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The 6 Least Inessential Steven Seagal Movies

by Jessica Kiang
April 10, 2013 12:04 PM
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"Exit Wounds" (2001)
Ok, we're controversially moving into "late period" Seagal here, and out of the relative canonical safety of his first 5 films, but having recently watched "Exit Wounds" we're quite happy to go brazenly out on a limb and assert that it's one of Seagal's very least bad films. Admittedly it suffers from some truly appalling editing, mostly serving the fact that the once nimble and dexterous Seagal has rather calcified here and just isn't as limber as he used to be, making the bullet-dodging antics and chop-socky (beg pardon, Aikido) a harder sell than before. But we're grading on a serious curve and actually, as a film it's relatively watchable, with the younger crew, headed by a game DMX (reuniting with his "Romeo Must Die" director and co-stars Isaiah Washington and Anthony Anderson), actually bringing some life to their fight scenes. But perhaps that's just in contrast with the shrub-like zen of Seagal, whose opponents are often shot in slowmo, perhaps to compensate. Tom Arnold shows up as an annoying TV host, Eva Mendes briefly appears and, awful dialogue notwithstanding, the moral inversion of the cops being largely the bad guys, and the gang-bangers being the good guys, or millionaire tech wizards in disguise, makes for at least momentary flares of interest between punch-ups. Mind you, it's still terrible.

"Hard to Kill" (1990) & "Marked For Death" (1990)
Yes, this double entry is a cheat, but we're pairing these because, released the same year, on many levels, they're companion pieces, like a pair of inseparable priceless Ming vases or a Twix. Apparently they're also the two films that martial arts aficionados point to as the best examples of Seagal's particular brand of Aikido. Now, we scarcely know Aikido from Bukkake, but it's a discipline in which he has/had a great degree of credibility -- he was the first westerner to run an Aikido dojo in Japan. The odd thing to the casual viewer is that Aikido is, so we discover, largely about "concern for the well-being of the attacker" and "becoming one with an aggressor's movements so as to control them with minimal effort," which doesn't sound exactly cinematic, and is why, perhaps, in later films especially, Seagal manages to get away with moving very little, never nipping and jabbing where lumbering and hulking will do. Anyway, back in his heyday, his style was a bit more peppy, and that's on display in both these films. 

"Hard to Kill" is the better movie, for our money, because it wears its cheesiness up front with the whole coma plot: Seagal is, wait for it... a cop (!) called, wait again... Mason Storm, who awakens from a coma to find his family murdered, then teams up with world's unlikeliest coma nurse, his then real-life wife Kelly Le Brock, to exact revenge on the perpetrators with whom, yes, he has a long personal history. Whatever about the Aikido, there's lots of smashing plate glass and car chases, but most crucially for Film History, it marks the first appearance of the Seagal trademark ponytail. "Marked for Death" is the one with the Jamaican drug gang, sorry, posse, led by the crazy-eyed dread-locked Screwface (Basil Wallace), a sort of Voodoo, sorry Obeah, priest who targets Seagal (disappointingly named John Hatcher). Here the soapiness doesn't arrive till later (the old twin brother twist), but prior to that there's a lot of shooting, arm dislocations, ooh, and a decapitation, which is always a treat.

Honorable Mentions. Well, Mentions. Seagal's recent return to the multiplex, after a long decade of direct-to-video, in "Machete" we deemed unfit for inclusion because it's not really a Seagal movie per se -- same goes for "Executive Decision" which actually stars Kurt Russell. Shame, though, because working off the warped baseline we are, these two are veritable masterpieces. 
There was some enthusiasm for Seagal's environmentalism diptych "On Deadly Ground" (also his sole directorial outing) and "Fire Down Below." Not having seen the latter, and considering the former stinks to almighty high heaven, this writer chose not to include them. In fact, "The Patriot" also has some of those eco-themes, but we've totally forgotten it. Something about a virus?
And finally "The Glimmer Man," Seagal's attempt at a "Lethal Weapon"-esque buddy action movie with Keenan Ivory Wayans is not the absolute worst thing he's ever done and it's nice to see Seagal subtly send up some of the new-agey, alternative philosophies he's been associated with. If you discover it on cable late one night, or on a 36-hour bus ride from Lima to La Paz, it will do until you fall asleep.

