Steven Seagal

Out for Justice (1991, John Flynn)

I didn’t hate watching Out of Justice. I didn’t even dislike watching it some of the time. It’s never good, but it’s really dumb and director Flynn knows how to direct a dumb action movie. It feels like it could be a cheap seventies exploitation film–cop hunting gangster on killing spree. Only it’s not exactly cheap. It never looks great, but it never looks cheap. The supporting cast is either familiar character actor types (Jerry Orbach) or solid newcomers (Gina Gershon, Julianna Margulies, Shannon Whirry). It’s professional. It’s a professionally made attempt at trying to convince the viewer Steven Seagal is an Italian-American, Brooklyn native who can kick everyone’s ass and does. It’s not exactly like Steven Seagal’s version of Goodfellas, but it’s closer than not.

Because Seagal wants to act in the film. He tries a lot. He tries so much, so earnestly, he eventually just earns a pass. The ganger on killing spree is William Forsythe. He’s smoking crack and killing almost everyone in sight, he’s a really bad man. Only he’s the worst villain in the entire movie. There’s no character. And Forsythe, in an extremely physical performance, seems asleep at the wheel. He’s not bringing anything to the movie either.

Flynn directs the action scenes rather well. Whenever Seagal gets to do some martial arts, Flynn is careful to showcase them, not just for the theatrical exhibition, but also for the eventual home viewers. Flynn’s ability to fill the frame while keeping it 4:3 safe is significant. Out for Justice is a very professional package. Technically, the film’s nearly completely fine (except the montages). It’s just dumb and inconsequential.

It couldn’t be any better, but it could be a lot worse. And there is a lot of solid acting throughout; not to mention the nostalgia value of familiar faces.

So, like I said, I didn’t dislike the experience of watching Out for Justice. I just didn’t like anything about that experience.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Flynn; written by David Lee Henry; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Don Brochu and Robert A. Ferretti; music by David Michael Frank; production designer, Gene Rudolf; produced by Arnold Kopelson and Steven Seagal; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Det. Gino Felino), William Forsythe (Richie Madano), Jerry Orbach (Capt. Ronnie Donziger), Jo Champa (Vicky Felino), Shareen Mitchell (Laurie Lupo), Sal Richards (Frankie), Gina Gershon (Patti Madano), Anthony DeSando (Vinnie Madano), Dominic Chianese (Mr. Madano), Julianna Margulies (Rica), Shannon Whirry (Terry Malloy) and Ronald Maccone (Don Vittorio).


Marked for Death (1990, Dwight H. Little)

The beginning of Marked for Death is nearly all right. It’s a prologue, with lead Steven Seagal–as a DEA agent–in Mexico, doing an undercover drug buy. Things go wrong. Until things go wrong, it’s not bad. Director Little has a lot of motion (which is fine when people are moving around, much less when he’s zooming in to try to keep conversations interesting) and it’s effectively tense. Then the action starts and it all goes to pot, because Little can’t direct an action scene, much less a martial arts scene for Seagal. Marked for Death just never clicks, even though it has most of the required pieces. A sense of humor would have made all the difference.

Seagal has some bad acting in the film, but not too much. He’s opposite actual good actors a lot of the time–Keith David, Tom Wright, Kevin Dunn–and they help the film. They don’t help Seagal’s performance. There’s not much one can do with the part–his DEA agent resigns only to get into a fight with a Jamaican drug lord. To make matters worse, the drug lord (Basil Wallace, who over-acts in the part), goes after Seagall’s family.

Along the way, Seagal drafts high school teacher David as his sidekick in vigilante mission. He also meets a girl–an awful Joanna Pacula–before heading to Jamaica for the showdown. The best parts in the film are some second unit establishing shots in Jamaica, amid palm tress.

Speaking of palm trees, the unbelievably inept chase scene–set in the Chicago suburbs–is littered with palm trees. After the film goes out of its way to establish the Chicagoland connection. Seagal just loves being a soulful Catholic Chicago dude. He should’ve remade the Blues Brothers.

