Saturday, 21 February 2009

Today You Die (2005)

Treach hangs his head in shame at Seagal's
mangled attempts at street slang

Although I've watched most of Seagal's Direct-to-Video efforts, Today You Die is one of the few entries that managed to slip through the cracks. It's the first team-up between director Don E. FauntLeRoy and Seagal, which would be followed by Mercenary for Justice the following year and Urban/Renegade Justice the next (I guess he's big on justice). It's another Seagal/rapper team-up, trying to recapture the questionable magic of Exit Wounds. First it was DMX, then Ja Rule and now Naughty By Nature's Treach. Wow, it's been a while since I heard anything about Naughty By Nature. I guess MC Hammer is next.

In this one Seagal plays Harlan Banks, a Robin Hood kind of thief who steals from "scumbag drug dealers" and gives to the poor. His latest robbery goes tits up when a gang of crooks interrupt him (not the owners of the house, some different guys) and Seagal is forced to kill/maim about half a dozen guys. His foxy young wife Jada (Mari Morrow) is understandably worried about his line of employment and wants him to go straight, so he takes a legitimate job in Vegas driving an armoured car. On the way to he drives past a childrens' hospital that has a "Going Out of Business" sign plastered over it like it's a shoe store or something. A sad nun wheels a little girl into the street, presumably to dump her into the gutter. You can't tell from his expression, but I think this makes Seagal sad.

He probably should have been suspicious about this "legit" job, since they didn't ask for references or do a background check or anything, plus his boss Max (Kevin Tighe) is obviously evil. During their first pickup Seagal's co-worker Bruno (Robert Miano) kills a couple of guards and forces him to drive off with 20 million in stolen cash. This leads up to an impressive-for-Direct-to-Video car chase with cop cars crashing, exploding and flipping through the air. Seagal wrecks the van and stumbles away, leaving the unconscious Bruno to get picked up by the cops. Eventually the cops pick up Seagal as well, but he manages to hide the money before he is captured. Seagal refuses to tell the cops where the money is and gets dumped in prison.

After he takes out a couple of 'roided up guys in the prison yard, he attracts the attention of top dog Ice Kool (Treach), and Seagal agrees to share the hidden loot with him if he's allowed to tag along on an extremely convenient helicopter-based jail break. After an uneventful escape they pick up some weapons from a blind guy named Dinky-D, who remarks that Seagal "walks like a black man, breathes like a killer"). Seagal and Treach then bond over a series of poorly motivated shootouts and fights with Max's men. There's a bit where they sit in their car make fun of a guy's walk and imply that he was a "prison bitch", seems pretty homophobic. Come on Seagal, what would Forrest Taft say? Most of their banter seems weird and stilted and sounds improvised. Between Treach's so-called "G-bonics" and Seagal's weird attempts at street slang (he sounded more like a Southern preacher most of the time; "Ice cool, y'all!") I was thankful for the English subtitles.

Pretty standard stuff so far, but the film differs from the rest of the pack in that it has a slight supernatural bent. In fact, the film starts with Jada visiting a Tarot card reader. She always has these dreams/psychic visions and whether they're sitting in bed together or yapping on the phone (both of which occur surprisingly frequently in the film), she's always rambling on and on about mausoleums and French writing and little girls and that Max is "not of this world". Seagal dismisses her visions, saying that dreams are purely symbolic and don't mean anything. He's wrong about them being symbolic (they are, in fact, absurdly literal) but he's right about them not meaning anything because they have no bearing on the plot whatsoever, except maybe the scene where Seagal finally confronts Max.

You see, when Seagal faces Max (who up until this point was assumed dead by the cops, and it's never explained why he's still alive) he's sitting at a piano surrounded by skeletons and candles all the other spooky stuff from Jada's dreams. He says "I was born with the devil inside me." and makes a weird speech about innocence and power and as he fondles a photo of some little girl (I think the one in the wheelchair from earlier). Admittedly there was a weird line earlier where a cop calls Max a "lowlife freak who dabbles in black magic", but this is a weird twist, especially since his black magic doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the film.

Another way in which this film is unique is that Seagal plays a pretty different character from normal. He's a thief (probably ex-CIA, but it's never mentioned) and while he does have the Robin Hood thing going on, he's not squeamish about killing/injuring anyone who gets in his way. There's a bit in a car where, after getting the information he needs, Seagal pretends he's going to let a guy go and then shoots him. Then he makes a quip to Treach about him having committed suicide and blows up the car. That's pretty cold.

There's also the issue of the stolen money, which Seagal has no problem taking (not that we find out where he hid it) even though it's clearly not the property of "scumbag drug dealers". He does give some of it to that children's hospital, but from the look of the "Grand Re-opening" I doubt he gave them the whole 20 million. By the way, the little girl in the photo is at the party for the hospital re-opening and Seagal shows up to give her necklace and a hug. The film ends with him sitting in his car and saying "I think she's going to be alright." Huh? Who the fuck is she? I doubt it's random kid, the way he talks to her gives me the impression that we are supposed to know who she is.

Considering the amount of plot holes, it's not surprising that there were all sorts of production problems on set. Apparently Seagal was difficult to work with, showing up late on set and leaving early. Stunt doubles are used liberally. A fight in a mansion is shot almost entirely with Seagal's head out of frame. It gets kind of surreal after a while, like they're fighting the headless horseman. Also, Millenium Films raided their back-catalogue for stock footage. That car chase I said was impressive? Taken from 1998's Top of the World with Peter Weller.

There's really not much else to say about this one. It's just another apathetic entry in a string of Direct-to-Video films that average somewhere below "competent" on a scale of quality. It's better than Submerged and Black Dawn but worse than Into the Sun, making it the second best Seagal film of 2005. So at least it takes home the silver medal.

1 comment:

Ty said...

Ridiculous Seagal movie! "Walks like a black man, breathes like a killer!" is such a hilarious line.

Another great bit is when Harlan is in jail and he doesn't wear the prison clothes like everybody else.

Randy Couture, Chloe Moretz, and Kevin Tighe must have stories about making this movie!