Director: Steve Barnett
Writers: George Saunders, John Bryant Hedberg
Cast: Jeff Wincott, Karen Sheperd, Brigitte Nielsen, Matthias Hues, James Lew, Billy Williams, Tony Burton
It’s not often that I make personal disclosures in this space, but I’ll start off with one here: I went nearly three decades without watching a Jeff Wincott film. I’ll pause now for the collective gasp and screams of “FRAUD!”
He was never an actor I purposely avoided (*cough* Lorenzo Lamas) but since I was elbow-deep in Lundgren and Van Damme films during my prime direct-to-video years, Wincott never crept onto my cinematic radar. But much like other important milestones like sex, ice skating, and rigging live bait, the longer you go without watching a Jeff Wincott film, the harder it becomes to really start. So I pegged his 1992 film Mission of Justice as my jumping-off point.
Police officer Kurt Harris (Wincott) is a cop with a total respect for the rule of law to match his propensity for using whatever force is necessary to bring criminals down. When an abusive informant kills his girlfriend after being released by the department’s sergeant, Harris wigs out on his dickhead superior and earns a two-month suspension after punching him out. His partner, Lynne Steel (Sheperd) wants to see cooler heads prevail but Harris’s belief in the system is all but destroyed, remarking that as cops, they’re “supposed to stop the bad guys, not process them.”
To blow off some steam, Harris visits his old friend and boxing trainer and champion Cedric Williams (Burton) at his gym. A veteran of all six Rocky films, Tony Burton has carved out a nice career for himself by getting typecast, which is really not all that unusual considering he was an actual boxer. Harris and Cedric pump some iron and work out together, but the latter’s strange mood isn’t lost on Harris. Although he refuses to discuss the issue with his friend, Cedric is piping mad because a local mayoral candidate named Dr. Rachel Larkin (Nielsen) has been using his name and image to promote her campaign without his permission.
Dr. Larkin is not only a statuesque blond capable of ripping apart lobster tails with her bare hands, but also a philanthropist and public safety hardliner. Through her organization, the Mission of Justice, she’s recruited a task force of fighting experts dubbed the Peacemakers to supplement the municipal law enforcement in their crime-fighting. Why would Cedric ever consider aligning himself against such a virtuous cause? His terminated association with the Mission of Justice points the way.
After Harris leaves for the evening, Dr. Larkin and her head goons, Akiro (Lew) and Titus (Hues) pay Cedric an unexpected visit. At first, she tries simple persuasive language to bring Cedric back into the fold at the MoJ. When that doesn’t work, Cedric and her brother, Titus, have an impromptu fight in the ring which the latter wins handily through established Western boxing techniques like elbows, cheapshots, and breaking the opponent’s hands. After Cedric’s continued dogged resistance to Larkin, everyone decides to depart amicably without further conflict. That is to say, Larkin knifes him to death.
Harris is devastated when he discovers the news about his friend. After the chaos at the crime scene dissipates, he breaks into the gym and discovers little left other than a single flower buried in the sand of a slashed heavy bag. He’s not alone, however. Lynne figured he might come snooping around the crime scene, so she comforts her friend and partner by sharing the grisly details of Cedric’s death, driving Harris to sob and probably snot and drool all over himself.
Later at home, he makes a critical connection the way most of us render logical conclusions: while watching an old spaghetti Western on TV, drunk as shit. A Larkin campaign commercial airs and the decorative bud on her lapel suggests a reasonable facsimile of the flower he found at the gym. Instead of sharing his hunch with his fellow officers, he pursues it at the source by enlisting in the Mission of Justice the very next day.
After going through a brutal combative gauntlet to earn his stripes (a pinky ring and a free t-shirt), Harris joins a regular patrol of Peacemakers to keep the streets safe. His search for the truth about the organization continues through election day, where the conflict comes to a glass-shattering, knife-pulling, hand-breaking head.
If the quality of a film’s action were to be described in terms of 8-bit video games instead of superlatives, Mission of Justice would have been Rampage (pretty good) if not for two terrific set pieces that elevate it to Mega Man 3 (really good). The first, in which Wincott’s character is put through a gauntlet against dozens of Peacemakers to prove his worth, manages to be both well-choreographed and visually striking. Harris and the trainees are all equipped with fighting sticks and fight choreographer Jeff Pruitt gives the various techniques room to breathe without sacrificing any of the visceral impact. The mat in the corridor is a bright red, which contrasts nicely with the trail of black-clad fighters in various states of disrepair that Harris leaves in his wake. Even more impressive? According to an interview with Stack of Dimes, Wincott had no prior experience with fighting sticks or the many techniques endemic to eskrima and other weapon-based martial arts like it. He learned 45 minutes before the scene was shot. The other main course might not have the same visual sting as the gauntlet scene, but still manages to deliver the fun. I’ll avoid spoiling too much, but it includes action movie tropes like stunt-falls and wire-work, and creative choices in weaponry, like chainsaws and light tubes.
Director Steve Barnett pulls decent performances out of his actors and weaves the action and mystery elements into a tight, well-paced 84 minutes. When a film is bookended by characters getting smashed through windows, I have a hard time finding faults. I was a little disappointed to learn that screenwriter George Saunders was not the same George Saunders who writes awesome and hilarious short story collections, but it wouldn’t be fair to use that as a mark against the film. One oddity worth mentioning is that in addition to checking the financial records of its applicants, the Mission of Justice also used something called a “bio-feedback” machine on them. I like thinly-veiled jabs at Scientology as much as the next guy, but I thought the cultish elements in the screenplay could have been better explored.
If you’ve ever longed to see Matthias Hues dressed in a white turtleneck under a sportscoat, or wanted to see him scream “NOW I’M CHAMPION OF THE WORLD!” while wearing a massive championship belt under said sportscoat, this movie is the answer to your totally fucking random Matthias Hues fantasies. As he does so often, Hues brings a screen presence befitting of a main villain despite being cast as a supporting character. His blond locks and towering stature make him a natural choice to play the brother of Brigitte Nielsen’s character in this movie ... or any movie really.
I had no pre-conceived notions about what type of martial artist Jeff Wincott would be, so the biggest element of his skill-set that surprised me was his acting. This guy has legitimate chops. I’m not sure where Mission of Justice ranks in his filmography, but I was really impressed with the overall effort and the roster of talent. Highly recommended for Wincott virgins and loyalists alike.
VHS or Region 2 DVD.
6 / 7