Jersey Justice (2009)

Jersey JusticeReviewed by Erik W. Van Der Wolf

Starring Blanche Baker, Chrisopher Mann, Bo Svenson, Jerry Lyden, Maria Soccor, Johnny Williams

Written and directed by Jonathan Charles Hunt

Having recently become involved with a local film school, it’s been interesting to hear academics, each well trained in the crafts they teach, discuss film, film theory and the filmmaking process. One such discussion found an editing instructor uttering, “A film is made in the editing room. A screenplay is merely a guide.” After the wordsmiths in the room quelled their burning desire to jam a pencil through his windpipe and watch him choke to death on his own go juice, the rebuttal was posed: If that’s true, then why, when a film turns out to be a train wreck, is the first thing everyone does is blame the writer?

While it’s true a screenplay is not a film and only becomes one through the work of the director, the actors, the editor, etc., if the screenplay those people are working from is bad, the film will be bad. Not unlike contractors working from ill designed blueprints. They’ll construct something that looks like a building – it’ll have walls, a roof, windows, a door maybe – but it won’t be sound and may even collapse under its own weight depending on how inept the designer was.

If your script is flawed, your film will be flawed. Period. And, unfortunately, Jersey Justice is very flawed.

Touted as a revenge thriller with the tagline “Revenge… Kicked Up A Notch!” it tells the story of middle-class couple Polly and Jack O’Bannon (Blanche Baker and Ken Schwarz), who are grieving from the loss of their son, Derrick, who was killed by insurgents while working as a private contractor in Baghdad. His boss, millionaire WW Tolliver (Bo Svenson), has been less than forthcoming concerning the incident, and Polly and Jack feel he was somehow responsible for what happened. In an attempt to dissuade them from their very public pursuit for answers, WW has the couple lured to a nondescript office with the promise of turning over their son’s personal belongings. When they arrive, they are greeted by a couple of henchmen who, before turning over the possessions, want to set the record straight about their son’s death. Realizing they’ve been duped, the O’Bannons leave the impromptu meeting with the intent of going to the press about what’s just transpired. What is WW hiding about their son’s death??? They want answers!

Unfortunately, upon leaving the office, they cross paths with two hitmen who have just botched what should have been a simple mob assassination and are fleeing the scene of the crime. During the process Jack is murdered in cold blood before Polly’s eyes. While Polly is physically unhurt, the same cannot be said about her mental state; she’s had all she can stand and can stands no more and begins her pursuit of the two hitmen, determined to deliver her own brand of justice.

It’s not long before the cops get involved, and we suddenly find ourselves watching something resembling a buddy cop flick for the next twenty minutes or so. Veteran detective Vic Bell (Jerry Lynden) and local FBI agent Paul Lane (Christopher Mann) eventually put together what’s happened and, amid plot-stopping back and forth banter that never seems organic to the story, set out to find Polly before she gets herself killed.

From here the script slooowly wanders down a familiar path as Polly obtains weaponry to execute her plan and tries to track down her husband’s killers, and the characters talk and talk and talk and then, for good measure, talk some more.

While what writer/director John Charles Hunt tries to accomplish in Jersey Justice is appreciated, which is an attempt to capture the essence of a sprawling 70’s revenge thriller with multiple storylines and a cadre of compelling characters, it simply doesn’t work here. The film lacks focus, the story far too often stops dead in its tracks by repetitive, needless dialogue (most of which does not advance the plot), and worst of all for an “Unrated Director’s Cut”, there’s virtually no onscreen violence and hardly a drop of blood spilled. One gets the impression the film is “Unrated” because the rating it would get is an embarrassing PG. Not exactly a good sign for a revenge thriller.

Another curious issue, and a further example of the script’s lack of clear direction, is that the film spends a lot of time setting up a mystery as to the circumstances surrounding the death of Polly’s son in Iraq and what secrets his boss may be hiding (the opening credits use Iraq War footage to further lay the foundation for this plot line) only for it to never amount anything. That storyline is completely forgotten once Polly’s husband is killed by the hitmen and is only “resolved” via a tacked-on ending. And even then what WW may be hiding is never revealed. At no point is there any sense of catharsis for Polly on any level.

Ultimately, Jersey Justice is a misfire. It never delivers on the promise of the premise, and a “revenge” film that seems ready made for Lifetime isn’t exactly what one would call a “slick tribute to 70’s style revenge thrillers”. Nor is it of interest to fans of such films.

1 out of 5

Because My Mom Would Probably Like It

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