I don’t have a normal television like normal people. No, I have a Roku which I use to connect to services like Netflix and Hulu. These days, they call that “cutting the cord.” When I did it a few years ago, I just called it saving a hundred bucks on cable TV I never watched.
Roku adds a bunch of channels on a regular basis and as much as five percent of them aren’t faith-based. One of the channels I’ve been watching religiously for the last couple weeks is B-Movie TV.
Unlike most channels, B-Movie TV is on a 24/7 stream. So, you’re not browsing through a catalog but actually watching scheduled television like we used to do back in caveman times. They’re not perfect, but they’re working on things and most of the films I’ve seen have been worth a look, especially to an exploitation film lover such as myself.
So it was that I found myself watching the channel when the 8:00 movie came on and lo and behold, it was a film I had not seen before. In fact, I had never even heard of it. But within minutes, I knew this called for something special. I knew I wasn’t going to just watch it and somehow merely jotting down notes for a future article wasn’t adequate either. No, I grabbed my tablet and God help me, I decided to get trendy.
I live tweeted the thing and now I feel the need to take you through the experience with annotations. This flick might have a future episode of Moviocrity written all over it, so don’t be surprised if you see me recycling the same material in my web series later on. You can also feel free to make fun of my lack of Twitter skills or inability to crop the pictures correctly. Darn judgemental internet.
STREET CORNER JUSTICE is an action film from 1996. Some sources list the film as a 1992 production, but that might just be because the film seems like too much of a throwback to have been made in 1996. It’s a stunning throwback to the Reagan era’s vigilante fantasies. This is an action film that breaks every ridiculous “good people vs. subhuman street thugs and their liberal apologists” cliché out like it was fine china. How ridiculous?
That is mostly true. According to the IMDB, his name is actually spelled “Mark Justus,” which actually might be even more hilarious. It also plays into a line of dialogue later on when the character says, “There is no justice. Just us.”
He really says that. He pillages lines from Richard Pryor and at least a dozen other people to make his point. Wow.
But I’m getting ahead of myself because in choosing the first image to assault us with, STREET CORNER JUSTICE does not disappoint.
Yes, they wanted to give you a clear image of where this film was headed and I decided to grab a picture so you knew I wasn’t lying. The imagery gets more disturbing for this, but I’m not going to reproduce that here. You’re welcome. Of course, he doesn’t just rape the girl, he also marks her up with occult symbolism because in these movies, it’s not enough for someone to be a scumbag. No, you either need to be a subhuman scumbag that seems like a walking mistake of God or you need to be a bona fide disciple of the devil. STREET CORNER JUSTICE makes Clint Howard’s character out to be a bit of both. When Mark “Street” Justus catches up to him, Rapist (that’s Howard’s entire character name) brags about all the people he’s killed and the great lawyers and shrinks he has. “People always complain about the system but it works great for me,” Rapist says.
Wow, this guy must be connected. And the Satan stuff? There must be some cult activity like in COBRA or something, right? Nope, he’s just an anonymous thug and the system in this film exists solely to help people like him and demonize everyone else. This happens a lot in these movies but in STREET CORNER JUSTICE, it’s treated as ridiculously as you can possibly imagine.
Justus gives Rapist every opportunity, but when he the thug gives him the FURY ROAD treatment, that’s just a bridge too far for Justus.
Of course the whole thing gets videotaped, Rodney King gets namechecked and a poorly thought out montage sequence which should have been a simple dialogue scene ends up with Justus being forced into early retirement.
Now listen, I know Justus moves to a bigger, badder city later on in the film. But Pittsburgh is a pretty happening place. And as far as crime is concerned? Before a revitalization project in the mid-90s at least, it used to be awful. So, this is a wild blanket statement to make. Let’s give them some props.
Justus travels to North Hollywood where he’s going to sell a house willed to him by a relative or something. When he gets there, the place is a shambles. His realtor isn’t much help. Now, as I point out, the realtor is a Muslim and not a bad guy. Sad to say, that’s an anomaly even in many modern films. STREET CORNER JUSTICE is filled with stereotypes of all kinds and even this character is a bit comic relief. However, the fact that the film pointed out his faith and then never made a thing about it gets a thumbs up from me.
Justus discovers that North Hollywood, or “Norwood” as they call it, is infested with gang activity. Incidentally, I visited North Hollywood a few years after this film was made. They weren’t calling it “Norwood” then but “No Ho.” I’m not saying the film got any facts wrong, it just struck me funny.
While most of the stereotypes in STREET CORNER JUSTICE are pretty harmless, the Latino street thugs are a different story altogether. They are led by an egregious caricature who is later usurped by an even more egregious caricature.
And just in case you thought the film wouldn’t get gratuitous….
I’m not showing a picture of that because I don’t want to play strictly to the 18 and up crowd forever. Incidentally, it’s the one nude shot in the whole film, and no we never see her again.
Like in many films of this type, there is a well-meaning shop owner. This part is played by Soon-Tek Oh, who was the bad guy in action flicks like STEELE JUSTICE (yep, the hero’s name was Steele) and MISSING IN ACTION 2: THE BEGINNING. Here, he’s one of the good guys and takes the role Art Carney played in DEFIANCE, a 1980 film that also follows this well-worn model. Soon-Tek Oh ousts people who are openly dealing drugs in his store only to have them piss in his cupcakes, break his window and sue him almost immediately. Like I said, the “subhuman scum vs. honest working people” motif in this film goes beyond any sense of realism.