If you look past how the film demonizes Jamaicans (they’re not characters or caricatures even, they’re boring monsters), Marked for Death is just goofy bad, with a lame score from James Newton Howard (who actually appears to be mocking the scenes he’s scoring at times), the crappy script from Michael Grais and Mark Victor, inept action editing. But, through it all, Little still manages to fail everyone else involved. His direction is the pits.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Dwight H. Little; written by Michael Grais and Mark Victor; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by Grais, Victor and Steven Seagal; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Steven Seagal (John Hatcher), Joanna Pacula (Leslie), Keith David (Max), Tom Wright (Charles), Kevin Dunn (Lt. Sal Roselli), Elizabeth Gracen (Melissa), Bette Ford (Kate Hatcher), Al Israel (Tito Barco), Arlen Dean Snyder (Duvall), Victor Romero Evans (Nesta) and Basil Wallace (Screwface).


Hard to Kill (1990, Bruce Malmuth)

The best thing about Hard to Kill is how hard supporting player Frederick Coffin tries. He doesn’t have much of a part, but it’s got some soap opera dramatics to it and Coffin goes for it. There’s nothing to the script and there’s no support from director Malmuth, so Coffin flops. Quite literally skidding on pavement. But the trying is obvious and it shows a level of dedication no one else has about the film.

Except star Steven Seagal, as Hard to Kill is a commercial for the concept of Steven Seagal as a movie star. It’s a vanity project. Only director Malmuth stubbornly refuses to engage with that fact. Malmuth does a terrible job directing the film and its actors. It isn’t like Malmuth is trying to direct it differently either. He’s not trying to do some serious cop drama or even visceral action picture while Seagal’s strutting around, showing off real-life wife Kelly LeBrock as love interest–after doing a family values hard sell with some praying–no, Malmuth doesn’t do anything. He lets LeBrock embarrass herself (though he does what he can to protect Bonnie Burroughs as the other female character–there are really only two in Hard to Kill). He doesn’t do Seagal any favors.

Terrible William Sadler performance in one of the worst roles of the twentieth century. You just feel sorry for him, especially with what he eventually has to go through. He’s surrounded by a bunch of despicable cronies. Not a single decent performance among them. The bad guys in Police Academy movies are better written.

Hard to Kill isn’t even paced well; at ninety minutes, it drags all over the place. It’s a bad movie. It’s never going to be much better, but Malmuth could’ve at least let it be fun. Even worse, Malmuth’s direction doesn’t let anyone exhibit competence–his composition’s so bad, who cares how Matthew F. Leonetti lights the shot or how John F. Link edits the scene–though David Michael Frank’s awful score is awful all on its own.

The whole thing is just awful. Good exterior lighting from Leonetti though, I guess. Not at night, but during daylight scenes. He does okay.

The rest is still crap.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bruce Malmuth; written by Steven McKay; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by John F. Link; music by David Michael Frank; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by Gary Adelson, Joel Simon and Bill Todman Jr.; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Mason Storm), Kelly LeBrock (Andy Stewart), William Sadler (Vernon Trent), Frederick Coffin (O’Malley), Bonnie Burroughs (Felicia Storm), Zachary Rosencrantz (Sonny Storm), Andrew Bloch (Capt. Hulland), Branscombe Richmond (Quentero) and Charles Boswell (Axel).


Above the Law (1988, Andrew Davis)

Above the Law is just about as slick as a film can be. It’s all thanks to director Davis. Even though Davis and star Steven Seagal co-produced, Davis has to overcome Seagal’s acting inability. So all credit to Davis. It isn’t just about maximizing the action, but about getting the plot to provide some interest, so it doesn’t all feel like a commercial for Steven Seagal.

But it is a commercial; Above the Law is an amazing star vehicle. Everything is weighed to make the viewer more and more sympathetic to Seagal’s character. Oh, look, his suffering wife (Sharon Stone in a terribly directed performance) doesn’t want Seagal to battle the CIA task force blowing up Chicago to get Seagal. Oddly enough, the film was released overseas as Nico (Seagal’s character), which suggests some understanding of the egomania on display. But on beautiful display, because even though Davis significantly fumbles almost every action sequence, he’s got these great Chicago locations and he has a great sense of how to use them (which does lead to a rather good foot chase sequence), and he’s got photographer Robert Steadman, who is fabulous.

