A Third Stupid Time Mining the Seagal Seam…

What a long, strange trip Steven Seagal has taken. As mainstream stardom has left him further and further behind, Seagal has crept deeper and deeper into the extremely dubious bosom of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In between commissioning ghostwriters to write incoherent takedowns of Obama-era immigration policies in his name, Seagal has largely become infamous for bizarre Russian propaganda in which various Aikido students do energetic flips to trick people into thinking Seagal is tossing them about because they know if they don’t they’ll get a bullet in the back of the head. What Putin gets out of stroking the ego of this increasingly strange man with an increasingly dubious #MeToo record, I have no idea.

Similarly, I have no idea why I’m back reviewing more Seagal movies, save that there’s a certain horrible fascination in watching them these days. In my first and second articles on the man’s work, way back in Ferretbrain times, I more or less exhausted all his work which saw an actual cinematic release; this article is less systematic than those and is more of a grab-bag of some of his straight-to-DVD work. Watching these movies gently fail in front of you creates an experience which is deeply uncomfortable but also is difficult to look away from – like witnessing a slow-motion car crash, except most of these movies don’t have budgets that allow for really exciting car crashes.

Belly of the Beast

I don’t approve of this film on several levels. First off, I know Seagal had become a figure of fun by 2003, but that’s no reason for the titles of his movies to make fun of his weight. Secondly, Seagal’s back catalogue already has an unhealthy tendency towards orientalism which really, really doesn’t need to be exacerbated to the extent that Belly of the Beast does.

The movie opens in 1994 in Thailand. Seagal is playing Seagal, as usual; this time the name he’s using is Jake Hopper and he’s a CIA agent. Hopper and his partner Sunti (Byron Mann) are masquerading as drug barons as part of an operation to gain intelligence on drug cartels operating out of Burma. Such operations do not have a good success rate in Seagal films, especially when they occur at the start of the movie – remember Marked For Death? Sure enough, it turns out that Seagal and Sunti’s identities aren’t secure, and a gun battle breaks out at a meeting with the local narcotics cartel.

In the ensuing chaos, Sunti accidentally shoots and kills an innocent woman, which obviously he feels more than a little guilty about. Both Seagal and Sunti drop out of the CIA after the disaster; ten years afterwards, Sunti has gone to a Thai monastery to become a monk and forget about his past (I think there’s a monastery out there which specialises in providing such services for action heroes), Seagal has returned to the US and started up a freelance espionage business, which provides a handy excuse to show a fun little break-in sequence during the opening credits in which Seagal shows more energy and dynamism than he’d displayed in his last three cinema releases combined.

Seagal and Sunti are forced to swing into action when Seagal’s daughter Jessica (Sara Marakul Lane) and her friend Sarah Winthorpe (Elidh MacQueen), the daughter of a US Senator, are kidnapped whilst backpacking in Thailand. The kidnappers are apparently Abu Karaf, a local militant Islamist group. (Of course the terrorists are Muslims, this was 2003 and everyone had forgotten about all other forms of terrorism as far as filmmaking was concerned, but I have to give points to the filmmakers for acknowledging that not all terrorists come from the Middle East, and major points for the Islamist connection actually turning out to be a red herring and Seagal actually being willing to talk to them to see what the real deal is.)

Belly of the Beast was directed by Ching Siu-Tung, who’s had a long career as an action movie choreographer in Hong Kong, and he generally succeeds in making sure that the action scenes are entertaining, not least because he’s not afraid to stretch credibility a bit for the sake of getting some nice visuals. His main problem is Seagal; despite a spry performance during the opening credits (possibly by a stunt double), Seagal is just out of shape enough to become a liability in the later fights. The most tightly choreographed fight is a combat between Seagal and Sunti and a bunch of random ninja swordsmen, and it becomes clear that Seagal is the least fit and the most lethargic person present.

It’s not just the fighting where Seagal needs a little help. There are several parts of the film where Seagal’s dialogue has very obviously been dubbed by a completely different actor. Little was I to know that this would turn out to be part of an ongoing trend in his straight-to-DVD work – to my understanding, what tends to happen is Seagal is hired to act in a film, he’ll come along and put his days in, but he won’t do any work after that without getting paid even more, so often the cash-strapped producers are forced to bring in someone else to dub his lines if the dialogue needs changing for some reason – such as, for instance, it’s completely incomprehensible because Seagal delivers it with that drawling, disinterested mumble of his.