Soon Tek-Oh and other concerned business owners try to get the city attorney to hear their claims. Once again, every politician, lawyer or cop without an ironic name is criminally arrogant and ineffectual in this movie. The city attorney tells them there will be no police and that if they are worried about crime after dark, they should shutter all their businesses after the dinner hour. He then goes even further, adjusting his tie and smugly yelling at the citizens and placing the blame solely on them. He points his finger at them, sneers and states “You folks are the problem.”
Pretty soon, Soon-Tek Oh is sued by the city because he hasn’t protected his business by paying for elaborate security and surveillance equipment out-of-pocket and has thus encouraged the criminal element he always complains about. That is when Justus says “This is bullshit.” I agree, but I’m speaking mostly about a screenplay that wasn’t content with the standard injustices people face every day. Nope, this is a script that makes up new ones.
It’s when Justus is alone with a local lady friend (Kim Lankford from MALIBU BEACH!) that he lays out his philosophy.
That’s the Pittsburgh Way.
We then get an array of angry locals who try to mobilize a local nonviolent force to combat the problem which Justus is just fine giving tips on. Where there are locals, there are more stereotypes, and among those stereotypes are some surprising faces.
Playing Father Brophy, an Irish Catholic priest with an accent so thick it makes Brad Pitt’s turn in THE DEVIL’S OWN look subtle, we have the future Emmy-winning star of MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE and BREAKING BAD. Cranston is just one of the talented people making up the ensemble of this loopy flick.
As part of the nonviolent protest, Justus recommends the business owners videotape the criminals in their area as a way to scare them off. And it appears to be working. Of course, that’s when the System (now with a capital “S” because it’s just so bad) steps in.
It’s true that even today with the controversies regarding police body cams, there are legal concerns being raised about the right to privacy. But no, System Lady, no one is going to look at videotaping criminals, mostly on property belonging to the people doing the videotaping, as harassment. Nice work using the “some would say” argument used by FOX News and other lazy journalists looking to set up straw man arguments though. And when System Lady is shot down, a fellow activist chimes in with this classy rejoinder.
Speaking of hookers….
After the nonviolent crew is assaulted by gang bangers, Justus knows he has to kick his previous non-interventionist policy to the curb. Being a cop, he knows quite a few ex-cons and drafts the services of a couple of them living in the area.
One of them is Willie Gee (Beverly Leech). That’s her kicking a muscle man in the balls. She’s the hooker with a heart of gold because I swear the clichés never stop. He enlists her services in taking down the gangs, basically daring her to do it.
Believe it or not, this line works on Willie. Which leaves one other person for Justus to draft for his team.
Angel is a violent ex-con who has seen the light and now fights only for the Lord. It’s actually a sweet character, played as straight as a film with nothing but over the top characters will allow.
Incidentally, after tweeting Lister’s dialogue, I was immediately auto-followed by the Virgin Mary. You’ve gotta love those keywords.
The bad guys push back yet again and it does seem like there is someone pulling the strings from the outside. And even though I have not mentioned this actor, virtually anyone could see the big reveal coming a mile away.
All that is left after this push is the two-step process leading to the final showdown. First up is a confession that isn’t really a confession but it takes the form of an uplifting speech anyway.
Predictably, Justus then gets a call that his girlfriend has been kidnapped by the egregious Latino stereotype, meaning it’s time to wrap the film up. And you’ll never guess where.
You know what comes next. Justus goes to the warehouse. Allies you thought were running scared show up to help. The Mystery Villain is revealed and no one is surprised. The right people end up dead and then it’s time for the wrap-up. This includes a pretty great sight gag which makes me which I knew how to do gifs.
The screenshot just doesn’t do Justus justice.
STREET CORNER JUSTICE was directed by Chuck Bail. As I pointed out, Bail directed BLACK SAMSON, CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD and several episodes of THE NEW ADAM-12 and the 1989 version of DRAGNET. Important credits I couldn’t mention in 140 characters include THE GUMBALL RALLY and CHOKE CANYON. The guy is a veteran of the action film and the classic standard police procedural. And despite my jokes earlier, Bail is a native of Pittsburgh so I’m sure the name-checking of his city was done out of love.
The screenwriting credits are also worth looking at. Bail wrote the script with Stan Berkowitz and Gary Kent. This is the only live-action feature film Berkowitz is credited with, but he has done a ton of animation. This includes scripts for many of the best DC animated cartoons, including BATMAN, SUPERMAN, BATMAN BEYOND, STATIC SHOCK and JUSTICE LEAGUE. Kent has done a bit of everything in film. He’s written a few scripts and directed a bit too. Kent is also an actor and stuntman with some impressive credits. He plays a monsignor in STREET CORNER JUSTICE, which was his last acting credit before coming out of retirement a couple of years back.
I love discovering films like STREET CORNER JUSTICE. Whether I’m genuinely invested in the storyline or pointing out each cliché, please know that I look at all movies like this with a sense of love and respect. Stuff like this is what keeps me coming back.
ADVENTURE WITHOUT SHAME!