Unfortunately, editor Michael Brown is awful. He misses visual beats. It doesn’t matter, of course, because Above the Law isn’t actually an action movie, not in a traditional sense. It’s a prototypical mid-to-low budget major studio action movie. Something to not embarrass itself in the theater and do surprisingly well on video.

A slick commercial. Not so much visually slick, but almost pathologically manipulative in making a Seagal a serious movie star. Not an actor; Above the Law never asks Seagal to act. Davis does try to make him likable and is even able to get slight success with Pam Grier (though Davis fumbles directing their scenes; Brown being no help), but it’s not much. It’s never a good performance.

And I don’t even want to look at the Frank Silva villain, which leads to Seagal figuratively throwing away the previous standard–the more exploitative, lower budgeted action movie.

Inoffensive, likable performances from Grier and Ron Dean help a lot. Though Davis is clearly indifferent to his actors’ performances; no one gets any favors. So, either Davis or the editor. Can’t give anyone too much time, otherwise it might not look like Seagal’s a big time movie star.

In the end, Davis is due a lot of respect for this film. He’d be due infinitely more if Above the Law were actually any good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Davis; screenplay by Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett and Davis, based on a story by Davis and Steven Seagal; director of photography, Robert Steadman; edited by Michael Brown; music by David Michael Frank; production designer, Maher Ahmad; produced by Davis and Seagal; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Nico), Pam Grier (Jacks), Henry Silva (Zagon), Ron Dean (Lukich), Sharon Stone (Sara), Daniel Faraldo (Salvano), Miguel Nino (Chi Chi), Nicholas Kusenko (Neeley), Joe Greco (Father Gennaro), Chelcie Ross (Fox), Gregory Alan Williams (FBI Agent Halloran) and Jack Wallace (Uncle Branca).


On Deadly Ground (1994, Steven Seagal)

On Deadly Ground is about a presumably Inuit (it’s never clear) special forces guy (also never clear) killing, maiming and beating up oil company goons in a number of creative ways.

Strangely, Seagal makes the audience wait to discover the film’s true nature. The first scene is an exceptionally lame and poorly acted explosion sequence. It gets fun almost immediately following, when Seagal beats up a bunch of redneck oil workers who are assaulting a Native American. Besides a really bad spiritual journey thing in the middle, the movie’s otherwise just Seagal versus the oil company goons (led by a somewhat restrained Michael Caine).

Apparently, critics at the time dismissed the film as a vanity project, but I’m having a hard time thinking of another movie icon at the height of his or her career who’s made something along the lines of this film. There’s even a line comparing Alaska to a third world oil producing country… presumably since the governments are so easy to buy.

As a director, Seagal’s bad. His composition is on par with any other crappy action movie director and he’s awful with actors–though he apparently recognized Billy Bob Thornton’s abilities and showcased him–but he’s not so bad there’s any point in vilifying him.

Joan Chen is weak as the sidekick (her character is along so Seagal can tell her all the “MacGyver” stuff he’s doing) and John C. McGinley is awful.

It’s too long, but it’s vicariously fulfilling so it passes reasonably fast.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Seagal; written by Ed Horowitz and Robin U. Russin; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Don Brochu and Robert A. Ferretti; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, William Ladd Skinner; produced by A. Kitman Ho, Julius R. Nasso and Seagal; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Forrest Taft), Michael Caine (Michael Jennings), Joan Chen (Masu), John C. McGinley (MacGruder), R. Lee Ermey (Stone), Billy Bob Thornton (Homer Carlton), Richard Hamilton (Hugh Palmer), Mike Starr (Big Mike) and Sven-Ole Thorsen (Otto).


Against the Dark (2009, Richard Crudo)

Leave it to Steven Seagal to make a boring vampire movie. Worse, it’s not even the traditional vampires; instead, it’s the zombies from 28 Days Later… only they’re vampires here—Against the Dark is sort of like “Die Hard (with vampire-zombies) in a hospital.”

