with giant glasses who really reminded me of the Asian sidekick in Never Too Young to Die, and Jenny, a mousy girl who may not have the looks of Judy, the local slut, but darnit has a great personality (not to mention a truck load of moolah and bigoted parents). All of this spells out a run-of-the-mill action movie of the Reagan era, wherein Paul deals with many troubles but in the end comes out triumphant, right? Well, almost, but it’s not nearly that easy. And rather than just tell you about the key instances where the movie goes berserk, I’ve decided to have a little bit of fun. Presenting: The Top 5 Berzerk Moments From Gang Justice!

#5: The ending honestly came out of nowhere, since like I said the movie had been pretty predictable in terms of story up until this point. See, Paul and Jenny go to a New Year’s dance where they are confronted by a gun-wielding Billy. Faced with imminent death, Paul talks Billy down and ends up managing to hug his step-brother. Everyone is smiling, including, oddly enough, the guy who was pushing Billy to shoot our hero (yeah, doesn’t make much sense). Then, just when you think the Mega Man video game music you’ve been hearing for the past 90 minutes will swell into the credits, Paul gets shot by Billy. Yeah, it’s definitely a downer of a finale, especially since the sound falls out after he gets shot. So you have people screaming in silence and sobbing openly, which is not what I expected at all.

#4: While working at a gas station, Paul is dismayed to see Billy and his lunkhead friend drive up in their ugly chickmobile. They’re wearing paper Confucius hats and bowing to one another stereotypically, all the while laughing in those Chipmunk guffaws I grew to hate so much. When the lunkhead goes inside the station, Paul tries to talk to Billy in order to break some ice. Now, I’m all for Billy having a sincere emotional moment here, but after such a wildly stupid instance of racism? The tonal shift is way too jarring.

#3: These next two moments might as well be tied, but heck, we have five slots, so why not use ‘em? Okay, let me paint a picture for you; a word picture, if you will. Billy, in one of his many whiny tirades, goes to his room and lies on his bed. A picture of his dead mother sits on the end table next to the bed, and he picks it up lovingly. It would be one thing if the scene ended here, but no, he proceeds to stroke the face of his mother (who is surrounded by an almost holy rim of light) while reclining back. I swear, it really comes off as if he’s turned on by the picture of his mother, factoring in his glazed expression and oddly sexual position. A creepy highlight, I must admit.

#2: Billy, back in the bedroom of forbidden sexual desires, picks up a black cat and handles it like it’s a piece of liquid silk or something. Once again, you can only watch this scene and wonder what the heck is going on in this kid’s head. He nuzzles and embraces the cat like it’s his lover, for crying out loud! No normal person pets their cat in this manner, and thus I have to include this section in my Berzerk list.

#1: In a moment that easily passes the others in terms of sheer psychotic magnitude, Charlie plays the flute for a seemingly endless five minute sequence. The dim lighting on his face coupled with his haunting stare make him look like a madman, and the tune does not help in making him seem any less cracked. At one point Paul enters Charlie’s room, leans against a wall, and listens to Charlie play. Charlie stares so hard at Paul it seems as if his eyes will bore into our hero’s skull, but before this can happen he leaves to be lonely and mopey somewhere else. To put it as simply as possible, this sequence is just plain odd.

Aside from these five instances, Gang Justice is a fairly decent martial arts flick. The story takes a fairly effective twist that’s laced with tragedy, the acting is just a little below average (a compliment considering some of the other movies I’ve watched in the past), and the fighting scenes kept me intrigued throughout. I would say more about Erik Estrada, but frankly, there isn’t much to discuss. He’s a lot better with his dialogue than some of the other players, and his heartthrob status stays maintained by being softly lit and having him flash toothy grins every few moments. I don’t know if he looks back on this film proudly, but hey, it had to have been better than working on I Love the ‘70s.

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