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Hipster Holy Grail: Beyond Justice (1992)

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

Gorgeous scenery and a serviceable premise don't distract from the bad editing and shitty characters in Beyond Justice.  It's a tough movie to sit through.

My Rating: 2 / 5

The Plot Summary

The movie opens in the mansion of a stereotypical Arab villain, who has kidnapped a British journalist and is rambling about demands and Allah and all the other items on the alt-right's terror jack-off list.  The editing makes it seem like either the Arab guy or the journalist are going to be important, but you'd be wrong.  This is more like a crappy, low-budget James Bond cold open so that we can meet Tom Burton (Rutger Hauer), a skilled mercenary / super-soldier / spy / whateverthefuck.  Burton and his sidekick kill everybody in the mansion and take the journalist to freedom.

Then we cut to the US, where we meet Christine Sanders (Carol Alt).  Christine is a wealthy businesswoman who's introduced to us via a stodgy board meeting.  A bunch of stuffed shirts are going on about nebulous business dealings and money, but then Christine immediately changes all plans and announces that they're going to do things her way instead.  Everybody cheers and the implication is that she's a bold maverick who's never wrong.  It comes off more like a parody of business than anything else.

Christine hangs out a bit with her suitor, Red Merchantson (Elliot Gould), who may or may not be a co-worker.  Red doesn't actually do very much here.  Or ever, really.  Actually, he pretty much disappears after the first twenty minutes and the movie totally works without him.  But it's Elliot Gould, so that's worth pointing out.

Then Christine gets a call from a boarding school headmaster.  Her son, Robert Sanders (David Flosi), has been acting like a douchebag and picking fights.  When we first meet Robert, he's been brought into the headmaster's office along with another kid with a black eye and swollen face.  The other kid explains how he was working as a hall monitor and Robert decided to beat the shit out of him for funsies.  The headmaster starts to talk about a suitable punishment, so Christine whips out a checkbook and makes a donation to the school.  All charges are dropped, and Robert is excused.  To celebrate his mom's wealth / bullshit loopholes, Robert punches the other kid in the face and the movie smash cuts to his mom walking with him through a garden and promising to buy him a pony.

So, let me take a minute here to say: fuck Robert.  This kid is a piece of shit.  He's what happens when God tries to make a person out of garbage and gives up halfway through, but sends that fucker to Earth anyway because he's on a deadline.  I think the filmmakers thought we were going to find Robert precocious and funny and charming somehow, because he's always featured with a giant, innocent grin and high spirits.  And y'know what, punching another kid to end a scene could be a joke in a better context.  But here?  It's just some privileged little white shithead.

So, later that day we get to meet Moulet (Kabir Bedi), Robert's father and Christine's ex-husband.  Moulet is a Moroccan Muslim of some considerable social standing from his home country, but apparently all of his features were lost on Robert, who's one whiiiiiiiiiiite little marshmallow.  Nevertheless, Moulet loves his son and has remained a persistent part of his life despite the divorce.  Everyone goes to bed, and the next day, Moulet visits Robert's school unannounced and takes him on a plane to Morocco.  In the meantime, Christine gets a mystery box with a ribbon inside and a card with some Arabic writing.  Soon she finds out that Robert is no longer in school, and she panics.

So... yeah, I feel like there's a bit of a grey area here.  On the one hand, Moulet taking his kid to Morocco completely unannounced and without any discussion is pretty shitty.  On the other hand, Christine's immediate reaction is, "Oh my God, those Islamic terrorists are going to kill my boy," and that's pretty shitty, too.  As we soon see, Robert isn't being threatened at all - he's greeted like a prince (which he is, given his father's status) and goes to hang out with his grandfather, Emir Beni-Zair (Omar Sharif), for awhile.  Emir and Moulet both keep telling him about how all the land he sees belongs to them, and Robert's pretty psyched to be there.  So, sure, maybe it's still a dick move, but this is hardly kidnapping.  This is a father from one culture showing it to his son for a chance instead of letting his mother shit all over it.  For now, at least.  I mean, we'll see where the movie goes, I'm just saying, let's not get psychotic about things yet.

