Beyond Justice (1992)
aka Desert Law

Directed by   Duccio Tessari
Written by    Sergio Donati, Luigi Montefiori, and Luciano Vincenzoni
Starring        Rutger Hauer Carol Alt Omar Sharif Elliot Gould Kabir Bedi

Every once in a while, I toy with the notion of just doing capsule reviews, pithy little twenty-five-words-or-less descriptions that succinctly let viewers know what they'll be in for. And then I come across items like Beyond Justice:

"Pretty much what you'd expect from an Italian production shot in Morocco starring a Dutch actor intended for American audiences."
Yeah, that might take some extra explanation.

We open in some Middle Eastern city, in which an American professor has been taken hostage by Hezbollah extremists. They're forcing him into one of those videotaped confessions (I hear those are admissible in any court so long as barrel of the gun forcing the confessor isn't immediately visible on screen), and nothing can save him...

... except Tom Burton (Rutger Hauer) and his comrade Ross (Peter Sands)! These two blond mercenaries demonstrate how easily they can cut through terrorist red tape by walking directly up to the guard of the building holding the professor and kicking him in the gut. (The guard, not the professor.) Then they put on gas masks and rescue the professor easily with semiautomatic weapons and flash grenades. Go, good guys, go.

Meanwhile, in an American boardroom, Christine (Carol Alt), the young chairwoman of a telemedia conglomerate, announces to the board members that she's changed the deal they've agreed to with another television company: Instead of selling off one of their stations to the other company, they're going to enter into a merger! None of the telecommunications stuff means anything to the rest of the movie; it's supposed to demonstrate for us that Christine is a driven and savvy corporate go-getter who knows what she wants and how to get it. What it demonstrates in atuality is that Carol Alt, former supermodel and very pretty face, can't act. Well, she can act some, but she can't play a hard-nosed corporate poobah to whom the entire board will kowtow.

There is another side to her, though, that of doting mother who's prepared to make sure that her son grows up a spoiled ass because she's always there with the check book to buy him out of trouble. Thirteen-year-old Robert (David Flosi) attends an exclusive boarding school, and Christine is called to see the headmaster because Robert beat up another boy who was going to snitch on Robert sneaking out in the middle of the night. When the headmaster threatens expulsion, Christine whips out her check book, and immediately the headmaster starts kissing her feet. Robert reacts to this completel behavioral security by cheerfully clocking the snitch in the head again right in front of the headmaster, forcing Mom to write yet another check. I'm sorry, but am I supposed to feel at all sorry for this whelp when he gets himself stranded in the middle of the Sahara?

Well, where there's a mother, there's got to be a father (or at least an interesting Infancy Gospel), and Robert's is Moulet (Kabir Bedi), a rich Moroccan Arab ten years divorced from Christine. (There's also board member Red, who's jockeying for the position, but this subplot vanishes so quickly that it was a waste to cast Elliott Gold [!] in the role.) Moulet comes home from a hard day of doing whatever it is rich divorced Moroccan Arabs in America do, to find an ornate box on his bed with a dagger inside, and a copy of the Koran marked at a cryptic passage. Christine finds a similar box on her own bed, containing only a black ribbon and a card with a squiggle of Arabic on it, and she calls Moulet over to translate for her. The word simply means, "It is written," which obviously doesn't mean anything to Christine, but just as obviously mens' a very big something to Moulet.

Next thing you know, Moulet has taken Robert out of school for an overseas trip without his mother's consent, and Christine has to pull in some favours from some governmental guys to find out where they're headed. Of course, the governmental guys are always a step behind, which is why before they know it, Moulet and Robert have arrived in Morocco, taken a limo three hundred miles into the desert, and walked until they were intercepted by armed rides who escort them back to camp. There Moulet changes into Middle Eastern garb, and Robert meets his grandfather, the Emir (Omar Sharif).

Well, that simply will not do at all, so Christine works through the governmental guy to find a mercenary who can bring her son home. And nobody can do the job... except Tom Burton! (And his friend Ross.)

By the way, if anyone ever wants to hire me for a freelance project, I'm happy to get an email. Or a letter, or maybe a friendly phone call. What I'm saying is, please don't hire me the way that Burton is hired: Cornered in a parking garage, held at gunpoint and beaten up, and finally dragged into Christine's office to hear the offer. Which he takes, without hearing the who or the where or the why. Somebody needs a business manager.

Back in Morocco, at least Robert is getting some of the where and the why. Moulet is the Emir's son, but since he did something as stupid as running off to the west and marrying an American, he's been disqualified, and Robert is now the heir. Robert is to be educated in traditional Arab and Muslim ways so that eventually, he can rule over Tafud Castle, out in the middle of sandy nowhere. Moulet is torn between his two worlds and their codesof conduct; Robert, on the other hand, just stands around like a grinning idiot, happy to be there.

Well, Burton and his little team of mercenaries start making their plans, with a huge fly in their ointment: Christine, who insists she's coming with them and accepting no argument. Apparently she's forgotten that these are people she sought out to hire, and if they don't like her conditions, then can just quit. And apparently Burton's forgotten that too, as he reluctantly accommodates her requests.

