Marcus Williams is a city detective unwillingly thrust into a partnership with minister Samuel Gray to solve a gang-related shooting. As the mismatched duo begins their journey, they soon discover the incident is part of something bigger, and catching the killer means stopping an all-out gang war. Through the investigation, Marcus and Samuel both learn that saving lives means learning to work together in this buddy-cop dramedy.
The lengthy synopsis above is credited to the film’s screenwriter, D.C. Bowden. If the title, Truth and Justice, and the synopsis, sound like something out of an early-1990’s VHS bargain bin – well you wouldn’t be too far off in guessing the film’s overall vibe. Perhaps it was a deliberate choice by Bowden – and co-writer / director March A. Hutchins. If that’s the case, they succeeded brilliantly in emanating those vibes, down to the cheesy pop-rock soundtrack, predictable detective plot and buddy-cop clichés – but with a heavy dose of faith-based sentimentality spread over the entire thing like sloppy butter.
“…a city detective unwillingly thrust into a partnership with a minister to solve a gang-related shooting…”
The sexiest pastor in Roanoke, Samuel (Chris Cleveland) teams up with the uptight cop Marcus (Kevin Nichols) to solve what seems like a gang-related murder in Samuel’s neighborhood. The answer may lie in the elusive prostitute Jessica, who ran off with a guy called Shank (“getting mixed up with him is getting mixed up for real.”) The trail eventually leads them to…a garage, where a white-knuckle showdown occurs. Oh, and there’s sort of a love story subplot between Samuel and Lauren, a no-nonsense cop nonsensically played by Laura Avnaim.
The clichés pile up quickly: the experienced cop has to babysit a hapless partner, and the two end up being best friends; the series of witnesses and suspects they interview, including a homeless person, street kids, and a druggie. Everyone loves the white pastor and is frightened of the black cop – including black people – until the white pastor, along with some selfless homeless shelter work, melts the black cop’s hardened heart. A vaguely racist vibe permeates the film, most evident in the scene where Samuel imitates Marcus’ intonations. It’s all in good spirit, right? May as well paint his face with charcoal.
The dialogue, peppered with lessons on kindness and forgiveness, is laughably terrible, especially when it tries to be “street.” “Some crazy east side cat wandered off the reservation,” says one cat who’s clearly never said anything like that before. “I need to find a killer and all I have so far is a victim,” Marcus mumbles. “If we don’t find her, we might have two victims!” Samuel points out helpfully. It’s almost unintentionally hilarious, especially in action moments, such as a chopped-up chase sequence early on, wherein no one even comes close to breaking a sweat. A PG-rated hip-hop soundtrack supplements the barely-there narrative; to think of it, the film is really no different from the Peter Berg or Michael Bay testosterone-powered sh… sorry, stuff, only on a fraction of their budget and with God’s hand looming over the proceedings.
“Why does every thug, cop, street kid, and forensic doctor look so obviously like an actor in a costume…”
Throw in all the overtly religious messages shoved down our gullet: the life-affirming themes, the lack of swearing, explicit violence or sex – and the experience becomes borderline unbearable. All the aforementioned aspects – or lack thereof – would be fine if it weren’t so forced, so obviously geared towards a certain demographic that eats crap like this up. Why then, I ask, are the locations so forcefully seedy, the camerawork and editing so “wannabe gritty?” Why does every thug, cop, street kid, and forensic doctor look so obviously like an actor in a costume? Just because a film is faith-based, doesn’t mean it has to be so fake on every other level.
What’s worse is that Truth and Justice doesn’t even try to have something special, something off-beat or dam… – sorry, darn – interesting to set it apart. It’s not incompetent, but there’s little truth to be found in its hackneyed narrative, and it may prove even more difficult to justify wasting a precious 80 minutes watching it.
Truth and Justice (2016) Directed by Marc A. Hutchins. Written by D.C. Bowden and Marc A. Hutchins. Starring Kevin Nichols, Chris Cleveland and Laura Avnaim.
4 out of 10