Raw Justice (1994)

There are many metrics you can use to decide on whether a movie is good or not. Star power, number of jokes, budget – but my household uses a simpler one. A movie is usually going to be good when my wife asks me to pause it when she leaves the room to get herself a drink; to date, this is the first David A Prior effort to get this treatment!

I’m pretty sure this is Prior’s best movie so far. I mean, I enjoyed “Deadly Prey” but it’s a bizarre First Blood ripoff with a spectacularly bleak ending; this has a whisper of “Midnight Run” in it but is kind-of its own thing, has a decent cast, a few actual jokes, all that sort of thing. No-one’s going to mistake it for a classic, but, you know, I could have even tolerated a sequel.

Plus, Pamela Anderson is in it, and you kind of remember why she was so beloved back in the mid 90s. She had talent as well as looks, and was able to do comedy as well as act fairly well – perhaps if she’d had a better agent who’d gotten her away from Baywatch and onto her own decent starring vehicles earlier? Anyway, I’m guessing this was filmed before its 1994 release date because she disrobes at the drop of a hat, and there’s no way David A Prior could have afforded whatever 1994-level superstar Anderson was charging to get naked. But more on that later.

There are two heroes to this story – one is bounty hunter Mace (David Keith, “Major League 2”, “Epoch”, “Path of Destruction”), who comes into contact with Pam when he borrows her clothes, boots and wig in order to trick a criminal who’s waiting for a prostitute (for that is her profession); and the other is Mitch (Robert “Airplane” Hays), a sad sack – given almost no character background at all – who goes on a date with the Mayor’s daughter, it’s a bit boring, he drops her off and then she gets murdered a few minutes later.

As I’ll try and avoid spoilers, I’ll just give you the actors playing the Mayor and Deputy Mayor – Charles Napier, who’s appeared in other Prior movies, and Stacy Keach, doing a bizarre camp Southern accent. As I’ve said before, this is definitely the era when Prior had $$$ to hire casts that looked good on VHS covers, and he had a great cast here.

Mace is hired in his alcoholic stupor by the Mayor to keep an eye on Mitch, who’s been arrested for the murder of his daughter but released on bail. Mace is the daughter’s former boyfriend, and the Mayor knows he’s basically a good guy underneath the gruff exterior and alcohol at 8am vibe. We know Mitch didn’t do it, and luckily Mace is convinced of his innocence quite quickly and we just get to the two of them in all manner of odd-couple style shenanigans trying to track down the real killers. Sarah (Ms Anderson) encounters them on the street and after briefly helping Mace, is on the killers’ list too.

Okay, this bloke getting killed with a giant dart was unexpected

Okay, so a little word about the, er, “erotic” scenes now. Being chased by the goons, Mace and Sarah are hiding out briefly in a warehouse. Because, I mean, he’s got Pamela Anderson next to him, Mace is not concentrating on staying alive, and I guess neither is she, because they’re right at it. It became a running joke that both main actors agreed to work for free if they got to maul their beautiful co-star; the first scene is weird and un-erotic and apparently Anderson didn’t enjoy it either, bad-mouthing the movie in interviews. The scene later where Mitch and Sarah go for it (because she falls in love with him, gently giving Mace the brush-off) seems a bit better, but all the time you’re thinking “that’s Ted Striker from Airplane. Why is Ted Striker kissing Pamela Anderson’s boobs?”

I’m sorry, dear reader. I don’t feel comfortable writing about this sort of thing. I’ve never much cared for nudity for its own sake in these sorts of movies, and literally no-one needs to know the things that I find, er, “visually appealing”. So let’s get on with it.

Although I’ve already been very complimentary towards “Raw Justice”, you know there’s some Prior weirdness to be had, and I want to break down an early scene. Mitch is coming back to his home after being bailed out, and notices a weird smell. He looks inside his fridge to see a suicide note, realises everything’s about to blow and gets out just in time. So, I have a few questions.

1. Did the killers expect the note to survive the inferno?

2. What if the explosion had happened while he was on the phone to someone?

3. What if the explosion had happened before he got home, and the police had found the suicide note?

It is funny to see how Mitch lives like garbage, with his filthy appliances and cracked paint, though (although that’s probably someone’s house that agreed to let them film there for half a day – sorry, home owner).

While it’s fun, and there’s actual chemistry between the two male leads (not so much Pam, but she’s a beautiful young woman and they’re both lumpy middle-aged guys), a lot of the movie amounts to a bunch of fight scenes and rather poorly staged chases. One more example – that bit at the beginning where Mace dresses up as a prostitute? It doesn’t allow him to get the jump on the criminal, and the boots slow him down during the inevitable wacky chase. Why not just boot the door in and hold the gun on him?

Anyway, you know who the bad guys are, so it’s just a matter of how they’re taken down. Prior once again films everything like the cheap TV movie it was clearly intended to be, but at least he films everything clearly and lights it properly, which is far from a given in the low-budget world we inhabit here at the ISCFC.

Through good fortune and writing himself a decent script, Prior has stumbled onto his first real winner. Actually…recommended?

Rating: thumbs up


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