By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist April 10, 2013 at 12:04PM
"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.
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.