Friday, June 11, 2010

Final Justice (1985) - MST3K Review

Texas lawman Thomas Jefferson Geronimo III (Joe Don Baker) simply has to escort Italian hit man Joseph Palermo (Venantino Venantini) back to Rome. But bad blood exists between the two. Palermo killed Geronimo’s best friend and partner in cold blood. In turn Geronimo killed Palermo’s brother while attempting to apprehend them. Palermo’s friends aren’t about to let the Texan get away with this, so they force the plane to land on the small island of Malta. There, Palermo escapes and Geronimo must hunt him down. But Texan swagger and stubbornness aren’t going to capture the killer, even if perky policewoman Maria (Helena Abella) is assigned to help Geronimo. He’s gonna have to take matters into his own hands to execute his brand of Final Justice.

Movie Review

It’s not a bad idea for a movie, not terribly original, but you know, it can work. Take one very Texan deputy Sheriff and stick him on the picturesque island of Malta to chase a bad guy. Have him run into a few fish out of water scenarios. Give him a cute Maltese sidekick and throw in some strippers and boat chases and it should work out right? In theory, but in execution it comes back to the script, which was really flimsy. What you’ve got here is enough to make a 40 minute episode of a cop show, but trying to turn it into a 90 minute movie just kills it.

I’m not a big fan of Joe Don Baker. He’s good in specific parts and that is usually a kind of blue-collar blowhard. He works as comic relief or as a foil, but as your main character – well Baker comes across too abrasive. He can deliver a pushy, stubborn and decidedly non-diplomatic Texan. But do you want that as your main character – for 90 minutes? In many ways it’s not too far from Baker’s role in Mitchell but not as dumb. Geronimo seems like a decent enough guy, he just believes that he has to do whatever it takes to get his man. A real old fashioned cowboy, but instead of rooting for him, you end up feeling bad for the Maltese people who get caught in the crossfire between him and Palermo. All in all, I don’t blame Baker, he does what he can with a cliché character. But I think some more effort should have been made to make him a little more likable.

On the other side of the coin is Venantini as Palermo. He seems to be having a blast playing the oily and twisted villain. He chews scenery, says all kinds of mustache twirling evil lines and is equal parts annoying and dangerous. He’s a great foil for the stubborn Texan. His disregard for others and brutal outlook make you really hate him. At least in this case, he’s a clear villain as opposed to the reasonable and urbane villains in Mitchell who ended up making the hero look like an uncouth slovenly idiot. Part of the reason this movie works is because Venantini is so good at being bad. We may think Geronimo is too pushy and a little too quick to beat people up – but to catch this sleaze, it might be worth it.

The rest of the cast is OK, reminding me more of television actors in style. I’m sure I’ve seen Bill McKiney in other action flicks and televisions shows. Here he plays the harassed official Chief Wilson who has to deal with Maltese authorities whenever Geronimo screws up. Helena Abella as Maria the policewoman is perky and cute. Her part is severely underwritten, more like they wanted another girl in the movie so they came up with this half-baked character. She doesn’t have much enthusiasm. Patrizia Pellegrino plays the hooker with the heart of gold. Again, the part is flimsy and not too interesting, but she does what she can with it. Rossano Brazzi as Don Lamanna plays the cool and collected mafia boss who is protecting Palermo. He puts a little more effort into the role, but it is a small one that hints at a more interesting back-story.

What really shines in the film is the Maltese location filming. With its sapphire blue Mediterranean waters and impressive walls built by Crusaders, the island is really something to see. Unfortunately director Greydon Clark doesn’t quite manage to show the island off as well as I had hoped. During the boat chase scene we get some great views of the impressive fortifications, but I was disappointed you didn’t get to see more. We do get to see plenty of floats and costumes during the carnival sequence, as well as some of the narrow medieval streets. Still Malta doesn’t come off too badly and it makes for some interesting locations shooting during the action scenes.

About those action scenes. Clark really tries to drum up some excitement here. But it never really clicks. Even big moments like the bar fight or the boat chase just don’t do much more than make you wonder how much longer the sequence will continue. The best sequence is the standoff between Geronimo and some thugs. It’s a typical cowboy face off, even aping Leone style close-ups and tension. The inclusion of innocent Maltese onlookers makes this scene work, but it also make Geronimo look like a real jerk for putting those people in danger instead of attempting to work out another solution.

The worst of the bunch is a very very very long foot chase that turns into a boat chase, that ends with tough Geronimo getting knocked out with one hit, and Palermo not killing him right there. What? The footchase scene is very dull, with an attempt of suspense with Palermo disguising himself as a monk, but instead of blending into a crowd, he runs onto a lonely dock!? They run around some dock equipment and boats, but it’s less than thrilling. Finally they hop into boats and you get your hopes up for a bit – but it never gets going. It just seems like two guys are motoring around a bay in Malta instead of chasing each other down. Bad filming and editing are the real culprits here. Well-executed action scenes require planning and skill in pulling off. I get the feeling that the action scenes in Final Justice were improvised very close to shooting and the result is something that never gels.

