Monday, 7 July 2008

The Foreigner (2003)

Another bad guy falls victim to Seagal

The Foreigner was originally destined for theatrical release but was shelved when Today You Die tanked and eventually it was dumped Direct-to-Video. That was probably for the best. Steven Seagal plays Jonathan Cold, a lone-wolf CIA agent (no surprises there) who is partnered with the weasely Dunoir (Max Ryan) and tasked to deliver a mysterious package. When they get to the farmhouse where the package is being stored, they are abushed by Danish agents and barely escape with their lives. In an action scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film, pulsing techno and oodles of slow motion and camera trickery accompany every pissy little stunt, trying to fool the audience into thinking something exciting is happening. It's really rather embarassing.

So it turns out that Dunoir is actually a bad guy (he's a heavy smoker, a dead giveaway) and wants the package for himself. I can't remember who he is working for because the film is utterly incomprehensible. It is one of those films where everybody talks in cryptic terms about their "employer" and usually double and/or triple crosses them by the end anyway. Dunoir is probably the worst secret agent ever, needlessly shooting CIA bigwigs, maids, hotel clerks and random Polish Porsche-owners. He miraculously survives a number of deaths himself, including being blasted through a second-story window by two successive shotgun blasts (he is wearing a flak jacket, you see), barely outrunning an enormous explosion and being shot in the chest by Seagal (flak jacket again). In the end he gets a very Seagalian arm break before being killed.

During his adventures Seagal runs afoul of a number of competing agents, including a stylish American fellow named Mr. Mimms, an eloquent British assassin and a whole bunch of other boring European villians. The masterminds behind the whole operation are wealthy couple Jerome and Meredith Van Aken, although each have their own motives and you are kept in the dark about who the true villian is until the very end. Not that you'll care. The film tries to compensate for a thin plot by throwing in so many twists, turns and side characters that you'll give up trying to make sense of it long before it limps over the finish line. I suppose multiple viewings could aleviate some of the confusion, but good luck with that, I could barely sit through it once.

Seagal keeps the bad guys off his back with secret agent trickery, such as exploding a railway station with a phony package and tossing a compact disc stuck with plastic explosives at a guy, blasting him through a window and into the river. So I guess most of his tricks involve things exploding, but some of the explosions are quite impressive. The biggest ones are accompanied by a very Bond-esque horn section instead of the annoying techno.

There's also a part where Seagal and Dunoir briefly team up to infiltrate the Van Aken estate (this is the second time Seagal has done so, if I were Van Aken I'd fire my security detail). Dunoir pulls out his pistol to shoot a group of nearby guards before saying "Fuck it. I'll use the rifle" and bizarrely shooting them all with a sniper rifle at near point blank range. I couldn't understand his decision until later, when he attempted to shoot Seagal in the back, only to find that Seagal had given him an empty pistol. That's the kind of half-assed storytelling we are dealing with here.

There's a fair bit of action in this film for Direct-to-Video, lots of gunfire and explosions, but annoying editing ruins most of it. Seagal only gets into a couple of fistfights and they are laughably poor. His fight with Mr. Mimms is supposed to resemble "sticky hands" kung fu but looks more like two Soccer moms squabbling over a sale item. He has no love interest, but when he is introduced a hot French redhead (less than half his age) is dressing in his hotel room. Seagal himself is fully clothed, since by this time he'd started to bloat up with an orange tan and frizzy hair.

This is one of Seagal's earliest Direct-to-Video efforts and despite a poor reception it established the template for many Seagal films to follow: convoluted plots, drab cinematography, dreary locations and long Seagal-free stretches where boring side characters talk-talk-talk in secret agent cliches. Someone, somewhere must have been clamouring for the further adventures of Jonathan Cold, because he reprised the role in 2005 with Black Dawn.

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