Crudo is a terrible director. The action sequences (the ones I saw, anyway) are poorly composed, poorly edited and possibly intended to be laughable.

However, he (or writer Mathew Klickstein, who might have turned in an interesting script if he spent as much time on it as his hipster IMDb biography) does come up with one decent sequence—there may be more but I’ll never know—with a vampire filing down her teeth as to pose as a human. Unfortunately, the human who kills her never even sees she’s filled down her teeth. Great setup, no followthrough.

The cast is awful. Seagal’s too overweight to do much, so he just stands around. Crudo tries to make it look like Seagal’s walking and fails. Tanoai Reed is terrible as the action star. Daniel Percival is a special kind of awful (the story’s split between Seagal and annoying younger survivors).

I suppose Jenna Harrison was okay. Linden Ashby’s around; he seemed better than the material. According to the credits, Keith David shows up at some point but I’ll never know.

How can you have Steven Seagal fight vampires and make it boring? Dark could never be good… but the absurdity factor alone should have made it watchable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Crudo; written by Mathew Klickstein; director of photography, William Trautvetter; edited by Tim Silano; music by Philip White; production designer, Serban Porupca; produced by Phillip B. Goldfine and Steven Seagal; released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Starring Steven Seagal (Tao), Tanoai Reed (Tagart), Jenna Harrison (Dorothy), Danny Midwinter (Morgan), Emma Catherwood (Amelia), Stephen Hagan (Ricky), Daniel Percival (Dylan), Skye Bennett (Charlotte), Linden Ashby (Cross) and Keith David (Lt. Waters).


Executive Decision (1996, Stuart Baird)

What the heck was my problem with Executive Decision the last time I watched it? I saw it about eight years ago and, according to my notes, was unimpressed. It’s a fantastic action movie–just the combination of editors–director Baird, Dallas Puett, Frank J. Urioste–might make it one of the tightest action movies ever made. I suppose it’s an action thriller, since the film–after a certain point–ratchets up the tension and never lets it down at all. It might be producer Joel Silver’s finest b-movie, just because it’s such a solid, intense ride. It opened in March–I remember seeing a sneak preview, then going back to see it again–but it’s a perfect summer movie.

Maybe the presence of Steven Seagal throws it a little, but he’s so inconsequential and so incongruous–the supporting cast is the best he’s ever worked with–John Leguizamo’s all right, but Oliver Platt and Joe Morton are fantastic. B.D. Wong’s really good too. This discrepancy doesn’t even get to Kurt Russell showing up in the movie… it’s like Seagal’s this little cameo thing, one without a purpose. It’s the kind of role they really should have gotten Bruce Willis to do, because he wouldn’t have brought any baggage (or Danny Glover). Seagal’s actually fine, he’s even funny at times–while never believable as an Army officer. But he gets a pass, because his parts in the movie are so disconnected from what it becomes… it’s hard to really think about him in the end.

Executive Decision is the only real Die Hard on a plane I think anyone’s made (it’s also bit of a revision on The Delta Force). The script even follows the Die Hard outline, down to J.T. Walsh offering to help negotiate and David Suchet sitting quietly. Silver knew what he was doing when he put this movie together and it’s a shame he doesn’t get appreciated for it. Baird’s a good action director, knows how to use the Panavision frame–it’s got Alex Thomson shooting some of it, so it all looks great–and the cutting is, like I said before, peerless. Maybe the Jerry Goldsmith music gets a little goofy, but it really doesn’t matter (it gets way too loud at times).

The acting’s all solid. Whip Hubley probably gives the film’s worst performance (except Halle Berry and Marla Maples and I think Maples is just there to make Berry seem like a better actress–oh, I guess Walsh is pretty lame too) but he’s okay. Russell gives one of his sturdy lead performances (I know it wasn’t a big hit, but I can’t believe they didn’t try to get a sequel into production), he’s totally believable as the Ph.D. who wants to be a pilot–I think knowing Russell is really a pilot is part of the film’s agreement with the audience, which might hinder its chance for a broad viewership–and can handle guns when he needs to… he’s Kurt Russell, after all.

