As the latest quarterly under-the-radar action movie release from Steven Seagal unfolded in comfortably familiar fashion with Steve leading a team of mercs on a mission to take down a human trafficking ring resulting in lots of scum getting shot, Seagal using his special ops hand signals that really just signal how awesome he is and of course failing in their mission to rescue a woman being held prisoner, I watched with bemused anticipation.
With Seagal’s over-the-top narration about how horrible war is and him retreating to a cave to grow a long beard and praying to a statue of Buddha in an effort to find peace with the terrible things he’s done, I knew we were in for an elite edition of Steven Seagal Self-Indulgent Theater.
Then when the greatest four words in filmed entertainment (“written by Steven Seagal”) appeared on my screen, I could not stifle the sound that ejaculated involuntarily from my throat that to a passing listener no doubt resembled a maniacal combination guffaw, sob, gasp, and regular old burp!
With Steve in charge of the story, we were almost assured that this wasn’t going to be a 20 minute cameo or him sitting around or leaning against stuff while younger studs did all the serious kicking. Steve was going to be front and center of things and more importantly, would no doubt be showcasing his worldview, a heady mix of of peace preaching inevitably punctuated by shooting sprees, sword fights, and lots of slap and tickle against other weirdos in their karate pajamas.
And even though it appears Steve weighs at least five times his age, he freaking brings it for the duration! If you don’t believe me, ask the poor schmuck who went and kidnapped the girl Steve was having wet dreams about and ended up in a heap with a cut throat and severed arm for his trouble!
It’s been several years since Steve’s last mission and he has now devoted his life to helping poor folks by becoming the village acupuncturist. As he treated his people’s various illnesses, listened to his assistant tell the story of why the boy who lurks around doesn’t speak and later saves the boy’s father from committing suicide, I thought he was pretty much Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman if she was a kung fu killing machine who treated her frontier patients as pin cushions.
Steve gets dragged into his old life of cheerfully murdering scores of people of course, but this time every man can totally understand it. Local guy shows up with his two young daughters pleading with Steve to go and rescue his oldest daughter from the local human trafficking kingpin. The girl has mystical gifts you see (like appearing topless for Steve in his dreams before he even knew her!) and the bad guy is going to use them for evil!
Steve declines to help until the father plays the ultimate trump card. He says he’ll go and do it himself but is leaving his two little girls with Steve because he probably won’t come back alive! These two little brats are screaming their heads off and just like any of us dudes, Steve immediately ditches years of peacefully rehabbing his damned soul and accepts the rescue mission rather than play babysitter!
Steve gets his team together, comes up with a plan to invade the guy’s nightclub (he and a buddy go in the front door with admission bracelets another team member got the night before, sniper on the roof, rest of team goes in side doors manned by friends of Steve’s best pal, Chen Man, who trained under the same kung fu master as Steve), kill everyone in five minutes and save the girl.
There really wasn’t much to the climax which probably explains why the other 75 or 80 minutes seemed to build to nothing that amounted to anything. There was the lengthy sequence setting up the bad guy being advised of this girl’s existence, the unexplained artistic choice to show a person being murdered and ground up into fish food – backwards, Seagal’s laughable effort to recruit the bad guy’s right hand man to his side that ended up with Seagal insulting the guy and then beating the piss out of him, and of course the side trip Steve took with Chen Man to visit their kung fu master teacher where the master shocks everyone when he decides to announce that he is Chen Man’s father!
Steve wraps everything up with a bow that will strangle you into unconsciousness as he holds a round table with other kung fu studs and talks about how vital it is that they keep the old ways alive and make sure kung fu is used for good. Steven Seagal – goodwill ambassador for the martial arts and Russia! Is that the Nobel Prize sniffing around, Steve?
Putting aside Steve’s obvious collusion with Russia, he is rapidly developing into an under-appreciated national treasure. Grinding out multiple terrible movies every year, blissfully indifferent that no one likes them, he is a lone voice crying out in the wilderness that in this age of generic corporate crap, there is still room, nay, there is still a necessity for generic individualistic crap, whose muddled messages, randomly nonsensical dialogue, dull and mostly unintelligible plots headed up by a star whose stilted presence only grows more awkward for every 20 pounds he packs on aren’t filtered through focus groups, don’t have their rough edges sanded down by marketing geniuses or are kissing up to the critics. Like another great entertainer, Steve does it his way!
And like that other great entertainer, Steve also sings! Singing your own song and jamming with your band while the extras in the nightclub are forced to dance and act excited about it as the closing credits roll is the most Steve move ever! (I couldn’t tell whether I was supposed to think he was in character or was really Steve when he was playing guitar, but then I realized, I almost never can figure out that during his movies anyway.)
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