Are you tired of gearing up for your bi-monthly dose of Steven Seagal straight-to-video action movie mayhem only to find it an ugly, muddled mess about Steve being an ex-CIA agent who is forced to wreck a foreign country (which one depends on what country is offering tax incentives to shoot the film there) while dispatching various thugs, arms dealers, drug pushers, and rogue military elements as quickly as possible? With all the rapid fire headshots, neck snappings and stabbings, it’s like Steve is being forced by the ACLU or the Humane Society to put these guys out of their misery with a minimum of deadly force. It’s something akin to hiring Vincent Van Gogh to paint your house beige.
It’s really quite telling then that it took Kill Switch, a film written by Steve himself, for him to be finally unleashed! No longer constrained by some liberal multinational exploitation filmmaking corporation’s New Age philosophy about how evil bastards are to be killed, Steve takes his own sweet time in every fight scene (and he’s got the stamina to do it since it’s his stunt men who do everything but make Steve’s weird facial expressions) using various scumbags and the surrounding walls and furniture as his canvas of carnage. (It’s also telling that Steve wrote this since parts of the movie either don’t make any sense or are inexpertly tacked on for no reason.)
Steve plays Jacob, a Memphis homicide detective who is at once haunted by his past (lots of flashbacks, but it never amounts to anything) and driven with the need to solve the case of the Grifter!
The Grifter is a serial killer obsessed with astrology and you know he’s the real deal because he’s prone to shirtless monologues about heavy topics like truth and crazy stuff like speaking in tongues. The Grifter also leaves clues written in weird symbols for Steve to anguish over, thus resulting in riveting scenes of Steve bickering at the public library with an unhelpful clerk and him pouring over books and crime scene photos, while pointedly ignoring his wife. (Come on honey! Stop trying to talk and screw me! Can’t you see I’m in too deep with this Grifter case!)
But the Grifter isn’t Steve’s only case. There’s also the other killer named Billy Joe he has to beat up periodically. At the beginning of the film Billy Joe is ambitious enough to sew C4 inside his hapless victim and tries to trick Steve into having the wrong wire cut. By the end of the movie though, Billy Joe just falls back onto a regular slashing gimmick.
And if you’re wondering how any of this ties into Steve’s hunt for the Grifter, it doesn’t! But it does tie directly into when Steve comes home and finds his wife sliced to death! I think there was even a flash of anger that passed fleetingly across Steve’s stoic yet gelatinous features, but he could have just been pissed about the mess this all made in his bed.
Most of the film though is centered around Steve tracking the Grifter. What this means is Steve shoots the breeze with the coroner (Isaac Hayes for no real reason) about the latest victim, telling his partner repeatedly he’s real close on cracking the Grifter’s code, giving the brush off to the inexperienced, know-it-all lady FBI agent pointlessly inserted into the story, and getting involved in bar fights that serve no investigative purpose.
What elevates Kill Switch into something much more than its faux-moody (refusing to engage your wife in conversation is not moody, it’s just impolite), jumbled dual serial killer story is the glee with which Steve inflicts nonstop pain and violence on his victims, I mean villains. For example, Steve confronts a pimp and gives him a beat down that culminates with Steve repeatedly bashing the guy’s mouth onto a bar until several of his teeth are left in a bloody glob on the counter! Strangely though, a bit later the recipient doesn’t have a mark on him or appear to be suffering any ill effect because after enduring physical trauma that would have left any normal person in a vegetative state, the pimp is out in the street with his posse trying to gun Steve down!
Steve’s impromptu dental work and subsequent shoot out is just a breather between bouts of battering Billy Joe and the Grifter. Like the time he trashes Billy Joe’s apartment with Billy Joe’s head (even cracking the same wall twice with Billy’s face!) before kicking Billy’s ass straight out the fourth floor window to the street below. A smirking Steve radios down to his partner and says he thinks he dropped something! Yeah, the best scene in any Steven Seagal movie!
But that proves to just be another day at the office for Steve because later he beats the Grifter half to death with a hammer! And as a bonus, he practically cuts Billy Joe’s hand off before cutting his throat. When Billy Joe whines that Steve just killed him, he says “nah, you don’t look dead yet.” And then when Billy Joe falls over, Steve accurately observes “now you look dead.” That Steve handles all this as routinely as you or I might do our laundry might make one momentarily wonder if he isn’t perhaps the most dangerous psychopath in the whole movie. But it isn’t big Steve’s fault that all these serial killers running around Memphis keep flipping his damn kill switch on all the time!
Kill Switch combines the expectedly horrid fight scenes (the feeble attempts to hide the fact that Steve is spending more time at the drive through than the dojo feel like a running joke we’re all in on by this point in his career) with abusive editing that fit Steve’s unique vision of what makes a great action movie. (He stops the movie dead in its tracks with a long and unfunny joke about a cannibal eating a clown; he’s so intent on making his poorly dubbed Cajun accented character the center of everything that he makes himself look stupid in scenes like where he announces a house is “clear” by looking at the two front rooms and then taking a seat to pour over the Grifter’s scrawlings, leaving his FBI partner to find a body in another room; and he goes through the trouble to have the Grifter frame his character for murder and does nothing with it.)
By the time everyone’s been beat mostly to death and Steve has left a Dear John letter to the police department, we find ourselves magically transported to a beautiful country mansion in Italy where Steve is giving presents to his two kids and screwing the beautiful blonde wife no one knew he had! I’m not sure what any of that was about, but I wonder if Steve didn’t accidentally simply start shooting his next movie and forget to give the editor the heads up.
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