Monday, 27 July 2009

Ticker (2001)

This is the kind of film where pretty much
everyone wears leather jackets exclusively.

Chronologically in Seagal's filmography, Ticker is a Direct-to-Video sandwiched between a couple of theatrical releases so it represents a fairly interesting period in his career. It's interesting for a couple of other reasons too. Firstly, Seagal doesn't play the main character, he's just one of an impressive B-movie cast including Dennis Hopper, Tom Sizemore and Kevin Gage. Secondly, he does very little fighting, instead spending most of the film providing spiritual guidance to Tom Sizemore. Good for him, Sizemore could probably use some spiritual advice.

Seagal plays Glass, a former Department of Defense employee now in charge of the bomb squad for the San Francisco PD. He leads a pack of wacky bomb experts: one guy (played by Kevin Gage) always wears a Hawaiian shirt and backwards baseball cap, another is a girl with crazy multi-coloured hair, so you know... Hollywood wacky. The film begins with Seagal in the basement of a Senator's mansion, trying to defuse a bomb while the cops engage in a tense stand-off outside. Inside the mansion a bunch of terrorists are blasting all the guests and catering staff with machine guns in footage clearly edited in from a different film. Seagal is unable to defuse the bomb in time and the mansion goes up in a series of impressive fiery explosions cribbed from other films.

From here on in we spend most of our time with Tom Sizemore, playing Detective Nettles (because he stings everything he touches and he makes good soup). He has a mysterious past and everyone is a complete asshole to him, so I figured he must have busted a fellow cop or fucked up a hostage situation or something. It's nothing like that, turns out his wife and kid were killed by a car bomb. The flashback is pretty funny too, during the slow-motion walk to the doomed car they turn around and wave multiple times, salute him, give each other a high-five etc. Even if you knew it was the last time you'd ever see them, you'd still be like "Jeez, get in the car already". His dead family doesn't really explain why all his co-workers are such dicks but I guess when you're played by Tom Sizemore you shouldn't be surprised when everyone treats you a like a sleazy scumbag.

When Nettles first meets Seagal he is given a wildly sarcastic speech about their jobs and is confused by their bomb squad lingo (apparently they don't defuse bombs but "treat" "devices"), but eventually Seagal takes him under his wing. This gives Seagal a chance to dispense some of his patented spiritual advice, like "you've got to get beyond hope and fear and learn the nature of your own mind" and "love is eternal, and that's a long time." He also employs Mr Miyagi style abstract teaching methods in bomb disposal, such as showing Nettles how to fix his watch. "You've just made you first ticker" he says proudly, which is probably overselling things but is no doubt good for Nettles' self esteem.

Dennis Hopper plays the villain, a mad bomber named Alex Swan. Like the guy he played in Speed except here he wears more leather jackets. He's the kind of power-mad guy who refers to his bombs as works of art and makes so many references to Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel that you'd wish he'd take an art studies course just so he could come up with a second reference. He is supposed to be Irish, judging from the lilting folk music that kicks in every time a bomb goes off, but his accent is pretty terrible and mostly absent. Maybe if he slipped into a proper Irish accent he'd flip out like he did while shooting Mad Dog Morgan. Irish accents are Dennis Hopper's red kryponite. Anyway, you can't expect method acting from a guy who's only around for a day of shooting.

Rapper Nas plays Nettles' partner Fuzzy. He's a pretty lousy actor but thankfully he isn't in the film for very long, despite his top billing. In the first act he suffers a protracted, cliche-ridden death scene, complete with Nettles shaking him and shouting "Don't you die on me!" He dies (spoiler) but before he does he tells Nettles to "let go of his demons". Pretty nice of him to use his final breath to play Dr Phil for Nettles. Jaime Pressly (from My Name is Earl) plays Claire, Alex's lover. Her husband was supposedly offed because he blew the whistle on a company that was building housing over a toxic waste dump. Now she wants revenge against... the city? I don't know. For most of the film she is in custody while Alex sets off a series of bombs until they agree to let her go, but once she escapes it becomes clear that she has a larger role in things than they thought.

Anyway, the big plan is that they are planning on blowing up the new City Hall building during the gala opening (a Halloween party with thumping techno, not really what I was expecting actually). When they storm the building there's a rooftop gunfight apparently spliced in from the Dolph Lundgren vehicle The Peacekeeper. Seagal does some unimpressive aikido in a hallway (his only fight scene in the film) although he does break an arm or two and throw someone through a window, thus fulfilling the minimum requirements for any Seagal fight scene. In the end he has to talk Nettles through defusing a bomb and he starts by giving a rambling incoherent speech about "getting beyond fear". Defusing the bomb turns out to be surprisingly easy, especially since Seagal's advice is pretty much "pick a wire and hope for the best".

This film was directed by notorious hack Albert Pyun (Cyborg and about a million Nemesis films) and although it doesn't contain cyborgs, Ticker has all of his other hallmarks. Lots of recycled footage, a story that is as confusing as it is boring and brief and uninteresting fight scenes. Apparently it was shot in about two weeks and it shows. Headlining actors were only available for few days of shooting apiece so they very rarely share screen time, leading to a disjointed screenplay that works hard to keep actors as far apart as possible. It was nice to see Seagal in a "wise sensei" role, but even he couldn't defuse this bomb.


Albert Pyun said...

Yeowza! This is the irrepressible hack, Albert Pyun. Thanks for the review which pretty well sums up my owns feeling about a dreadful film and even worse life experience. I had agreed to do the commentary on the DVD with the agreement that it would not be censored or edited in any way. I thought culprits needed to be named because they love to lurk in the shadows unlike Bob Weinstein who boldly took control of Adrenalin (Boston??). But of course the distribs lied (par for this production) and refuse to let me explain how this absolute abomination came to be. I certainly should be drawn and quartered for my part in it. And where did all the Chicago footage go? I left during post never realizing just how badly it could turn out. My deepest regrets and apologies. I should have stayed and fought the fight. There are dozens of my movies which I fully deserved to be cursed for, but I sure wish the spotlight could be turned on the rats who cobbled Ticker together.

Albert Pyun

Dave said...

Hey, thanks for your comments, you wouldn't be first director to be screwed over like that. Too bad they censored your commentary track because I would have really liked to hear it. Unfortunately I watched in on an R4 DVD that didn't have a commentary track at all.

I'll be checking out Tales of an Ancient Empire because I loves me some sword and sorcery.

Keep Bustin'