The lack of chemistry between him and Berry is almost palpable and only the tightly edited, beautifully plotted climax carries the film through their scenes together. Then there’s a lull and it’s Frank Sinatra singing–much like Vaughn Monroe closes the first two (the Joel Silver) Die Hard entries–who makes everything all right.

Executive Decision is a great time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Baird; written by Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Baird, Dallas Puett and Frank J. Urioste; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Terence Marsh; produced by Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kurt Russell (Dr. David Grant), David Suchet (Nagi Hassan), Halle Berry (Jean), John Leguizamo (Rat), Oliver Platt (Dennis Cahill), Joe Morton (Cappy), B.D. Wong (Louie), Len Cariou (Secretary of Defense Charles White), Whip Hubley (Baker), Andreas Katsulas (El Sayed Jaffa), Mary Ellen Trainor (Allison), Marla Maples (Nancy), J.T. Walsh (Senator Mavros) and Steven Seagal (Lt. Colonel Austin Travis).


Under Siege (1992, Andrew Davis)

I suppose, if there were a quiz or something and I thought about it real hard, I’d remember Under Siege brought Tommy Lee Jones… well, not back exactly, so I guess just brought Tommy Lee Jones. Looking at his filmography and the dates, someone could wrongly argue Oliver Stone tried championing him–but it didn’t work out. Under Siege kicked off the unending deluge of bad Tommy Lee Jones movies and signaled the end of Steven Seagal’s career in a way. Seagal ruined the success it gave him.

Watching the film, which I haven’t seen since in twelve years or so, I was surprised at how passable a job Seagal does acting in much of the time. He has absolutely no chemistry with female “actor” Erika Eleniak, but she’s so terrible, it might not be Seagal’s fault. The only reason I thought he might be contributing is how bad he is in certain scenes–like when he has to play the character in a verbal, not physical fashion. Seagal’s first few scenes in the film, when he’s hanging around with the familiar-looking 1990s action movie supporting cast–he’s good in those scenes, he’s visibly having some fun. When he’s alone, he’s fine too, but once he and Eleniak are going on adventures throughout the ship, it’s painful to watch her performance.

Under Siege also put Andrew Davis into the Hollywood mainstream and it’s a little perplexing. While Davis did cast a lot of his standard character actors, only some of them are good, and I’m sure the script had the structure–keep Seagal peripheral for the first act, letting Tommy Lee Jones run away with the movie and give it the pretense of some solid quality–but maybe that one was Davis’s idea. He sure didn’t coax a good performance out of Gary Busey, who’s so annoying the film loses a lot of credibility when the bad guys don’t just kill him so they don’t have to hear him talk anymore.

The action scenes are rather blah too–Seagal’s an unbeatable killing machine–he mows down fifteen guys in one part–and understanding his role as an unbeatable killing machine is part of watching Under Siege. But he doesn’t really kick any ass. I mean, the guy can kick ass, but instead he just shoots at people. It’s boring. The film never establishes itself as “real,” so Seagal’s feats are never particularly exciting.

Also, I’m not sure what the end is supposed to mean–it seems to suggest Seagal, while he doesn’t agree with it, understands why Hawaii needs to get nuked.

But it’s still mildly entertaining, if only because the first act is so incredibly well-done. I mean, the moment where I was wondering when the hostage-taking was going to start (thinking, it’s getting to be about as long as one can wait for it), it started. So it does do something significant right.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Davis; written by J.F. Lawton; director of photography, Frank Tidy; edited by Robert Ferretti; music by Gary Chang; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Arnon Milchan, Seagal, Steven Reuther, Jack B. Bernstein and Peter MacGregor-Scott; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Casey Ryback), Tommy Lee Jones (Strannix), Gary Busey (Commander Krill), Erika Eleniak (Jordan Tate), Patrick O’Neal (Captain Adams), Colm Meaney (Doumer) and Andy Romano (Admiral Bates).


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