Friday, 28 November 2008

Out for Justice (1991)

Jerry Orbach as the Police Captain?
It's like I'm watching the best episode of Law and Order ever.

Watching all these Direct-to-Video Steven Seagal films have got me nostalgic for early Seagal. Really though, were those early Seagal films any good? Nostalgia is a funny thing, it's like a beautiful woman who beckons you near and then kicks you in the balls eleven times and throws you down a flight of stairs. Well, to answer that question I dug out Seagal's fourth (and arguably best) film, Out for Justice. Surprisingly it's good, real good. It's fast paced (none of that plot or characterisation bullshit), well choreographed and incredibly violent. Everything that I want out of an action film.

Let's get this out of the way: Seagal's character is named Gino Felino. That's not the name of an action hero, it's the name of a pizza chain mascot. I mean, if you're going to have such a ridiculous stereotype of a name, then you'd better earn it. To his credit, Seagal does try to speak a little Italian, but his accent drifts in and out so much you don't even notice he's supposed to have one until he says "Ey!". Anyway, he's the son of a poor Italian immigrant who grew up on the streets and became a cop, so he knows pretty much everybody in the area. As the film opens he fucks up a bust by intervening when a pimp (who also knows him by name) starts beating up one of his girls. He tosses the guy through a windshield. Nice opening.

Soon after, Seagal's partner, Bobby Lupo (heh), is gunned down in front of his wife and child in broad daylight by a small-time thug called Richie Madano (William Forsythe). The movie follows Seagal's attempt to find Richie before he can do much more damage. And uh, yeah, that's pretty much it. Richie is a pretty interesting bad guy, because he isn't some big-time mafia crime boss, he's just a psychopathic hoodlum. In fact, the mafia are also trying to track down Richie because he is making them look bad. After gunning Bobby down in broad daylight, Richie knows he's dead anyway, so he has decided to have one last night on the town. This involves a lot of "partying" (ie sleeping with hookers) and gunning down angry female motorists, wheelchair-bound henchmen and anyone else who looks at him funny. This was long before the videogame Grand Theft Auto, so he doesn't have a safe outlet for those kind of impulses. His henchmen are pretty worried about his behaviour, but they stick around because they've been promised a room full of cash and drugs if they last the night.

Unfortunately for Richie, despite his murderous tendencies he's not much of a fighter. When he finally has his showdown with Seagal, it's so one-sided that you almost feel sorry for him. Richie keeps grabbing whatever weapons are at hand and every time Seagal just plucks it from his hands and turns it against him. He does everything short of that Three Stooges routine where you hold his head at arm's length and he just pinwheels his arms. Seagal finally dispatches Richie with a corkscrew, embedding it in his head right down to the hilt. That's a pretty difficult feat, he didn't twist it or anything. It would have been better if he'd then used it to pluck out a cork-shaped chunk of his head, or even his eyeball, but you can't have everything.

Seagal's films have a tendency towards unnecessary dubbing, where a (usually offscreen) extra will spell out something for the dumbshits in the audience (most of them). Often this will be a bystander making awestruck comments about Seagal's skills during a fight, but in this film it's used for bad guys to explain their injuries. One guy shouts out "You knocked my teeth out!" after spitting a mouthful of teeth onto a pool table. Another guy shouts "My balls!" after receiving a mighty crotch-kick. Another guy gets his leg severed by a shotgun blast (!) and proceeds to shout "My leg! You took my leg!" for a good minute straight (he didn't take it anywhere, man, it's right there on the ground). This makes Out for Justice the perfect action film to share with your vision-impaired friends.

In fact, the vision-impaired will have the added bonus of not having to view Seagal's ridiculous ensembles. At the beginning of the film he opts for a sleeveless vest/beret combo (all black, naturally). Later on he goes for a billowy black shirt with a plunging neck and accessorises with gold chains. His ponytail is looking particularly long and lustrous, while the ladies sport a variety of enormous early 90s hair-don'ts. It's cheap to insult the fashion of 80s/90s movies, but I can't imagine Seagal's outfits looking good in any era.

Seagal's movies usually feature a bar fight of some kind, and this one is a doozy. He walks straight in to Richie's brother's bar and starts intimidating everyone in the room, goading people into attacking him and then taking them out in a single punch. When he has had enough he straight-up wrecks the joint. He uses a few different weapons, including a pool ball wrapped up in a piece of cloth. He takes on a guy named Sticks who is pretty good with a couple of pool cues (you see what they did there?). He's the only Asian dude in the whole bar, so when you see him at the beginning of the scene you know he's going to do something awesome. Seagal takes him out no problem, though.

