“Evil exists in every man. While some wrestle to contain it, I find it easier to embrace it.” When Steven Seagal unleashes this mumbled voice over at the very beginning of Born to Raise Hell, you would be right to question whether the Man in 4XL Black is deadlier with his guns, fists, or the bizarre dialogue (which is at once amusing and absurd) that he is prone to spew unintelligibly throughout films that usually find him in some crud hole whose only cinematic advantage is the readily available tax breaks and/or cheap foreign crews.
When you’ve seen enough of Steve’s recent output, it’s all pretty much the same. Steve is woefully out of shape, is some sort of cop or ex cop, is mixed up in something that requires him to shoot and slap around about fifty people in dully staged action sequences all the while being completely blasé about whatever carnage has just happened. The true Seagal scholar then begins to watch these films with an eye toward what Seagal will say that he must have thought was witty on that particular day of shooting.
For instance, this is one of those movies where Seagal has a girlfriend (I’m sure it’s is just a coincidence that he wrote the script and has a scene where he stares at her bare breasts) which would generally be a total drag on a normal low budget action movie, but because you know Steve can’t shoot or karate chop her, you’re giddy with anticipation because he’s going to have to lay on some world weary dialogue about the life of cop to her.
The phone call he has with her where she’s busting his balls about not calling her is priceless as he inanely keeps saying he tried to call her even though she says there’s no missed call. The kicker though is when she just hangs up on him and he stares at the phone shaking his head and mumbling to no one in particular, “do you believe that shit?” Ah, the life of the top cop on the International Drug Task Force! It’s never easy!
The IDTF? If you’re not in the international crime fighting business, you might not be familiar with the IDTF, but Steve helpfully explains it all. After 9/11 the U.S. set these organizations up to go after drug smugglers because that was a major source of terrorism funding. I assume there’s a list of the ones the CIA is doing business with tacked up on Steve’s bulletin board so he knows which ones not to hit. As it is, I don’t think any rogue black ops guys financing some dirty war off the books have to worry because Seagal’s only concern is taking down the gypsy drug dealer/night club owner who killed his partner before the movie started.
We all know what that means – a new partner for Seagal to warm up to! And this guy is so green that during his first raid with Seagal he doesn’t cuff some skank, forgets to check a cabinet for contraband, and doesn’t see a perp hiding under the bed, declaring the room as clear!
Can you really blame Seagal for screaming “you puttin’ everybody’s life at risk! What the fuck is wrong with you, boy!” The new guy doesn’t fare any better when Seagal’s snitch presciently tells him “you’re the sidekick. Sidekicks never make it.” And guess what? He doesn’t! Leave it to Seagal to script a flick that tweaks a genre cliché and then goes ahead and engages in the very same genre cliché!
Seagal tries even harder to make things more cliché when he has the partner suddenly announce that he has something to tell Seagal. Before he can say anything though, Seagal sneers out “what’s that boy? How much you admire me? How you want to be like me?” Seagal obviously doesn’t understand there’s a difference between being a tough guy and a prick! It turns out this guy’s wife is going to have a baby in a month! Seagal’s response? “I guess that means we’ll have to take extra special care of you.” Why does the new guy even try?
Seagal’s efforts to get the Gypsy that killed his partner don’t really amount to much beyond lots of property damage and dead henchmen until the Gypsy does a home invasion on his own Russian partner Dimitri and kill’s Dimitri’s wife, leading to the inevitable grudging team up between Seagal and Dimitri. It’s all quite unbelievable what with Dimitri being the Gypsy’s drug supplier and thus the guy that Steve should have been after in the first place.
We can forgive such nonsensical plotting though as in the end it provides a scene in a park where Dimitri is in front of a chess board and Seagal walks up and moves a piece causing an instant checkmate! “Only a brilliant strategist could beat me in one move,” Dimitri brags. And with that, Seagal is off to the races with manly talk about honor and respect saying such silly stuff like “men like us – there’s certain things we find difficult to say, certain things we find difficult to hear.” I thought he was going to ask him out on a date! Then Steve gives the guy some airline tickets so he can go back to Russia saying it was a small gesture of respect. And Dimitri pays Steve the ultimate compliment when he says that Steve would have made a good Russian Special Forces soldier! Get a room already!
From a technical aspect, the movie is precisely what you fear – criminal use of slow motion, freeze frame, seemingly random editing and boring gunfights. Taking place in Romania, the movie looks and feels about like ten other Seagal movies shot in the last 15 years.
Having said that, this is one of those rare Seagal movies though where he has a love scene. We know he’s just relaxing at his crib ready to nail some tail because instead of his black coat, he’s wearing his black sleeping sweatshirt. And just like in those other Seagal movies featuring sex scenes, it never comes off.
Perhaps sensing on some primal level what is impossible for him to acknowledge consciously, he seems to momentarily doubt his own film, apathetically wondering in a closing voiceover, “I lost two men. My partner and now his replacement, Steve. It costs them there lives coming here. I hope it was all worth it.” No question it was for Seagal since he got paid for standing around looking comically puffy, mumbling and pretending to be a bad ass. For the audience though, Born to Raise Hell treats them the same as both of Seagal’s partners – mere collateral damage.
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