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Hipster Holy Grail: Fatal Justice (1994)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

Fatal Justice is what you get when you take the tasteful interpersonal drama of Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever, add the tense, whodunit paranoia of Twilight, and mix in the pulse-pounding action intensity of The First Wives Club.  I don't think I would recommend it.  This movie bored me so much I couldn't be bothered to go back and pull screen caps from it.

My Rating: 1 / 5 (Workman Bad Movie)

The Plot Summary

Diana (Suzanne Ager) is a super-duper elite CIA assassin.  So is Mars (Joe Estevez).  They're each off having their own, separate adventures when the movie begins until they receive new orders from The Agency.  Mars is ordered to take five men out in the woods and put them through an intense, week-long assassin training program.  And Diana is ordered to kill Mars.

Diana is shocked by the order; Mars is a well-known and beloved assassin.  Diana, like most other assassins who graduated from the CIA's Assassin Academy, has modeled her entire career on Mars's techniques and style.  But an order's an order, so she starts prepping herself to go after him.  Her boyfriend - whose name I never picked up, but he appears to be an assassin, too - has a heartfelt conversation with her in which he promises to go with her and keep her safe on her mission.  He then has this same conversation like two or three more times.  There's seriously like forty minutes before Diana gets her ass after Mars, and during that time it seems like she just keeps having heart-to-hearts with everyone.

One of those heart-to-hearts is with Diana's sorta-mother, Margaret (Mary Joris), who gives a lot of exposition in a very short time.  Apparently Diana was an orphan and Margaret kinda-adopted her, but not really, because Margaret is Diana's CIA handler, so I guess really the CIA is her mom?  Anyway, Margaret explains that Mars is actually Diana's father, and he's apparently a pretty bad dude.  And more words.

There's a surprising amount of talking and an unsurprising amount of nudity over the next act and a half.  Occasionally there's an arbitrary murder and/or explosion, too, but I couldn't begin to tell you how those factor into the plot. Eventually - like fifty minutes in - we finally join Mars at his assassin workshop in the woods.  He gives some tough guy speeches and we see his pupils rough house a bit.  Then, through the magic of editing, we arrive at the eve of their last day at murder camp.  Mars tells them to go to bed and get ready for their final exam.  Then one of them sneaks off and makes a call to CIA HQ, where we realize he's an already-trained assassin who was also ordered to kill Mars.

Mars is too smart for this guy, though, so the next day, he sends all the other students out into the woods and then kills the undercover assassin.  Then Diana tries to sneak up on Mars, but the other assassins-in-training find her and threaten to rape/kill her, so she is forced to kill them, but then Mars shows up and helps her out, so everything's fine.  Except not really, because now Diana's boyfriend outs himself as another undercover assassin who was ordered to kill Mars and Diana, and he decided that now is a good time to reveal this, so naturally Mars and Diana join forces to shoot him in the head.

Y'know, if you're going to go this far and have every other person try to kill Mars, you might as well put in a scene where some high-up white dude at a desk goes, "Mars has been disavowed," and then you make it a thing that the entire CIA is out to get him.  That's a lot easier than pretending it's a surprise anytime somebody's trying to kill him.  You only get one mystery assassin, Fatal Justice.  Don't be greedy.

Diana and Mars reconcile and have a father/daughter heart-to-heart, and then Mars explains that Margaret was lying to Diana and actually Margaret is the truly bad dude due to more words and words.  They go on the run, sorta, dodging / killing more would-be assassins as they make their way back to civilization.

Mars gets into a car accident at one point, then immediately shows up in Diana's apartment, and they have one last heart-to-heart where Mars mopes about the pain and guilt he's had to live with.  He only wishes that Diana will be able to escape a life of servitude to the CIA.

Then Diana goes and kills all her handlers at the CIA and wanders off to live a new life by herself.  The End.

Oh, what's that?  Seems like a brief plot summary?  Well... yeah, I suppose it is.  To get the right length, you have to go back to the beginning and add the words, "Then they have a half-hearted introspective moment about murdering people" after every two sentences.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

On a technical level, Fatal Justice is just barely baseline competent.  It looks cheap as hell, the acting is mostly bad, and the editing is often abrupt and defeats all possibility of awe or tension, but ultimately it at least still seems like a movie.  Basically.  That's more than I can say for some others.

Unfortunately, it's boring as shit and got on my nerves, so the best I can do is put this one in the Workman Bad Movie category.  Nothing personal against the filmmakers - I just didn't like it.

