• Steele Justice

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: May 3rd, 2016.
    Director: Robert Boris
    Cast: Martin Kove, Sela Ward, Ronny Cox, Bernie Casey, Sarah Douglas, Jan Gan Boyd
    Year: 1987
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    The Movie:

    Written and directed by Robert Boris in 1987, the same man who wrote the excellent Electra Glide In Blue and who directed the passably entertaining Frank & Jesse, Steele Justice really offers up one serious question that cinephiles should think long and hard about: why wasn’t Martin Kove a bigger action star than he was?

    In the film, we journey back to the Vietnam War to meet John Steele (Kove) who, along with fellow soldier Lee (Peter Kwong), winds up on the wrong side of gold hungry Genera Bon Soong Kwan (Soon-Tek Oh). One bloody altercation later and we fast forward a few years to eighties era Los Angeles. Here Lee work as a cop, keeping the streets safe from bad guys, while John does something involving delivering horses. What exactly that is, well, it’s not so clear but he delivers some to a guy named Kelso who is going to turn them into glue and he gets mad, mad enough to start a fight. Later that night, when trying to reconnect with his hot ex-wife, Tracy (Sela Ward), Kelso shows up with some cops in tow. Another fight breaks out – John just can’t change his ways, he’s a hellraiser. He used to be a cop, and he used to report to Bennett (Ronny Cox), but nowadays he seems to prefer getting drunk and starting trouble.

    Sometime after this happens, Lee is killed by some drug dealers that he’s been trying to shut down. Steele promises to keep his daughter, a piano prodigy named Cami (Jan Gan Boyd), safe from harm – but that won’t be easy. Why? Because she was a witness to her old man’s murder, and she can pin that murder on General Kwan’s first born son! At this point, however, Kwan’s past is well behind him and now he’s a respected business man doing good things for the city. Or so he’d like us all to believe. Steele? He’s not buying it, not for a second. He and his pet snake, Three-Step, they know what kind of man Kwan really is. So Steele arms himself to the teeth, puts on some camo, and sets out to stop him from getting away with whatever it is that he’s trying to get away with. And if a music video shoot gets interrupted along the way, really just so that Boris could cram a dance number in this action extravaganza, then so be it. Oh, and a cop named Reese (Bernie Casey) just might help him out.

    You don't recruit John Steele. You unleash him.

    The scene where the horse guy and the cops show up to bust John Steele at the bar is one for the books. Not only is Kove here getting drunk on Wild Turkey and trying to pick up his ex, but while he’s doing this there’s a country band playing live and people do-see-do’ing around the dance floor, a Confederate flag displayed proudly behind them. But that’s not even what’s important here. What is important? The camera pans, the left side of the shot is opened up, and there, sitting by himself just really getting into the music is none other than talented midget actor Phil Fondacaro! Just doing his thing. Steele's lady protests, she doesn’t want to get back together with him, but he grabs her and forces her to slow dance with him, and when Martin Kove forces you to slow dance with him you are putty in his damn hands. She tells him she’s in love with someone else, someone that wears a fresh shirt once in a while. He tells her he’ll change but she knows better – but by the end of the movie, she’ll accept him for what he is… ‘a stubborn pain in the ass.’ The cops show up and he tries to kill them with his snake. Really, there’s just so much gold in this scene, and that’s just like five or ten minutes of the movie. We haven’t even talked about how, when Steele goes to visit Lee before the hit, his buddy visits him in the bathtub and makes him listen to a tape of Cami playing! We did mention the music video scene, so that’s covered, but what about the scene where sad John Steele has to think about life while sitting, thinking pensively about all that he has to deal with – shirtless, but with a pink sweater wrapped around his neck!

    Kove is awesome here. He plays things just straight enough to make it work, but you can also tell he’s having a good time here. It’s as if he thought “Hey, this John Steele character, this has got FRANCHISE written all over it, this is the next Rambo!” And it should have been. It wasn’t, but it should have been. There’s loads of action, bad humor, a cool cast – look out for Eric Lee of Ninja Busters as a random karate thug – and some great eighties California scenery and fashion. Steele Justice is never dull, never logical, never boring, never good – but always AWESOME! Martin Kove’s teased hair and camo makeup is rad, he’s got a snake that kills people for him, Jan Gan Boyd plays a teenager (in the same year she played Charles Bronson’s love interest in Assassination!)… it’s all just amazing. It even has a Martin Kove training montage. You kind of get the impression that Kove is just sort of playing himself here. As ridiculous as it all is, and it’s very ridiculous, the guy never seems uncomfortable and just gives off the impression that, yeah, “this is how I do things.” But he handles himself in the action scenes well, shooting people with style and kicking ass aplenty – really, he’s got it going on in this movie. He could have been a contender.

    This is the greatest Cannon Films movie that Cannon Films didn’t make.


    Kino Studio Classics presents Steele Justice on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 that, generally, looks pretty good. Detail is much improved over the DVD release from a few years ago and color reproduction feels more natural here even if some scenes look a little flat in that department. The film is as grainy as you’d want it to be but not to the point of detriment and aside from a few tiny white specks here and there, you won’t find much in the way of actual print damage to complain about. Black levels are okay but not reference quality while skin tones look nice and natural, there’s no evidence of any noise reduction having been applied here.

    The English DTS-HD 2.0 track on this disc is also fine. The score sounds good, the dialogue is easy to understand the levels are properly balanced. There are no issues with hiss or distortion and everything comes through cleanly and clearly. As this is an older mono mix you obviously can’t really expect much in the way of channel separation or fancy surround action but for what it is, this older single channel tracks sounds just fine. No alternate language options are provided although there are English subtitles offered.

    Extra are limited to a theatrical trailer, trailers for Assassination and Avenging Force, static menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Steele Justice is fan-fuggen-tastic entertainment. It’s goofy, ridiculous, over the top and it lets Martin Kove shine as the tough talking, no-nonsense, pink sweater wearin’, Wild Turky drinking, snake throwing son of a bitch that we all secretly hope he is in real life. Kino’s Blu-ray is disappointingly light on extra but having this MASTERPIECE of eighties action stupidity on Blu-ray is reason enough for some of us to celebrate.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 8 Comments
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      "This is the greatest Cannon Films movie that Cannon Films didn’t make."

      Holy Shit! I just assumed it was Cannon.

      Funny stuff. Love the film.
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      Ian, this review inspired me to go on a 2hr roundtrip to the only HMV in the GTA that had a copy. I can't wait to check this out.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Oh man, pressure's on! Hope it lives up!
    1. Clive Smith's Avatar
      Clive Smith -
      I think I'm going to quit the day job and take up delivering horses.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Love this!
    1. VinceP's Avatar
      VinceP -
      Taking a shot based on the review, too, Ian.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      My influence reaches far and wide! Seriously though, I hope you guys get even half the enjoyment out of this one that I did.
    1. moviegeek86's Avatar
      moviegeek86 -
      Blind bought it due to this review.