[30 March 2012]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
“I’m the po-lice. I have my own set of rules, and I will impose my rules on them.” So announces Elijah Kane (Steven Seagal), New Orleans cop extraordinaire, in True Justice. He’s explaining his ethos to Hiro (Alex Mallari Jr.), the hapless CI (is there any other kind in such shows?), seated next to him as Kane drives to a next criminal encounter. Hiro responds as he must, nodding and smiling and insisting that his admiration for the man who busted him is profound. “You know my life’s changed ‘cause a you, Kane!”
The same might be said for so many who’ve been affected by Seagal, apparently forever hard to kill. (Think of all the fight choreography he pioneered, the full-body shots and long takes, the moves that influenced most action movies that came after the groundbreaking Above The Law .) If he’s not quite the same action star as he was, Seagal remains a dominant screen presence, if only because he surrounds himself with much less compelling figures. In True Justice, which premieres 30 March on Reelz Channel, he’s the Wise Elder leading a team of beautiful youngsters, each a type you’ve seen in other versions of this formula. These kids pitch between arrogant and stupid: one takes long minutes to realize that a young mandarin-speaking victim has identified a cop as her parents’ killer: by the time the camera zooms close to Juliet’s (Meghan Ory) suddenly comprehending face, you’re ready to move on to the next case already.
This won’t happen right away, though, as the series seems set up to expand the plot rather than economize, or assume you’ve seen as many of these plots as Seagal and his co-writers. Clichés are rarely welcome, but here they’re combined with the corny or bizarre dialogue: to sound tough, one of Kane’s boys calls an avowed lesbian a “clam slammer,” a comment that does, to be fair, solicit commentary by his appalled partner; trying to sound clever, another observes, “I shoulda known those Russians weren’t from around here!” (One of these Russians is played by Gill Bellows, whose accent is plainly based on Boris and Natasha.) And Kane doesn’t have to try when he explains a bloody massacre just so: “I told you, Russians don’t play!”
But apart from such entertainments, True Justice is mostly just dull, despite all the action, that is, car-chasing and shooting and a little bit of martial artsing. Unlike Seagal’s last TV adventure, A&E’s Steven Seagal: Lawman, the new series doesn’t pretend to be reality TV. It does, however, pretend to be TV, as the first two episodes are drawn from the movie Deadly Crossing, which never quite arrived in theaters near anyone. Perhaps its resituation on TV will work out. As Kane puts it, “My daddy used to say, ‘Even an old blind rooster hit a piece a corn once in a while.”