Thanks to this movie, I now know how to infiltrate an Emir's stronghold, since we're privy to all of the discussions Burton has with local businessmen and prospective guides. The mercs are going in disguised as arms dealers, so we also get to see some "fruit crates" loaded onto a boat for delivery to them later. Then it's off into the desert for Burton, Ross, their fellow mercenaries, some Arab bearers, and Christine. I'm guessing that Burton took his revenge on Christine for her wilfulness by not telling her how to pack. Consequently, when all the men are wearing khakis, headscarves, and those mutli-pocketed vests that mercenaries always wear, she's done up in a knee-length skirt, white blouse, and fashionable blazer. In the desert. Sleeping in a bedroll between two jeeps.

It's been an awful long time since we've seen anything that qualified as action (the fight in the parking garage was really short, and Robert dopeslapping his classmate doesn't count), so we get an invented little action sequence as hostile Arabs try to sneak up on the merc camp, only to be decimated when Burton and Ross circle around and get the drop on them. This is the point at which my body count tally changed from being just a standard part of my review, and became the ongoing answer to the question, "How many people are going to die because Mommy's miffed at Daddy?"

By morning, the bodies of the hostiles have conveniently evaporated so that no one needs to feel even a little uncomfortable as they make their plans, to wit: Burton and Ross will venture into the Emir's territory with weapons and get invited back to the castle. They'll radio to the second half of their party back in an oasis (where Christine insists on waiting) within 24 hours to show up as backup, else the oasis party ought to hightail it because that will mean that Burton and Ross ended up on the wrong end of Bedouin hospitality.

So that's what they do. Really, this should be the main meat of the movie, and yet if I didn't have the burden of duty driving me to review these things (I love you all, really I do) I probably would have turned it off and organized my sock drawer as an exciting alternative. Burton and Ross meet the Emir, and after the requisite dick-measuring, the Emir decides he likes their guns and rocket launchers and invites them back to the home front. They watch some local dancing, Burton meets Moulet and exchanges some cautious and veiled words about "living in two worlds" and such so that Moulet will know that they're here to get his son. Moulet's just fine with that; the only reason be brought Robert in the first place was that he knew Daddy would be awfully violent if opposed.

Then comes the main excitement: The radio's broken! How will they call in backup? Ooh, it's plenty tense, but they decide that Ross should leave on the pretext of meeting a supplier and Burton will stay behind. Then there's some more excitement as a sandstorm delays Ross and his men from getting to the oasis, but fortunately the other party stuck around, largely because Christine couldn't bear to leave yet. (Along the way, Ross's men meet some desert marauders, just for added excitement and all, and we can tell that Ross and Burton are good-guy mercenaries because they obviously stocked up on magic bullets -- the kind which, when sprayed from a semi-automatic weapons, will hit all of the men but miss all of the camels or horses on which they were mounted.)

So the backup party gets back in time for them to sneak in to the castle during morning prayers. Naturally, they almost make it out but get discovered, so plenty of bodies start piling up, and Burton gets a chance to use that spiffy rocket launcher on the front gate. And of course, Moulet bites it while covering his son's escape.

Oh, what that supposed to be the good part? Damn. Wasn't. That many bullets really shouldn't be so boring.

But the story's not over yet. Robert (and his mute Arabian serving boy, who somehow understands English flawlessly) make it back to Christine's camp by camel faster than the mercenaries do by jeep, and no sooner are mother and child reunited than the Emir shows up with his posse, mad like he's got hornets in his turban. But no sooner do they show up, when the Emir's main local rival (oh, is this why he wanted Burton's weapons) shows up with his own posse, looking to cause some heartache. Robert, Christine, and the Emir all end up in the enemy camp, and it's up to the mercenaries to save them.

Director Duccio Tessari is depressingly second-rate and like second-rate artists of every kind, it's clear to see that he does everything he does simply because he's seen others do it before, not because he understands what he's doing, and as a result the whole mess comes across as pointless and dull. Nowhere is this more clear than when Burton and Christine kiss right before the final battle. These are two characters who've exhibited nary a spark of attraction for one another up until now; even their disagreements were so anemic and easily resolved/glossed over that you can't claim the "Attraction Through Antagonism" gambit so common in action movies. So why do they kiss? Mainly because Tessari saw the hero and heroine do it in other movies, and thought it probably ought to happen here too. This despite the fact that it's about as organic to the plot as Chewbacca renting a room with R2-D2 after the Death Star explodes.

Capping it off is Ennio Morricone's score. Morricone is a god among film composers, and thus I can only surmise that this score originally graced some other movie first, as it rarely complements what's happening on screen. The soundtrack is replete with swelling, life-affirming themes accompanying Arabs being shot by the dozen.


Desert Law
[a.k.a. Beyond Justice and Il Principe del Deserto]
Dir: Duccio Tessari
Star: Rutger Hauer, Carol Alt, Elliott Gould, Omar Sharif

[ 11] Past experience of PG-rated films has shown they tend to be utter cop-outs, shorn of any redeeming sex or violence; I possess less 'PG' tapes than any other category, and more than half of those star Emmanuelle Beart or Nastassja. This film is a salutary lesson, being an Italian TVM (complete with obvious ad-breaks, co-scripted by George Eastman), that runs out of ideas fast and seems twice as long as its 140 minute running time. Even Hauer can't salvage it, though his character is easily the best thing in this awful cross between Not Without My Daughter and The Desert Rats. I really can't recommend this film, except possibly if you're looking for unfunny racial stereotypes.