Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Kill Switch (2008)

I hope you like this stunt, because
you'll be seeing it a dozen times

Kill Switch is one of the most recent films to plop out of Seagal's Direct-to-Video sausage machine. In it he plays Jacob King, homicide detective with the Memphis Police Department. He's a tough cop who plays by his own rules etc, and he is so obsessed with his work he neglects his inexplicably hot, young girlfriend (who is also a cop). Because the film takes place in Memphis, Tennessee, Seagal gets to use his Southern voice (except when he uses a voice double), which sounds a lot like his ebonics voice except he says "lawd have mercy" a lot.

He also has frequent flashbacks to his traumatic childhood. We know it's traumatic because they use every disorienting editing trick they can think of... white flashes, skipped frames, creepy blue tints, switching up the film stock. I'm pretty sure they used every in-built feature on their editing software. You see, it seems that Seagal had a twin brother that was murdered at their childhood birthday party by some random psycho. Worst party ever. And don't expect the identity of the killer to play into the film in any way. It's what they like to call "characterisation" or more accurately "padding".

As the film opens the bomb squad are tending to a woman who has had a block of C4 implanted in her chest, and they've got to figure out which wire to cut before she explodes. It's like Die Hard in a woman! The culprit is a serial killer named Billy Joe Hill (Harry Heck, who played that singing assassin in The Punisher) who is watching from a nearby apartment building. Seagal kicks in the door and proceeds to beat the relevant information out of him, smashing him into walls, cupboards, pretty much every piece of balsa-wood furniture on the set. Seagal is smart enough to realise that when he tells them to cut the red wire he's lying, so he tells the Bomb Squad to cut the white wire instead and then tosses Billy Joe out of a third story window. Take that, due process!

Billy Joe survives, and eventually is let out of jail on a technicality (damn lefty judges) and continues his rampage, but he isn't the only villain. There's also a serial killer named Lazarus, who likes to carve astrological symbols in his victims and send Seagal cryptic messages. He also likes to walk around his fleabag apartment wearing nothing but a jockstrap, dress up like the Unabomber and scrawl mysterious writing on the walls. So, you know, he's like a greatest hits compilation of serial killer cliches. Also he beats a woman to death with a baby doll. Eventually Seagal manages to crack the code (they are simple substitution ciphers that Seagal should have been able to crack in about five minutes, let alone several library research montages) and tracks Lazarus down to a local rock club that plays shitty sub-Nickelback buttrock.

There's also a female FBI agent (and noted tight-shirt enthusiast) who is investigating the serial killings and Seagal himself, but she spends most of the time puking at crime scenes and being berated and belittled by Seagal and his friends. They are pretty rude to her, actually. I know there's that local cops/feds rivalry but let's keep it professional, guys. At one point Seagal's partner tells her a drawn-out anecdote (complete with flashback sequence) about a serial killer cannibal who they caught eating a clown. It's a long way to go for a really old joke, but I have to appreciate the ballsiness of dedicating an entire scene to such a minor gag.

Well, any Seagal film really comes down to the fight scenes and here they are pretty terrible. They are padded out mercilessly with lots of repeated footage and reversed shots. Typically Seagal will take down a bad guy in a few hits, here it takes a dozen or more and it's boring. Stunt doubles are used for everything, cut in with reaction shots from Seagal where he is clearly nowhere near the fight. Then there's the editing. Oh god, the editing. This film has some of the most obnoxious, quick-cut fight scenes I've ever seen. Seriously, this shit is worse than Michael Bay. Every single stunt is repeated three or four times with different angles and film speeds, and in the opening sequence when he throws Billy Joe through the window it replays about a dozen times! Not in a cool Jackie Chan "check this shit out" kind of way, more like somebody spilled a beer on the editing console. I thought my DVD player was fucked.

Although the fights are mostly unremarkable outside of the lousy editing, a few moments of brutality stick in my mind. The first is at a standard Seagalian bar fight where he curb stomps a guy on the edge of the bar until he spits out a mouthful of teeth and some information. Sure the guy seems to have all his teeth back a few moments later, but still, that's a little too Rodney King for my tastes (doesn't help that the dude is black either). The second is his big face off with the serial killer, where he tosses him into every shelf, table and pane of glass in the building before systematically breaking all his bones with a ball-peen hammer. And yeah, they shout "My teeth!" and "My arm!" respectively.

I'm not going to explain the plot because it's boring and doesn't make sense, but I really have to mention the ending. Through the entire film Seagal has been established as a well-known Memphis detective with a house, a girlfriend, a long-time partner etc. Well, after all the cases have been wrapped up, Seagal drives out into the country to a lovely villa and is greeted by a Russian woman and two children, apparently his wife and kids. He gives the two children presents and the woman leads him upstairs, strips naked and beckons him into their bedroom. The end. That is some David Lynch shit right there. So apparently he has a double life? Seriously, I don't know what the fuck.

The fucked-up ending, the voice doubles, the meandering plot, the padded fights, all of this really suggests some serious post-production shenanigans, Attack Force style. In fact there's one part where the FBI detective suggests that Seagal himself is responsible for the killings. The way this is so casually tossed off near the end of the film makes me wonder if this wasn't a very different film to start with. Apparently Seagal wrote the script so it would be interesting to see how it all started, but I guess we'll never know.

After Pistol Whipped and Urban/Renegade Justice I was excited to see what would come next but this film is a lazy cinematic abortion, easily a step back into Attack Force/Submerged territory. Like those films it has it's share of enjoyable WTF moments, but they don't come frequently enough to distinguish it from the rest of Seagal's Direct-to-Video flotsam.

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