Director: Martin Christopher Bode
Writer: Marco Theiss, Mike Leeder
Cast: Mark Dacascos, Brandon Rhea, Matthias Hues, Mike Möller, Mike Leeder, Wolfgang Riehm, Martin Baden, Henry Muller, Verena Konietschke, Bartholomäus Kowalski, Yazmeen Baker, Gerrit Grass, Mathis Landwehr
Running Time: 93 min.
By Paul Bramhall
After a tumultuous couple of years of post-production, in 2017 the sophomore feature from production company Silent Partners (made up of Hong Kong film industry veteran Mike Leeder, and German producer Ruediger Kuemmerle) finally hit DVD in the US in the form of Ultimate Justice. Unlike their first feature, the German language One Million K(l)icks, which was primarily an action vehicle for Mike Möller, Ultimate Justice is an ensemble piece, and contains a cast which speaks a mix of both English and German. It’s worth noting that Ultimate Justice has suffered the same fate as One Million K(l)icks for its release from Sony Pictures, meaning that all of the German speakers have been dubbed into English. If future releases in other territories will feature the original language track is still a question that’s unable to be answered, but for now, the dubbed version is the one being referred to in this review.
As mentioned Ultimate Justice is an ensemble piece, but thankfully the previously mentioned martial arts wunderkind Mike Möller is still a part of it, here playing a member of an A-team like group of soldiers for hire. The group is led by Mark Dacascos, who appears to be making a habit of appearing in ensemble productions in recent years, just check out the cast lists for Beyond the Game and Showdown in Manila. The majority of the rest of the team have worked together previously as well. Producer Mike Leeder plays a shot gun totting Brit, Brandon Rhea plays a torture specialist, who featured in both One Million K(l)icks alongside Möller, and has worked with Leeder before as the Belgian fighter in Fearless. Martin Baden, who plays the computer expert, is another returning cast member from One Million K(l)icks, and then you have the hulking German Matthias Hues, who worked alongside Dacascos on both of the movies mentioned.
Everything is going well with the team, until during a mission one of their own is killed, which leads Dacascos to disband the group and sell off the agency they work under. Everyone seems happy to go their separate ways except their commander, played by Wolfgang Riehm, who reluctantly agrees it’s the best thing to do. While having parting drinks, Dacascos and Riehm playfully compete for the attention of a lady, who ultimately finds Riehm to be the smoother operator. Skip forward 8 years, and everyone has gone their separate ways – Riehm is happily married to the same girl with a young daughter, Leeder is running a pub, Rhea has become a monk, Hues is running a burger truck (!?), and Möller has become a petrol station attendant (!!??). However when Riehm’s property is invaded my masked assailants, who murder his wife and kidnap his daughter, leaving him for dead, Dacascos makes the decision to bring the team back together and seek (you guessed it) Ultimate Justice!
All the ingredients are there for a fun filled slice of B-movie action, and to a certain extent, Ultimate Justice delivers. Just like in One Million K(l)icks, whenever Mike Möller is onscreen, he lights it up. Möller is also the fight choreographer, and his scenes are electrifying to watch. Not even 5 minutes have passed and he’s already jumped into action, throwing in both a shoryuken dragon punch and a Won Jin double footed flying kick. His style of choreography also lends itself well to his fellow German co-star Matthias Hues, with his 6’ 5” stature being taken full advantage of. The man mountain is given frequent opportunities to kick and throw around various assailants with a satisfying amount of impact, and together they deliver a healthy dose of physical mayhem to proceedings. What is disappointing is to see Dacascos himself largely restricted to firearms, with only the odd kick thrown here and there, especially considering what he’s capable of.
Outside of the action though Ultimate Justice suffers from various instances of illogical editing, and several gaping plot holes, which give the impression some key scenes have been inexplicably left on the cutting room floor. In one scene a key member of the team gets killed in action during a group melee, and in the next scene the death is ignored all together, leaving proceedings to carry on as if the character never existed! My favorite example of bizarre editing though happens when Möller is asked to check on a prisoner. He does so, however refuses to let the prisoner free despite their pleas to visit the bathroom. In the next scene, suddenly the prisoner is free, has knocked unconscious a member of the team, and then Möller appears looking completely confused as to what’s gone down. Trust me, he isn’t the only one.
While I hesitate to include the dubbing as another issue, as it was likely not a part of the original production, it’s an inescapable fact that the American accents attributed to the likes of Möller and Baden are an unwelcome distraction. The person who dubbed Riehm at least attempts to carry off the tone of a strict sounding military man, and despite the fact that it ultimately results in him sounding like a character from an old-school kung fu movie, I confess it kind of adds to the charm. This is none more so apparent than in a scene which takes place outdoors, and his voice sounds like he’s standing in the middle of an empty room, completely removing any semblance of reality. Of course the likes of Dacascos are spared the dub treatment, as is Rhea, who also speaks English.
For those who are willing to forgive the haphazard editing and the dubbing though, on the action front Ultimate Justice keeps the goods coming at regular enough intervals that fans shouldn’t be left wanting. Even Mike Leeder gets his own fight scene, here playing a much more significant role than his most recent turns in the likes of Helios and Tracer, and his shotgun blasts have the satisfying effect on sending those on the receiving end flying through the air. The highlights, as expected, all belong to Möller, from taking on 4 thugs harassing a woman at the petrol station (apparently in Germany petrol stations are prime spots for picking up), to a fantastic 2-versus-1 that has all involved armed with steel baseball bats. It’s enough to make one wish that Ultimate Justice had been another starring vehicle for Möller, rather than having him as only a supporting player, but for that we’ll have to wait for Two Million K(l)icks.
The finale decides to pull what I like to refer to as ‘China Strike Force Syndrome’, which refers to the practice of removing all the legitimate action talent from the plot before the expected big showdown. Ironically in that movie it was Mark Dacascos that got written out of proceedings far too early, and while that’s not the case here, considering how under-utilised his martial arts background is, I feel confident to say the same applies. What did come as a surprise though, is that this decision doesn’t result in any detriment to the conclusion of Ultimate Justice, mainly due to the inclusion of a twist that actually made me gasp when it came. Considering its status as an action B-movie, the closing revelations almost feel as if they come from a different movie all together, however that’s in no way a criticism. The twist works, and adds a surprising amount of weight to everything that’s come before.
Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, Ultimate Justice marks the full length feature debut from director Martin Christopher Bode, and it’s fair to say he’s crafted a movie that certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. While the continuity issues, along with the failure to fully utilise the martial arts skills of Mark Dacascos, prevent it from reaching its full potential, there’s still enough bullets, fists, and kicks flying about to make it an easy recommendation. After all, who doesn’t want to live in a world where you can get your car refilled by Mike Möller, buy a burger from Matthias Hues, then grab a pint from Mike Leeder?
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10