Ah, shit, too late.  Christine starts calling every person of influence she knows and eventually manages to contact Mr. Burton, who has been absent from the movie for far too long.  Burton does some really amateur detective work - at one point he says something extremely generic like, "Muslims don't like betrayal," and that's meant to be a keen insight to show that he knows how to deal with filthy Arabs - and concludes that Moulet has kidnapped Robert and taken him to Africa.  He gives Christine a list of conditions and a price, and soon he's been contracted to find her son and bring him home.

Naturally, Christine goes for the ride because the movie apparently needed more white people in it.  And this is where I experienced the first of several odd edits that seem like some footage was missing.  The cut I watched was 106 minutes long and IMDb lists the runtime as 113 minutes, so it's entirely possible I just saw a butchered copy.  One way or another, everybody winds up in Morocco with a bunch of crates of weapons that have been cleverly stamped with the words "Fruit" on them so as to allay suspicion.

Then not much happens for about ten minutes or so.  We see a little more of that little shit Robert, who has befriended a Moroccan boy whose name I never picked up and who never says anything because I guess he's mute or something.  Robert and The Boy hang out a bit and both seem to be having a grand time playing in his grandfather's desert palace.  And while they're busy building up zero stakes or tension, Burton goes about plotting with his sidekick and occasionally shooting up a passing group of Arabic horseback riders.  What they have to do with anything, I don't know, but they're all dead now.

Burton finally unveils his plan, which is for him and his sidekick to pretend to be arms dealers so they can get in close to Emir.  Then we have a [Scene Deleted] cut to Burton having dinner with Emir and enjoying himself quite a bit.  Now, the first time the movie had a jarring cut, I was pretty bored and it just felt like a minor blip in the tedium.  This time around, I had to stop and double-back.  Until this point, Beyond Justice was setting it up as though Emir was the unapproachable boss at the end of Level 10, and it would take Burton awhile to build up to confronting him.  Cutting straight to here felt like the DVD skipped to the last chapter.  It's not a good edit, is what I'm saying.

Burton gets the lay of the land a bit and figures out where Robert is staying.  Once he decides he knows enough, he confides in his sidekick and they plot some more.  Except, it turns out Moulet is eavesdropping on their conversation, so you expect that things are about to go totally wrong.

But then Moulet goes to Robert and says something like, "If anybody tries to take you away from here tomorrow, just go with them," and it seems like Moulet's totally cool with the rescue effort.  This comes on the heels of absolutely no conversations - that I'm aware of - in which Moulet expresses any regret whatsoever about bringing Robert to Morocco, and after no frustration or terror - that I'm aware of - on the part of Robert.  In short, I have no idea why Moulet is suddenly changing his mind about the whole kidnapping plot.  I'm assuming he [Scene Deleted] it.

The next day comes and Burton and his sidekick go about their plan.  Long story short (and skipping over another 6 or so minutes), it involves the sidekick going back to a different camp where Christine is hanging out not doing anything, and then sneaking back to Emir's palace with a small squad of mercenaries.  Once the sidekick returns, they storm the palace and wake Robert up from a nap.

Then they all split up because of [Scene Deleted] and Burton somehow gets stuck in part of the palace while Robert and The Boy escape through a different part.  Along the way, Moulet is killed while trying to stop Emir's soldiers from bringing Robert back.  Then Robert and The Boy run back to Christine's camp, and Emir briefly mourns Moulet's death, but also doesn't seem terribly upset.

Then Robert and Christine have an unusually emotional reunion.  And I don't mean to say that it's unrealistic that they might be overwhelmed by meeting each other again under the circumstances - I just mean that the music swells to such dramatic heights that you'd think Robert just broke free of Shawshank right after killing Old Yeller.

Their reunion is not to last.  Moments later, Emir and his men close in on the camp and capture Robert and Christine.  Then, a little bit later, a marauding band of what I can only assume are Desert Pirates comes trotting into the camp and they shoot the place up, then kidnap Robert, Christine, and Emir.  Eventually, Burton and his sidekick show up, then find The Boy and figure out from him what happened to everyone else.

