Saturday, 14 June 2008

Out for a Kill (2003)

Another person falls victim to Direct-to-Video Seagal

After bringing us Seagal's horrific film The Foreigner in early 2003, Michael Oblowitz teamed up with Seagal again in late 2003 and, against all odds, produced something even worse. The makers of this film tried to combine the best elements from Seagal's early films Out for Justice and Hard to Kill, but they only got as far as the title. I guess it came down to this and Hard for Justice ("Steven Seagal is... Hard for Justice") so I guess they made the right choice. "Where are you headed, honey?" "Oh, you know, just going out for a kill."

In this film Seagal goes by the handle Professor Robert Burns, the world's greatest thief turned archaeologist and Yale's most distinguished academic. Not since Tara Reid in Alone in the Dark has the role of an academic been so egregiously miscast. He is busy working on a digsite on the China/Kazakhstan border when he stumbles across a bunch of gangsters using the uncovered artifacts to smuggle drugs. His hot partner is killed in a cheap bullet-time effect, and the gangsters somehow frame Seagal for the smuggling operation and murder.

Seagal gets sent to a Chinese prison and suprisingly there's an African American dude sharing his cell. I would like to think this is a revealing piece of racism on behalf of the filmmakers but I think it can be chalked up to incompetence. Seagal's cellmate starts telling his life story but the scene fades out mid-sentence, as if the director just didn't give a shit. Thirty seconds of montage later Seagal gives him a fist pound and says "friends for life." The dude even tells Seagal "don't forget about me" and then he never appears again.

Two CIA agents let him out of prison in the hopes that he'll lead them back to the Tong, and once he's back home he and his wife are harrassed by the gangsters. First a couple of evil monks attack him at his partner's funeral, then they threaten to kill his dog, him and his wife (in that order) which causes Seagal to flip out and bust some heads.

In retaliation they blow up his house and wife, but you don't find out if they follow through on the threat on his dog. We're almost 40 minutes in by this stage, so he promises to seek revenge before his wife's funeral. He then goes from Chinese laundry to Chinese barber shop to Chinese trucking company (how he finds these gangster hideouts is left as an exercise to the viewer), beating up any gangsters that are dumb enough to come within arms reach of his stunt double. Most of the fights are pretty uninspired and boring, save for a battle with a Monkey-style kung fu master, who leaps and flips in the air while Seagal stands in the middle of the room swatting him out of the air with stunning immobility.

It's also doesn't help that the bad guys are about as threatening as a wet paper bag. In scene after scene the Tong gangsters sit around a big conference table complaining that "This gwilo professor is becoming a problem". As Seagal picks them off one by one the number of gangsters around the table shrinks until it's just the one dude sitting by himself, thinking "I will take care of this cocksucker professor myself." Those expecting a boss fight might be disappointed when Seagal lazily decapitates him with a sword thrown from the first floor window.

There are also the two CIA agents following him from place to place, always arriving too late and finding a big pile of bodies. The female agent, played by Michelle Goh, occasionally provides some weird voice-over narration that was clearly added post-production. She looks good but she's a bad actor. She does have a hilarious scene when she conspicuously enters a tattoo parlour in a seedy Bulgarian back alley and the artist awkwardly asks "Hey, you want a tattoo?"

The film is riddled with clumsily inserted post-production dialogue, but the plot still doesn't make any sense. There's this whole thing about each of the gangsters having a word tattooed on their arm that is used to unlock a vault in their headquarters, or something, but it's pretty stupid and I'm not sure what the point was. The film jumps from continent to continent, with no explanation of how he got there and why,

No amount of Michael Bay style editing tricks can make this film interesting, but by God do they try. The fifth time the camera zooms along the length of the Tong's conference table you might be tempted to throw your television out of the window. Subtitles roll out on the screen every five minutes, complete with computery bleeps and blorps. Some of them I can understand, since the same dingy Bulgarian back alleys had to pass for at least three different countries, but I think the ones telling us the bad guy's hobbies was probably going a bit far.

Seagal's hair looks frizzier than ever and his wardrobe is a mixture of his usual leather trenchcoats and the weird Chinese style silk shirts he's been wearing recently. He snoozes his way through his lines and the rest of cast are even worse than usual. The main bad guy is particularly bad, straining out each word like he's choking on his own evil.

According to imdb, this film cost $20 million dollars to make. Better uses of $20 million dollars include but are not limited to: flushing it down the toilet, lining a budgie cage or starting a small fire. Only a seasoned veteran of Direct-to-Video Seagal should attempt to watch this explosion of cinematic incompetence.

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