The big sin for me is that it tries so hard to play up character drama, which is one of the worst possible choices when you're working with a small budget.  Believable drama requires expert actors - who cost money - beautiful cinematography - which costs money - and a deep sense of subtlety and human frailty, which doesn't necessarily cost money, but which is at odds with having ladies whip out their tits and shake them at the camera (which strangely enough, doesn't actually cost that much money at all).

What's worse is that they went in this direction with some of the worst possible subject matter.  Assassins are pure action movie nonsense that should never, ever be taken seriously. And let's be clear: when I say "assassin," I'm talking about the supernaturally gifted, army-of-one, government-backed, target-assigned, kills-people-every-day, professional murderer type that you see in Fatal Justice.  It's such a dumb concept from the get-go.

If you're trying to kill somebody, why would you get that fucking fancy and precious about it?  If you're the government, then you would dispatch some Navy SEALs so you can make sure the job gets done right.  You wouldn't put all your eggs in one basket and hope that basket doesn't develop second thoughts about moral relativism.  Alternately, if you're not the government, then you almost certainly don't have the time and money to piddle around with gadgets and costumes and bullshit like that.  You would just get a gun and go shoot somebody in the head or, if you don't trust your aim, you'd pay your cousin Paulie to go do it for you.  Nothing glamorous, just some old-fashioned blue collar murder.  Mob hitmen aren't known for being particularly James Bondian, you know?

To make a movie about assassins work, you have to realize up front how stupid the premise is.  That means you ought to go with something that's either got a touch of comedy, like Leon: The Professional, or something that just revels in ludicrousness, like John Wick.

That's not to say you can't make a straight-faced action movie with assassins - you can.  You just can't go the extra step of trying to make me also believe in the drama of their fragile mental undercurrent.  I can only stretch my credulity once.  Getting me to buy into the idea that somebody is a hard-ass killer who can dispatch their target without breaking a sweat and that they totally exist, guys, this isn't just some bullshit I read on the Internet - that's a tough sell all on it's own.  Now, you ask me to take that idea and buy into their sobbing back story about personal dread?  Fuck you.  I can barely buy into the personal drama of actual people.

Pretty much the only "totally serious assassin totally seriously has serious feelings about being a human for reals guys" movie that has ever worked is The Bourne Identity - and even then, the only reason it worked is because Jason Bourne isn't actually an assassin when you get down to it.  He's an amnesiac super spy trying to figure out his past, and that at least gives you the benefit of a blank slate to work with.  But more to the point, the Bourne movies are action movies, and the character drama is a background flavor underlying the punchier notes of... punching.

So, yeah, this is a long, ranty way of saying that Fatal Justice simply doesn't work.  The last thing I want from a movie about assassins is for them to mope about their faith in American institutions.

The one single part of this movie that has any potential behind it at all is the idea that Mars is an on-edge psychopath training some goons out in the woods.  That could actually be a pretty good little thriller.  Here's my pitch: Instead of Diana being an assassin already who gets Mars as her next assignment, why not reset her character as a top-of-her-class West Point graduate?  She's excited about starting her career in the military when Colonel Pleasetrustme shows up and offers her the chance of a lifetime: join a dozen other best-of-the-best candidates for a top secret training program to become an elite, worldwide unit, and she'll be swimming in accolades and fat stacks of cash for decades.  Diana accepts, but then she starts to fear for her life when her new C.O., Mars, has dangerous training techniques and comes across as more of a raving lunatic rather than a trustworthy teacher.  Soon, she finds herself leading a mutiny and trying to escape from Mars and his most loyal pupils.

Now, doesn't that sound a lot more interesting than "occasionally topless lady assassin has daddy issues and later Joe Estevez has a bad back?"  Swing and a miss, Fatal Justice.  Swing and a miss.

Oh, also, the whole "let's name everybody after Roman mythology because that's clever" thing can suck it.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

It has well under 100 IMDb ratings, so it gets the full 50 point obscurity bonus.  I'll give it 5 points for Joe Estevez and another 5 points for being about assassins, since they're pretty much on the same level as ninjas.

There might actually be some other stuff in there worth hipster cred, but considering that the movie is so melodramatic, I think it would be a wash.  Let's stick with a total of 60 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

Fatal Justice was released on DVD and copies are plentiful, so if you can't find it streaming anywhere, a legal copy is readily available.