Seagal does come off as a little unhinged in this scene, though. I mean, just imagine you're one of these guys in the bar. You don't know Richie Madano, you're just here you're in here enjoying a beer after putting in ten hours at the smelting plant. Suddenly this cop just walks in and starts flashing his badge around and smashing up the joint. He even knocks your beer across the room and throws your friend in a phone booth (twice). What an asshole! I don't know if this was supposed to illustrate how our thirst for revenge robs us of our humanity, but if they followed up on that bit I must have dozed off. There's another great fight in a butcher shop where a guy gets his hand pinned to the wall by a meat cleaver and another guy gets knocked out by a sausage. Smallgoods as a deadly weapon, don't see that too often.

One thing about this movie is that it maintains a pretty grim tone throughout. There's no cheesy one-liners. The only comic relief is a sub-plot where Seagal rescues a puppy in a sack that some asshole throws out of his car window. The animal abuse isn't the comedy part, that comes later. Seagal makes a comment about hoping to run into this guy again, and sure enough he runs into him at the end of the film and gives him a kick in the balls. The puppy takes a leak on his face, everyone laughs (except me), roll credits. This scene seems pretty out of place, and is probably the result of studio meddling. Apart from this, though, this is a top notch Seagal film and a pretty solid action film overall. I think all the action directors today, with their choppy-editing and close-ups, could learn a thing or two from films like this.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Locusts (2005)

This is pretty scary even without the locusts.

A swarm of locusts sweep through the USA, and only Xena: Warrior Princess can stop them! That's sounds pretty awesome, but unfortunately Lucy Lawless plays Dr. Maddy Rierdon, an expert working for the US Department of Agriculture. When we are introduced to her and her boyfriend, they are busy discussing their failing marriage in a state of near-nudity. He is upset because her demanding job means they have no time to themselves, let alone enough to start a family. "It's always food shortage this and locust swarm that! What about meeee?" When she is called away on her latest assignment he tells her not to come back until they've both decided what they want from the relationship. Complicating things is the fact that (spoiler) she discovers that she is pregnant (the pee-stick says "Pregnant" but she still goes to check the box just to make sure).

Dr. Peter Axelrod (John Heard) has secretly cross-bred the Australian Plague locust and the Desert locust to create a super-locust that is stronger, has a shorter gestational period, a longer lifespan and moves a lot faster. Oh, and it's resistant to all known pesticides. He tries to justify his research with some vague reference to cancer cures, but I think he just HATES vegetation. Rierdon fires him and orders the locusts destroyed, but unfortunately it seems they hired Butterfingers Inc., America's clumsiest pest control company. Consequently, some guy in a hazmat suit drops a couple of specimens down the drain (whoops) and then, halfway across the country, some other guy fumbles a container and lets a couple of them loose on the tarmac of an Air Force Base. Soon the tenacious little critters are free and breeding like crazy (how they swam through the sink's S-bend we never know), creating two separate swarms that ravage through the country's food supply.

So by now you've got a good idea of what to expect and you'd probably be right. A series of locust attacks ensue, where bad actors scream and flail as they are menaced by a CG locust swarm. They munch their way through California wine country (it looks like 2005 will be a very bad vintage) and a small-town orange festival, before descending on Pittsburgh and taking out a cargo aircraft by gumming up the engine with their tiny shredded corpses. They also menace a bunch of office workers in a high-rise building, demonstrating the surprising ability to bust through a plate glass window. Even Dr. Axelrod feels the bite of his own creation when his daughter's school bus is attacked by a locust swarm and she is knocked unconscious.

Meanwhile, military and government officials lock horns in a war-room as a big-screen computer simulation predicts doom and gloom. General Miller (Gregory Alan Williams) intends to capture the locusts' tiny hearts and minds through the use of VX nerve gas. As they repeatedly point out, his is the same deadly nerve gas which Saddam Hussein used on his own people. Rierdon manages to sabotage the mission by threatening to kill everyone on the aircraft, citing the fact that she is pregnant and hormonal and not be fucked with and thereby undoing fifty years of women's rights progress. Unfortunately it's only a matter of time before the President authorises the use of the nerve gas again, so Rierdon and company are in a race to discover an alternative solution before the General liberates the fuck out of the locusts and ten percent of the human population.

While tracking the swarm through the American heartland (the REAL America) Rierdon takes the opportunity to visit her corn-farming father and they manage to defeat an attacking locust swarm using nothing but a small generator, a steel silo, and a contempt for the laws of physics and the viewer's intelligence. They manage to apply this technique in a large-scale solution to the locust problem which defies belief. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of electricity or a functioning brain will feel profoundly insulted. If you enjoy having your intelligence repeatedly insulted then you will probably enjoy this film.