[Several scenes definitely deleted]

Suddenly, Burton, his sidekick, Robert, Christine, and Emir are all stuck inside a hut somewhere fighting off bandits.  It seems like it's been several days and they've put aside their differences to fight a common enemy.  In a moment of vulnerability, Burton goes to make out with Christine, who apparently loves him now, and then more of Emir's men show up out of nowhere to kill the rest of the Desert Pirates.  With the day saved, Emir tells Robert that he'll respect his choice to stay or go, and they'll always be family.  Robert goes back home with his mom.

Then Burton brings her flowers at the airport and decides he wants to be Robert's dad.  No word on what happened to The Boy.  Fuck that orphan, I guess.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

I did not like this movie.

I think in terms of sheer enjoyment, Beyond Justice might actually be in the bottom ten of the movies I've watched for this blog.  My rating does not reflect that because, to its credit, there are some redeeming qualities about it.  The cinematography is generally good, the sets and shooting locations are beautiful, and the music - while overblown - is a quality score from Ennio Morricone.

There's enough talent in the underlying components that I don't think it's fair to give it the low score I really want. None of that changes the fact that this is a frustrating, confusing mess of a movie.

And sure, it may just be that I watched a bad cut of it.  The seven minutes that might have been absent from what I watched could have connected the disparate scenes together a lot better, and that would have at least made more sense.  That doesn't excuse the poor structure.  You could segue all of those scenes beautifully and you'd still have a bad movie.

Consider Moulet's character.  He's supposed to be the part of Robert's life that connects him to his Moroccan roots and introduces him to a totally new world of royalty.  There's tons you could do with that, especially if Robert is unsure about whether he wants to part with the cornbread and mayonnaise lifestyle he's grown accustomed to.  But the movie treats Moulet purely as a prop - he exists to get Robert from America to Morocco, and then the movie just shoves him in the corner because it doesn't know what to do with him.  His death scene feels like an afterthought - "Oh, shit, what are we supposed to do about Robert's dad?  Some kind of redemptive sacrifice, maybe?"

Or consider the Desert Pirates.  They're in the movie to give it some kind of unifying climax, a threat that brings the two halves of Robert's world together to work in harmony for his betterment.  But who gives a shit about them?  They don't show up early enough to become an engaging threat, and even when they do come on screen, they're not a game-changer.  The entire movie is without stakes, and the Desert Pirates are just the last in a series of non-events.

And at the heart of it all, of course, is Robert.  The little shit.

I'm sure I don't need to point out the inherent racism in setting a story in the Moroccan desert where an entire army of Arabic warriors serves a royal family and then making all of them trip over themselves to serve some dipshit Elmer who doesn't even seem to notice when his brown parent dies.  The amount of white worship in this movie is disgusting.  It's like The Last Samurai times a hundred.  But even if you forgive all that - even if we pretend that they cast somebody with a nice shade of Burnt Sienna as Robert - the movie's still classist as shit and it just plain pisses me off.

Like, look, I know Beyond Justice was made back in the '90s when money meant something, but even then, you had to do something with wealthy people to make them sympathetic.  Why should I give a shit about some dumb rich lady's problems?  Especially when those problems center around her piece of shit bully of a son who never has consequences?  You can't give me Cersei and Joffrey and expect that I'm going to be invested when Joffrey gets kidnapped.  If anything, I'm going to be watching to see them shove Joffrey in a cage and make him eat dog food.

I just can't get behind it.  This may be the first movie I've ever seen that has anti-stakes.  They really tried hard to get me to not care about anybody in it.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

It's got under 500 IMDb ratings, so let's say 10 points for obscurity.  I'll give it 5 points for being an Italian production, too, since that lends it some unearned artistic flair.

That's all I'm giving, though.  If I'm being honest, there probably is some other stuff in here worthy of cred, but I was too goddamned bored by it to care.

Where You Can Watch

I saw this on BCI Eclipse's "Nowhere to Run" DVD set, but as it turns out, you can watch Beyond Justice pretty much anywhere if you want.  A cursory look on Amazon shows that there's like six different DVDs that feature it (including one that's just the movie by itself).  It's also on Youtube and Amazon Prime, so take your pick.

Or don't.  You're not missing much.