And we’re back! I hope you enjoyed your three weeks holiday from Mondo Exploito, because here I am to ruin your day with a slew of Seagal films for those who wish to brave his post-Half Past Dead (2002) era. I’ve been wanting to do this post for a long time – since the very beginning of Mondo Exploito – but I had to make sure I’d seen every single Steven Seagal film (thus far) before I posted. As of this week, finishing with the exceptionally horrible Ticker (2001), I’ve seen every single film that features Seagal. Sad, eh?
Next week, I’ll be delivering my picks for the five worst Seagal DTV efforts, but I wanted to start on a positive note. What I’d like to share with you today is my chosen five best from Seagal’s ongoing direct-to-video period that began with The Foreigner (2002) and is still going… uh… strong?
I’ve said it many times on this site: I genuinely love Steven Seagal films. Out for Justice (1991) and Marked for Death (1990) are two of my favourite action films ever and I think everything he starred in from Above the Law (1988) to Exit Wounds (2001) is extremely entertaining. That includes the amazing piece of shit that is On Deadly Ground (1994).
I enjoy his films on two levels – both as well-made action films and hilarious, ego-driven star vehicles. Above the Law aside, Seagal always plays a smug, smirking douche who loves delivering arrogant sermons to his irrelevant side characters. His characters, with names like “Mason Storm” and “Forest Taft”, are perfect men… at least in Seagal’s world, to anyone else they come across as preaching maniacs. Whether he’s an ex-CIA guy or ex-marine (he’s always an ex-something), Seagal rarely receives a scratch at the hand of the film’s villains. This is, of course, half the fun. Yes, his films are an unmatchable blend of solid action and solid laughs.
And this is exactly how I judge his DTV era, which is why my list may differ from some Seagal fans’ personal choices. Some of his “best” are horrifically bad, but they’re also a whole lot of fun. Of course, not one of Seagal’s DTV films come close to anything he made in the 90s. He’s fat, bored and often can’t even be bothered dubbing his own lines. But, believe it or not, a handful of these newer efforts are far better than you’d expect. Some even offer a glimpse of the Seagal of decades past. Others are worse than you could ever imagine. But first, let’s talk about the good…
THE FIVE BEST OF DTV ERA SEAGAL
Honourable mentions: A Dangerous Man (2009), Belly of the Beast (2003), Mercenary for Justice (2006), Pistol Whipped (2008)
INTO THE SUN 2005, mink
I’ve already discussed Into the Sun before on Mondo Exploito, so I won’t go into too much detail. I’m pretty sure most fans would agree that Into the Sun is one of the better Seagal DTV efforts. Seagal flings a sword around, wears some hilarious outfits and the Tokyo setting is pretty cool. There’s plenty of unintentional laughs from Seagal’s pathetic sidekick and a shudder-inducing doomed romantic subplot.
TODAY YOU DIE 2005, Don E. FauntLeRoy
Today You Die – which has to be the greatest title for a Seagal flick ever – has a terrible reputation. With a shockingly low (but not nearly as low as some of the Seagal films on next week’s list) IMDB rating of 3.9, I personally don’t quite understand the hate. Today You Die has a simplistic revenge plot that works nicely within the Seagal framework. Seagal is given his obligatory rapper sidekick, a few guns, a bad attitude and a reference book of poor dialogue. Today You Die is stupid, stupid stuff, but it is wildly entertaining and exactly what I want from a Seagal film: Seagal on a mindless warpath.
URBAN JUSTICE 2007, Don E. FauntLeRoy
From the director of Today You Die comes what is quite possibly the funniest of Seagal’s DTV efforts. In Urban Justice (Renegade Justice for those of us outside the USA), Seagal plays the “mysterious” Simon Ballister, a man hellbent on vengeance for the death of his son. However, Seagal doesn’t care about who organised the death of his police officer son. No, he only wants the shooter. That’s right. He doesn’t give a fuck who was actually behind the death of his fucking son! Amazing stuff. Urban Justice is littered with the shaky cam and shoddy editing that infects all of Seagal’s DTV films (and almost every action film post-Bourne Identity), but thankfully the action is at least brutal and over the top. Seagal is out of control in this film. He breaks bones left, right and centre; violently slaughtering everyone remotely involved in the death of his son – except, of course, those mostly responsible. Urban Justice also scores points for its inclusion of a few familiar faces. Washed up comedian Eddie Griffin makes for an enjoyable villain and Danny Trejo shows up in a cameo.
DRIVEN TO KILL 2009, Jeff King
Driven to Kill is definitely my favourite of the Steven Seagal DTV era. In a stroke of mad genius/stupidity, Seagal plays an ex-Russian mobster (he’s still Russian, but no longer a mobster). Seagal attempts a Russian accent with deliriously funny results. Better yet, the accent disappears about halfway through the film! Even funnier than the disappearing accent, Seagal’s character – Ruslan – is a crime novelist. Just picture Seagal and his wrinkled sausage fingers typing on a computer… yep, ludicrous. Driven to Kill follows a fairly unremarkable narrative path. It’s predictable and nothing new, but who the fuck cares about that? Sadly, the action is hard to follow and CGI gore is employed. But where Driven to Kill rises above the rest of Seagal’s DTV slop is that it actually has a bit of a personality. The film’s score references Russian folk music – it’s nothing like your typical action movie score, whether it be dodgy techno or stock orchestral loops – and Seagal seems to be enjoying himself. A satisfying finale and some decent scenes sprinkled throughout make Driven to Kill a worthwhile watch for Seagal fans.
MAXIMUM CONVICTION 2012, Keoni Waxman
You would – or at least I would – assume that there would be a steady decline in quality of Seagal DTV movies as the years roll by. Surprisingly, this isn’t the case. In fact, some of his worst efforts are his earliest. Maximum Conviction – his latest, at the time of writing this – is almost a real movie. It crumbles in its final act, but it has a decent set up and, other than the usual shaky camerawork and iMovie editing, it’s not too shoddily made. It features Seagal and Steve Austin as security experts who are decommissioning a prison. They take in two mysterious female inmates, then all hell breaks loose as mercenaries led by a nasty Michael Paré burst in to collect one of the newly arrived ladies. Seagal’s screen time is somewhat limited, but his performance is less catatonic than usual. Steven Austin is kind of terrible, but fun to watch. However, it’s ever reliable and criminally underrated Paré who elevates Maximum Conviction to a watchable level. He makes for a fantastic villain. Maximum Conviction is nothing special, but it is fun, albeit cheap and nasty, ride.
See you in a week’s time with the five worst. Oh dear.