Apologies if we've missed you favorite. Feel free to show "concern for our well-being" by delivering us a smack-down in the comments.

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  • mikey o | June 23, 2013 3:54 PMReply

    The Foreigner

  • Dan | May 10, 2013 4:13 PMReply

    Can anyone give a recommendation on his newer stuff?

  • Dan | May 22, 2013 8:12 PM

    Just saw 'Deadly Crossing' after renting it from RedBox! Great suggestion, Rick!

  • Eric | May 10, 2013 5:25 PM

    The whole True Justice series was pretty good. They broke it down into a series of movies later on. Deadly Crossing was the first of those movies!

  • Rick Wallace | May 10, 2013 5:21 PM

    Deadly Crossing was a good one! It was released in Europe a couple years ago but it'll be at Redbox in the states this month.

  • Simon R. | May 10, 2013 4:09 PMReply

    I've actually found myself enjoying his more recent films too. Hope he keeps it up!

  • David Jones | May 4, 2013 3:34 PMReply

    Why is it that critics (ie people who have themselves achieved little of note) feel the necessity to vent their spleen on the honest efforts of others? Reminds me of the truism 'those that can, do; those that can't, become critics.

    For heavens sake, lighten up!

    Films. theatre and musical performances are there to ease our way through the tribulations of life, they are not life changing, they add little to the fount of human knowledge, merely human experience.

    So enjoy everything in life, it's far too short to spend carping about irrelevances such as appear here

  • Mary Benson | April 15, 2013 11:21 AMReply

    I can't believe that any self respecting reviewer would actually pretend to be able to judge Seagal's work without even viewing "Fire Down Below"! But thanks for the memories of the others.

  • droop | April 10, 2013 6:46 PMReply

    come on, whats wrong with under siege 2!

  • GERARD KENNELLY | April 10, 2013 5:29 PMReply

    at the end of the day... his best performance was MACHETE

    he was so creepy

  • Ted Wilson | May 9, 2013 5:39 PM

    Whether its True Justice or Above the Law, I have to commend him for staying true to his unique character persona all these years. Gotta love Steven Seagal for being Steven Seagal!

  • Robin | April 10, 2013 3:57 PMReply

    Mildly disappointed that Ticker didn't make the grade, one of the seminal films of our time.

  • GERARD KENNELLY | April 10, 2013 5:28 PM

    TICKER was fun

    dennis hopper as an IRA bomber !!!!!

  • john lichman | April 10, 2013 3:54 PMReply

    not one mention of his reality show where he awkwardly was an honorary sherriff and all the other cops felt bad for him? for shame.

    also whatever dtv film he did where he gave his classic line:

    Seagal: "Just let me go, just let me go on bye, or I fuck you up ugly."

  • Kanga | April 10, 2013 5:33 PM

    It's right there. In bold. In para 2. "Steven Seagal: Lawman"

  • cory everett | April 10, 2013 4:05 PM

    Second paragraph!

    "...and Reserve Deputy Sheriff of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana"

  • Jasper | April 10, 2013 3:18 PMReply

    Fire Down Below is almost as good as Hard To Kill and I felt The Glimmer Man was fine. I think you mean the movie with Kurupt Chris, Half Past Dead maybe? Regardless of title it was awful.

  • Chris | April 10, 2013 1:19 PMReply

    Uhm, what about the one with JA RULE!?

  • Katie Walsh | April 10, 2013 1:03 PMReply

    I LOL'd

  • tristan eldritch | April 10, 2013 12:59 PMReply

    Good list - don't agree about Under Siege, though - too mainstream, not purist Seagal enough for me.

  • Jacques DeMolay | April 10, 2013 12:20 PMReply

    Ha ha, this was a pretty amusing read. I have to agree with you on Exit Wounds being among his least terrible flicks. Tom Arnold was actually pretty amusing, and the anger management scene were Segal destroys the desk is classic. "This is my happy face!"

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