Thursday, 25 August 2011
A Dangerous Man (2009)
In a strange coincidence I received DVDs for both A Dangerous Man and A Serious Man in the mail on the same day, which left me with a difficult decision to make. One Coen brothers' black comedy about a Jewish physics professor struggling with his faith. One DTV action film where Steven Seagal kicks Chinese dudes in the junk. A difficult choice for any cinephile, but I think I made the right one.
In the prologue we learn why Seagal is the titular Man. His girlfriend Holly is waiting in her car when she gets attacked by a rapist. Seagal shows up to rescue her and chases him away, but the next day the would-be rapist shows up dead in an alley. Although Seagal swears he is innocent the cops accuse him of being an uncontrollable killing machine (understandable) and lock him up. Cut to six years later and Holly sends Seagal a "Dear John" letter. He must have known this was coming too, because he reads it outside alone in the prison yard at night in the pouring rain. That sort of heavy-handed dramatic context doesn't happen by accident.
It's not all bad news though. The very next day Seagal is released thanks to some exonerating DNA evidence, although it's never revealed who actually killed the rapist or why. He's also offered $300k by Uncle Sam but Seagal refuses, saying he only wants his life back. This is all thanks to the Innocence Project, although if they'd known what he'd get up to afterwards they probably would have reconsidered.
All Seagal wants to do now is drown his sorrows with a bottle of generic bourbon, but you can probably guess how that goes. Liquor store, muggers etc. I did like that Seagal tells the punks that he's going to "fuck [them] up ugly". I especially like that one of the muggers asks him what it means, like he couldn't have discerned its meaning from context. In this case it means that Seagal's going to steal his gun, take the slide off the barrel, repeatedly stab him in the face with the pointy end and then kick him through a window. Which is pretty ugly. Then Seagal calls him a "bitch" and steals his car.
While drinking alone in a parking lot, Seagal somehow gets caught up in a confusingly-edited gunfight between the son of a Russian crime boss, a cop and some Chinese gangsters with a kidnapped girl in their trunk. The girl is named Tia, and she's the niece of a big-shot accountant in China who has the dirt on some high-ranking officials. He was being smuggled to America until the gangsters realised how important he was and held him hostage. Seagal agrees to help the girl save her uncle, but interestingly the reason he helps her is because she says she'll help him leave the country. I don't think I've seen a movie hero with that particular motivation before.
The main bad guy is called Chen and somehow he owns all the local cops. Not just one either, the whole lot. Chen is also involved with a corrupt Chinese military official called The Colonel (played by Byron Mann from Belly of the Beast). I thought it was pretty funny how Chen acts like a bigshot with his nice suits, huge cigars, dancing with hookers etc, but he does it all out of his shitty wood-panelled dockside office. There's a bit where he tries to lure a disinterested Colonel into partying with a hooker by saying she has an "ass like a 10 year old boy", a line which I've heard before but always sticks out to me as unappealing and kind of gross. Anyway, eventually the Colonel turns on Chen and takes over his business.
For a while it seems like they're trying to set up a buddy relationship between Seagal and Sergey, but Sergey is not the most compelling character so they forget about it about halfway through. At one point I thought Sergey was shot by The Colonel's men while he was hanging out with a topless hooker in a pool, but I guess it was some other guy. Seagal is eventually helped out by Sergey's dad, who lives in one of those huge mansions where there's a party full of young, hip people going on 24 hours a day. Seems like it would get pretty annoying after a while, especially since it looks like Vlad is sitting in his office trying to work. By the end of the film Seagal and Vlad take on The Colonel I think, but by this point I was pretty confused. In my defence it was pretty boring.
I liked that The Keeper didn't indulge in the embarrassing DTV tradition of giving Seagal a much younger, hotter girlfriend, even though they had several opportunities to do so. They show no such restraint here. There's a part early in the film where Seagal sits in his stolen car and fondly reminisces about the time his girlfriend stripped butt naked and gave him a lap dance while he sat there fully clothed and fumbled with her boobs. By the epilogue it's implied that he's sleeping with Tia as well, but thankfully their on-screen shenanigans are limited to an awkward hug. Kind of a dick move though, because Sergey saved her life and it seemed like he was sweet on her.
One interesting point is that I think Seagal is supposed to be a Native American. At one point he calls Sergey "white boy", which I thought was just Seagal randomly breaking out into ebonics like he does sometimes. Later on, however, one of the bad guys refers to him as "that Native American". After all the fringed leather jackets he's worn and ancient mysticism he's spouted in his other films, it's weird that this is the one where they decided to go full on Billy Jack. Not that it figures into anything else in the film or is ever mentioned again.
There are a lot of lines that sound really strange and I can't tell if it's because they were poorly written or badly delivered or both. “I will leave you here to get eaten by the fuckin jackals, who are coming soon." Stuff like that. Seagal's delivery is generally pretty mumbly and incoherent, but it must have been particularly bad here because they dub his voice about half the time. At least the guy almost sounds like Seagal. Usually they'll get any old guy to whisper all the lines and call it a day, even though Seagal hasn't done that whispery thing in years.
The gun fights aren't particularly well shot, but they're okay. It's just alternating shots of two guys firing from behind cover until one of them falls over dead. The fight scenes are a little better and are really brutal. Seagal feeds one guy into industrial shredder, kicks another guy face-first into circular saw and pounds a chopstick into a guy's neck. Throughout the whole thing he's invincible like Jason Voorhees. Stunt doubles are used frequently and sometimes it gets a little distracting. One fight is shot through the gap in some shelving so that they don't have to go to trouble of obscuring the double's head through editing. No stunt double for the lap dance scene though. Sometimes you've just got to get your hands dirty.
This one comes courtesy of Leoni Waxman, the same guy who did The Keeper. I still haven't decided which one I like better. This film is superior in terms of quantity and brutality of action, but Seagal only wears his Half Past Dead do-rag. In The Keeper he wears a huge cowboy hat. Clearly further analysis is required.