Apparently Steven Seagal turned down a role in The Expendables (2010) over a falling out with the film’s producer regarding the ageing actor’s poor run of straight to DVD releases, leaving him unable to join Sylvester Stallone in what could have been his first big screen appearance since 2002’s Half Past Dead. Instead, Seagal wrote True Justice: Street Wars (2011), another series of straight to DVD releases that pass off feature length episodes of his True Justice TV series as films.
The formula of True Justice: Street Wars will be incredibly familiar to anyone who watches programs like CSI. As Elijah Kane, Seagal heads a team of undercover cops that hunt down and snuff out the murderers, drug dealers and thieves of Seattle’s streets. When a deadly new drug appears on the city’s club scene Kane deploys his unit to shut them down before it becomes mainstream. As Kane begins to realise that the operation may be bigger than he had anticipated he is forced into helping his precinct with community service, acting as bodyguards for a film-crew while the rest of his team’s family lives start to get in the way of their work.
If the plot sounds flat and lazy it’s because it is. At forty minutes long, True Justice: Street Wars could have been quite tense but by tacking on storyline’s like Kane’s involvement with a film-crew or his rivalry with other members of the department it feels incredibly padded out. The plot isn’t nearly half as bad as the characters though. While one member of Kane’s team has to balance his asthma and his wife’s sudden pregnancy with his work the drug dealers are barely introduced beyond their first names.
Kane himself is laid back to the point of caricature. His effortless ability to kill villains while chatting up women and offering sage, but meaningless, advice leaves you feeling that Seagal created the character purely as an ego-boost. In the middle of fast-paced action sequences we constantly cut back to Kane either playing the guitar by himself or chopping up bamboo with a machete, again by himself. His character is so unengaging and dull that it feels like Steven Seagal ‘the brand’ is meant to make you forget just how little effort has been put into its development.
Maybe Seagal needed Kane to get over his non-involvement with The Expendables but more realistically without him True Justice would probably never have gotten off the ground. The manner in which True Justice has been released, as three separate ‘films’ rather than as a box-set will also inevitably put off viewers who will be unwilling to pay £30 for six episodes. If any good can come of True Justice it lies in the fact that it might prompt Seagal to move on from his straight to DVD films and return to the likes of Out For Justice (1991) and Under Siege (1992). True Justice: Street Wars is no more than a lifeless and vacuous affair that, rather than leaving you waiting for the next installment, leaves you wishing you’d never watched it in the first place.