What Can Two Men Do Against A Gang Of Crooked Cops? Whatever It Takes
The males of my generation grew up with a healthy respect for (worshipping) the Grade B action heroes of the late 80's/ early 90's and their starring vehicles. It was adolescent boys like me and my friends who would loyally support the bone-crunching, hardly intelligible movies that put "actors" like Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and Michael Dudikoff on the map. To be an eighth grader who could not ad nauseam compare and contrast Bloodsport to Kickboxer (even if you never saw them) was 'not to have lived'. Tacked on my walls at home to this day is a Van Damme Death Warrant poster and a Steven Seagal Marked for Death poster which, I clearly remember begging my local video store guy to give to me for free; while my longtime friend, Ilan Tocker, pleaded desperately for Dolph Lundgren's I Come in Peace. So you must understand that Steven Seagal gets nostalgia points even before his signature squinty eyes and slicked back hair come on screen. He also gets points for having been an action hero in America who actually spoke English with an American accent! So Steven Seagal, after a muumuu wearing, planet saving, video straight-to-ing phase that alienated some of his fans, returns, but not with his same old bag of tricks.
When Seagal came on the scene with 1988's Above the Law he brought some mystique and credibility to the martial arts genre. Unlike some other actions stars of the day, Seagal was supposedly a true expert in his field of karate, perhaps an ex-CIA operative, and could in-reality fight off a band of thugs- smacking pipes and bats into their hands (a must, accompanied by the line -"You're in the wrong place at the wrong time!"). He went on to make every lame action movie with three words in the title (Out for Justice, Fire Down Below, On Deadly Ground, and Marked for Death). The highlights of his career came when he got with Kelly LeBrock (Hard to Kill), faced off with a pre-comeback Tommy Lee Jones (Under Siege), and managed to become a pop culture icon. Now, with Exit Wounds, he uses this reputation and self-awareness to his advantage, giving people like me reason to proudly admit that we have Steven Seagal posters hanging on our walls.
Seagal's character is the same macho quiet tough guy he plays in all his movies. He, as an actor, couldn't stretch if he wanted to, and we, as an audience, would never dare ask him to change. Orin Boyd is a cop who "doesn't obey the rules" and although his boss considers him to be "one of the best", he must be transferred to one of the roughest precincts in town. As it turns out, this new precinct is also one of the most corrupt, where officers are working side by side with heroine dealers. At times, we are supposed to be shocked to find out which cops are involved or how high up the corruption goes, but we are so accustomed to this sort of morality betrayal bit that picking out the turncoats is quick and easy. (To be honest though, I didn't spot them all and one of them I had actually pegged as being a straight arrow, so shows how much I know.) When the 'surprise' ringleader of this crew reveals himself to the audience with the hackneyed 'swiveling around his chair' - he blatantly steals and delivers a line so much like Keyser Söze, that Kevin Spacey will eventually be rolling over in his grave. Weak.
In any case, no one is paying money to enjoy the layered plot of a Steven Seagal movie. If you come to this movie for the right reasons and with proper intentions then you will not be disappointed.
Seagal was always amusing to observe in all his arrogant, self-satisfied confidence, but here he is given a chance to employ real humor, both spoken and physical- and he succeeds on each plane. Just to wet your pallet I'll tell you -at one point Mr. Seagal serves as a traffic cop - whistle, white gloves, and all.
Another plus is the supporting cast. Isaiah Washington (True Crime), as Seagal's partner, is the only person on screen capable of emotions, but he does a fine job letting everyone else keep up. DMX, the other big name here, is not really a screen presence (unlike his music) and his acting makes Seagal look like Olivier, but he serves adequately as a young black man with an agenda. However; someone should have told him "no one is going to tell your dawgs if you'd loosen up a little". His business partner is played by the boisterously talented and hysterical Anthony Anderson who is a real find and should go on to some bigger things.
Finally, there is the action. Of course some of it is the great bone-protruding Steven Seagal classic stuff (and probably the way people really fight), but today audiences demand some Matrix-style, gravity defying ballet action (and definitely the way no one fights) and so we are accommodated accordingly.
Well, I'm ready for Van Damme as Chassid (The Order - Coming in 2001).
More Spencer Awards - Exit Wounds
Most Surprising Death - Even a weathered movie hound like myself was in disbelief after a certain character goes down for absolutely no good reason beyond the fact that it is utterly shocking.
Tribute Award - To The "Hey, that's my bike" guy. For the man, who in every action movie get's his motorcycle "borrowed" by the action hero in order to facilitate his speedy getaway and can only call out pathetically to whomever would care to listen, "hey, that's my bike".