That’s the problem with the movie in general, it never comes together to make an entertaining whole. Individual elements seem to work in isolation. Others, like the music, don’t work at all. But still the final product should have been more interesting than this. I mean you got to film on Malta and island with a lot of history and visual interest. But the bland half-baked script scuttled this flick before it had a chance. Combined with poorly executed action and thrill scenes – in your action movie – well that makes Final Justice a dud in any book.

Episode Review
Back in Season Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 did a landmark episode. It was called Mitchell and it will live in infamy. Mostly because it was the last episode that show creator and original host Joel Hodgson appeared in. But for my money it was also a top-notch episode, one of the best of the series. The movie Mitchell was a mean-spirited piece of 70’s anti-hero worship. Joe Don Baker played an unappealing hero who was dumber than the villains and you were supposed to root for him. Joel and the bots went to town on the character – and on Baker himself (unfairly attributing many of the characteristics of Mitchell to the actor). The movie was mean, the riffing was meaner – but it was hilarious. It’s an episode that many fans enjoy, and that rumor has it Baker hates with a passion.

I’ll stop before this turns into a Mitchell review. But my point is that Mitchell looms large over MST3K, and I can see the appeal of the crew tackling another Joe Don Baker as cop movie again. Final Justice seems to have all the elements, as well as new ones to mock. The only problem is that fans of the show are going to compare it to the Season Five classic – and it will be tough to top.

I think the difference is the target. Mitchell was a nasty character, not the least bit likable. Geronimo is stubborn and obviously unwilling to adapt to his situation, but he’s facing a man who is a real monster. In Geronimo’s mind, he has to do whatever it takes to capture Palermo – or else the bastard is going to do worse things to more people. We might not agree with Geronimo’s tactics, but we understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. Mitchell never comes across that way. He just seems like an idiot from the first moment we meet him and gradually reveals that he’s also got a twisted sense of ethics.

What does this all mean? Mitchell deserves to be the target of countless slob, eating, farting, low IQ and fat jokes. Geronimo – not so much. In Mitchell we accept the attack on Baker and Mitchell because we dislike the character so much. But in Final Justice the attack on Geronimo and Baker seem off base and too mean spirited. I think that in the effort to recapture the glory of the previous episode the crew made the mistake of riffing the persona of Joe Don Baker instead of the movie Final Justice. Now these final three seasons of MST3K are all a bit meaner and more sarcastic with the riffing. I accept that. But a few times they boys go overboard and I think this is a perfect example of it.

When they do end up actually riffing the movie and some of it’s obvious flaws there is some funny stuff, but it seems to be lacking in energy. Most of that energy is saved for mocking Joe Don Baker and his eating habits. My favorite scene of the episode is the scene involving the carnival. Lots of good riffing for the floats and the costumes and that provides some solid laughs. I also enjoy the riffing of the guard and his little tollbooth. And those of you looking for some funny Catholic riffing will enjoy the entire foot chase with Palermo disguised as monk.

The host segments are hit and miss. The show starts with Tom wondering about “The Owner of the Lonely Heart” compared to owners of other things – like toaster ovens. Pearl shows up with a corporate inspired “having fun at the workplace” moment. She’s about as successful as most corporate suits are at making work “fun”. After the break, the bots try to prove a point to Pearl about continuity. Mike shows off his physical comedy skills. The next break features the Maltese favorite – Goosio, who appeared in Final Justice as a float. Goosio seems nice enough – which means that the bots must make him suffer. At the next break, Crow unleashes his inner anger toward all things Maltese. Mike tries to correct this obnoxious flaw. The movie ends and Mike assumes that he can escape from the Satellite of Love – just like Joel did in Season Five. The sad truth is revealed to him – Joe Don Baker does not equal the end of your duty as human guinea pig.

This episode is lacking in a lot of ways, but it’s got some funny moments. But it’s one of those times where the whole episode never comes together for me. It’s not deadly dull like The Blood Waters of Dr. Z, but the laughs aren’t as frequent as I would have hoped. Now I do know a few people who actually enjoy this episode more than Mitchell. So maybe you’ll find something to like, but for me, when I want to see a full-blown roast of Joe Don Baker, I’ll reach for Mitchell and leave Final Justice on Malta.

I give it two Goosios out of Five. You disagree- well you go ahead on.

This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume XIV.


  1. They didn't put a whole lot of complexity into Maria, but how often is a lady cop written this well? Certainly by 1985 standards she was ahead of the game: a dedicated cop who eventually broke the law to do the right thing, not because she fell in love with Joe Don Baker. With the exception of picking a lock with a hairpin, nothing she does is the product of her being "the girl"; not even Joss Whedon ever quite mastered that. (Had it been a male Maltese cop, he would have used a paper clip, so not fundamentally different.)

    Maria was ahead of her time, and while they possibly could have spent more time on her -- maybe give her a backstory as to why she became a cop, I don't know -- I'm satisfied that they did a better job with her than many screenwriters would even today.

    Still waiting for "Final Justice II" where they try to find Goosio's killers.

    1. You know I agree with you. When I wrote this back in 2010 I had only seen the episode a couple of times and I was irritated by overall episode. This spilled into my commentary about Maria's character and I sold her a bit short.

      You make a good point that she comes across as competent and able to think on her feet, something not all female cops of the 80s ever really managed to do (thanks to poor writing and direction).

      I'd watch your version of "Final Justice II" and if we had Maria as the main character that would be even better!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!