Friday, 11 July 2008

Out of Reach (2004)

No comment necessary

First of all, great title. Three words, following the Seagalian grammatical structure of (adverb) (preposition) (noun). It even has "Out" in the title. Unfortunately, that's about all the good things I can say about the film, except that it's mercifully brief at a scant 82 minute running time.

Things get off to a bad start immediately, with a man who is clearly not Seagal walking through a forest. Oh come on Steve, I understand that you can't throw a spinning roundhouse kick at your age, but surely you can still walk along a forest trail? The real Seagal comes across an injured bird and nurses it back to health (presumably with the same "home cooked jungle juice" he used in The Patriot). During this sequence we hear the disembodied voice of a Polish girl named Irena that Seagal has been contacting through her orphanage's outreach program. Surprisingly, Seagal's letters are narrated by a completely different voice actor. Maybe that's what the Irena imagines Seagal to sound like. Maybe that's what Seagal imagines he sounds like. Or maybe Seagal couldn't be arsed going back to the studio to loop the dialogue. Who knows.

Anyway, Seagal plays William Lansing, an ex-CSA(?) agent turned turned backwoods survivalist and freelance wildlife veterinarian. Of course, it's not long before his shadowy past comes knocking on the door of his self-built log cabin, his former CSA buddies trying to bring him back into the fold. His burnt up CSA pass identifies him as Thomas P. Riker, but they all call him "Billy Ray", and pretty soon they've got him surrounded at gunpoint. If you guessed this ended up with a bunch of unconscious government spooks and Seagal on the run, give yourself a gold star.

If that wasn't bad enough, a human trafficking ring led by Faisal (Matt Schulze) rounds up Irena and a bunch other Polish orphans with the intention selling them off in an international human trafficking ring. Briefly going undercover at the Post Office as a stubbly Frenchman in a girly fur coat (seriously), Seagal acquires a letter from the orphanage stating that Irena won't be able to communicate with him any more. Even though he has no real reason to suspect any foul play, he decides to hop on a plane to Warsaw and see what up. Hilariously, his passport and his former CSA security pass use a photo from his Out for Justice days. Think it might be time for a renewal.

After a few run-ins with the local police, Seagal befriends a pretty Polish police officer named Kaisa (Agneiszka Wagner). Don't worry, he doesn't sleep with her, the closest they get to that is an awkward one-armed half-hug. At one point she gets shot in the shoulder during a gunfight and Seagal performs some impromptu surgery using a butter knife and a hot stove. I don't know why he didn't just take her to the hospital, it's not like they're cons on the run or anything. Nevertheless, I must admit he did an excellent job because she recovers pretty much instantly, just in time for her to be shot in the shoulder again during the final gun battle.

He also befriends an orphan named Nikki who was a friend of Irena. I thought he was a mute until he starts talking about halfway through and nobody cares. Before the final confrontation he sends Nikki and Kaisa across the border to the Czech Republic and Seagal and gives Nikki a goodbye hug. The music swells like we are supposed to be dabbing our eyes or something. Come on, that kid has had about five minutes of screen time and most of that he was picking pockets and chugging vodka from the hotel mini-bar. You've got to earn that music.

Now, through her correspondence with Seagal, Irena has learned about ciphers and cryptology and she uses this knowledge to leave hidden messages for Seagal. Faisal sees her leave these messages and not only does he not destroy them, he goes out of his way to make sure Seagal receives them intact (to the point of having one of his goons stand there guarding a tray of hors d'eouvres that spell out "this is a trap" in code). I think Faisal is supposed to be one of those bad guys who has a bit of a hard-on for hero. He is always talking about "predator" and "prey", trying to make everything he says sound poetic and vaguely menacing, but it usually comes out lame and/or nonsensical. He's also likes giving roses to little girls or setting them on fire (the roses, not the little girls, though I wouldn't put that past him either). He is trying to be a sophisticated villain but he tries way too hard and it falls flat. I bet his henchmen think he's a dick. I feel bad for him.

Obviously Seagal ends up in a climactic fight with Faisal, and in a rare case of injury Seagal gets elbowed in the gut until his vision blurs. The film concludes in a swordfight with Faisal in the courtyard of his all-white castle. It actually looks pretty good, and it's framed like an old samurai film with some attempts at tension and interesting shots with artfully sprayed blood etc. This style could work, Seagal isn't much fatter that Ogami Itto in Lone Wolf and Cub after all, except that Seagal really isn't capable of holding a cool pose or swinging a sword like Tomisaburo Wakayama. Oh well, nice try anyway.

One of the complaints you can make about most of Seagal's Direct-to-Video films holds true here: The film is pretty light on action. There's a big gunfight in a brothel, a pretty cheap-looking set I might add, which is supposed to be the big action setpiece of the film. Seagal uses a secret passage (through the back of the wardrobe, Narnia-style) to gain the upper hand. It's pretty poorly choreographed and edited, it just cuts between two people shooting in slo-mo until one falls over dead. The biggest stunt is a lousy somersault, which is done in slow motion to try and trick you into thinking it's impressive. It's not even Seagal, it's a stunt double. Actually the stunt double gets a lot of screen time, and they do a pretty lousy job of concealing his face. There's even a bit at the Embassy Ball where the bad guys turn a guy around thinking it's Seagal and it's actually the stunt double. I thought it was going to be like that part in Spaceballs: "You idiots, you've captured his stunt double!"

Thankfully the plot is a lot less complicated than some of Seagal's earlier Direct-to-Video films, but there are still a lot of parts that make no sense whatsoever. I guess they tried to fix this up with a lot of post-production voiceover, narrating the thoughts of various characters, even where it doesn't make any sense. There's one scene where Seagal is driving alone in his car while Irena's thoughts are voiced aloud. Is she using telepathy? I don't get it. In another scene a couple of thugs try to attack Seagal in his hotel room, and he ends up beating one unconscious and throwing the other out of a window and onto a car below, in front of a bunch of witnesses. It's never mentioned how or why Seagal explained the incident to the hotel manager or the police, and later we see that he's still staying in the same hotel. I don't think "Yeah, we were having a few drinks and it got a bit out of control, you know how it is" would cut in in this case.

This film was directed by Po-Chih Leong, a Hong Kong director who made the film Hong Kong: 1941 with Chow Yun Fat, a couple of made-for-TV horror films starring Judd Nelson and a whole bunch of other stuff I've never heard of. In 2006 he teamed up with Wesley Snipes for another round of Direct-to-Video action with The Detonator. Out of Reach is pretty disappointing after the one-two punch that was 2003's Belly of the Beast and Out for a Kill. For a while there in late 2003 it looked like Seagal might be a reliable source of dumb-action. Those films had enough silliness to compensate for the shoddy production values and all-around lack of craftsmanship. Unfortunately it seemed those films were just a blip on Seagal's downward spiral.

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