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Sworn To Justice (1996)

Director: Paul Maslak

Tagline: Revenge has never been so sweet. 

Plot: Cynthia Rothrock, five-time World Karate Champion in forms and weapons, plays Janna, criminal psychologist at Forensitec. One evening, she returns home to find her sister and nephew dead on the living-room floor, and her house overrun by bad guys wearing pantyhose on their heads. One of them tries to attack the grief-stricken Janna, who quickly demonstrates that it isn’t a smart idea to mess with a kung-fu queen, especially one wearing a short enough skirt for easy high kicks.

Still, Janna doesn’t have superpowers yet. A non-pantyhosed villain brings a gun to the party, and our heroine quickly escapes to the outside porch, hesitating only long enough to let a bad guy’s gun jam. 

Leaping from the porch lets Janna escape her assailants, and even more importantly, awakens her nascent psychic powers. With those powers, Janna is able to relive her sister’s assault (multiple times!), fueling her quest for sugary-sweet vengeance and getting her started on a new career as inadvertent superhero. She mentally flashes on crime and springs to the rescue, like when she goes to the local convenience store, picks up a clerk’s hat, and discovers that the owner is being beaten in the back room by some comedy-relief thugs. 

It isn’t all fun and games, though. After discussing her abilities with a professor of psychic research played by Walter Koenig, Janna intensifies her efforts to track down her sister and nephew’s killer. Finally, she interrupts him in the middle of a mugging (right before it graduates to rape, thankfully), and chases him down to his sleazy motel. Before Janna can kill him, though, the thug takes a moment to unwind.

But even after inadvertently staking the thug through the heart with a piece of broken chair, Janna still hasn’t completed her quest. She has to figure out who ordered the attack in the first place, as well as uncover the identity of The Man, a highly placed official who’s been feeding the criminal populace information and helping them stay on the streets. 

Key scenes: There’s always time for love, though. Janna meets Nicholas (Kurt McKinney) through her work, and the two form the sort of instant bond that can only mean lots of sweating and awkward banter awaits them. The chemistry finally pays off when Nicholas invites Janna back to his apartment and then slap-fights her into showing off some forms. 

Then they have sex.

There’s also a subplot involving Janna’s court work; she’s hired to provide defense for alleged cop-killer Theodore Logan Skaggs. Apparently somebody owed somebody a favor, because Skaggs is played by the hugely overqualified Brad Dourif. Rothrock throws everything she has into her role, and she’s likeable and physically fit enough to handle it, but toss her in a scene with someone like Dourif, and the cracks start to show.

Can easily be distinguished by: In addition to the cameos from Dourif and Koenig, Mako does a guest spot as a friendly blind salesman. Character actor Tony Lo Bianco turns up as a police detective who may know more than he lets on. (Spoiler: “So you’re The Man?” “I am, I am.”) Plus there’s the whole psychic-powers nonsense, which doesn’t really add up to much, but does provide the director with ample opportunities to get arty.

Sign it was made in 1996: Lots of synthesized music, plus saxophone for the sex scenes. Also, Janna’s ESP seems like an appropriate hook for the age of The X-Files.

Memorable quotes: The lovelorn Nicholas tells a woman he’s exchanged three sentences with, “Give me a chance, I’ll bring you the moon in a box.”

A thug walks an uneasy line between threat and come-on: “Then I’m gonna strip the flesh from your creamy thighs.”

Janna, standing proud: “You can’t protect me, Marie. Axe-murders are my business.”