Jailhouse Cop: Hard Justice (1995)

Dave catches up with screenwriter Scott Nicholas Amendolare for a quick chat about his kick-ass prison movie.

“So I walk into Boaz Davidson’s office and he says, “Nick, what have you got for me?”. “A prison movie,” I replied, then I made up this bullshit story from beginning to end”.

Originally slated to be a video game themed thriller called ‘Electric Warrior’, screenwriter and producer Scott Nicholas Amendolare knew the script he was handed wasn’t right, but some quick thinking spun the project in a totally different direction, as the scribe explains:

“Boaz loved the idea and told me to get to work immediately,” recalls the New Yorker. “Then he walks me down to Avi Lerner’s office and tells him what we’re going to make. Avi says “Great!” – then he shook my hand, agreed on a price, and he knows I love cigars so he offered me a Monte Cristo. We burned it, then I drove back home, wrote it, and they cut me a cheque. Two days! Swear to God.”

For a project with such an improvised origin, it’s a real turn-up that HARD JUSTICE (1995) is unequivocally among the best prison-based direct-to-video movies of the decade.

Riffing on Deran Serafian’s peerless Death Warrant (1990), we follow the travails of Nick Adams (David Bradley): an ATF agent who works his way into the clink in order to discover who killed his colleague, Mani (Doug Kruse). All the hallmarks of the classic penitentiary pow-wow’s are here including twisted loyalties, a Mafioso stronghold (albeit Asian, not Italian), and a warden who’s as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. You could be forgiven thinking these familiar tropes would lead to a degree of penal predictability, but with the iconic Charles Napier snarling over the inmates, it’s an absolute treat – albeit one that didn’t enjoy the smoothest of shoots.

“Well, David Bradley was a strange cat for starters,” recalls Amendolare. “He had a major distrust of Nu Image, specifically in regard to the budget of the picture. It was two-million dollars though, and I can hand on heart say that every penny ended up on screen”.

For director Greg Yaitanes, a recent film school graduate (who went on to carve a career in high-end episodic television), the experience was tough, which prompted Amendolare to offer some help.

“Yeah, I stepped in from time to time, as did Mike Sarna [the second unit director] and Boaz. Greg had issues with the picture, but that’s mainly because Nu Image had issues with him and his lack of experience. Everyone did the best they could”.

Directing by committee is rarely the catalyst for a bold artistic vision, but the moment you see Napier striding through the corridors of the jail, bedecked in a black trench-coat, teeth bared, and firing a pair of Uzi’s in tandem, it’s impossible not to be overcome with a gleeful B-movie euphoria.  

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