That’s not the only way in which Belly of the Beast, like many of Seagal’s other straight-to-DVD works, feels hastily cobbled together; the script by James Townsend and Siu-Tang’s direction have this fever dream quality to them, and it doesn’t feel like a deliberate artistic choice so much as the consequence of nobody wanting to admit they don’t understand what is going on. A bunch of stuff happens, and then there’s a competently done fight scene, and then a bunch of other stuff happens, but I found it really hard to focus on the stuff happening between the fights. The scenes involving the two captives stand out due to the fact that they’re really horrible and grim, with weeping and attempted rapes and screaming, but aside from them one scene tends to blend into the next.

The film gets bogged down as Seagal strolls through Bangkok nightclubs and bars supposedly seeking his daughter. There’s a US agent who’s meant to be stopping Seagal interfering but he disappears for half the film, turns up briefly after Seagal gets in trouble with the authorities, and then sort of disappears again until towards the end when it turns out that the CIA are behind it all (if the CIA are involved in a Seagal film they always turn out to be the bad guys). There’s a bar girl that Seagal befriends and which he has this really awkward sex scene with. There are a bunch of local characters who go around doing stuff, but the film doesn’t quite communicate who they are or why they’re important, which makes it kind of hard to follow what’s going on with them.

There’s a bit where a random girl shows up, leads Seagal into a little backroom, where she strips down until she is topless and runs warm water across her breasts, which causes a secret message that’s been written on her bust to briefly appear and then fade away. I have no idea what it was – I think it might have been an invitation to the rendezvous Seagal goes to in the next scene, but for all I knew it was “One Rack to Rule Them All…”. Imagine a whole film consisting of scenes like that assembled in random order, with little or nothing indicating what Seagal’s character thinks he is achieving or what any of this means for the kidnapped girls, and you’ve got a fair idea what Belly of the Beast is like. The script has lines like “If this happens again, you will be the apple”, for crying out loud.

The end of the movie picks up the pace a bit, but that just means that the good, bad, and insane aspects come at you fast and furious. There’s a fight with a transgender bar girl with a whip. There’s a weird beardy man who does sinister magic of some sort, whose occult practices are counteracted by a room full of monks praying because a missing white woman is worth mobilising all of Thai society for. The ethnic minority sidekick dies to make sure the white man gets what he wants. Seagal faces off against an archer, shoots one arrow off-course with a finely placed bullet, and slices another neatly in half with a sword. In the end, it’s all completely meaningless. This isn’t a movie, it’s just a bunch of scenes someone filmed and then edited together. There is a difference, believe it or not.

Out of Reach

The title of this one apparently refers to Seagal again, who the producers clearly weren’t able to reach in post-production to finish the movie of. Not only does his voice get dubbed over by a completely different actor here and there – including for the entire opening voiceover – but the movie opens with a long shot of someone who obviously isn’t Seagal walking in the woods, before it cuts to a closeup of someone who obviously is Seagal walking in the woods.

Anyway, the person who isn’t Seagal but is pretending to be Seagal tells us in the opening voiceover that Seagal is playing Seagal in the guise of William Lansing, a retired CIA agent who spends his time living on a wildlife sanctuary nursing wounded eagles to health. He’s pen pals with Irena Morawska (Ida Nowakowska), a 13 year old Polish orphan who lives in an orphanage that Lansing has donated money to. You might ask, as I did, “What sort of charity hooks up vulnerable children with adult pen pals in return for cash?” A creepy rape orphanage, that’s what! It turns out that local organised crime figures use the orphanage as their personal child farm, selecting appealing kids who won’t be missed to be sold on their human trafficking network. (There’s an extremely icky little ceremony where they pick out the kids to be trafficked by lining the children up and having one of the gangsters hand roses to the chosen ones.)

Inevitably, they pick Irena for the kidnapping and the creepy, creepy grooming, and Seagal realises that something’s up when her last letter to him is blatantly tampered with and he goes to look for her. Luckily, the child prostitution ring at the heart of the conspiracy has weirdly high production values – they do all sorts of things like making the children do little video dating-style introduction tapes for potential clients and so on, basically as a plot contrivance to delay Irena being sexually abused for long enough for Seagal to rescue her – and Irena has learned a number of cryptographic techniques through her correspondence with Seagal, which she uses to leave behind messages here and there to help his investigation.

The big problem this film has is that half of the time it wants to be a fun action movie of the sort Seagal specialises in and half the time it wants to be a grim and gritty rape mystery, and those are two flavours which really don’t fit together. The script is by Trevor Miller and Belly of the Beast’s James Townsend, who seems to really like incorporating horrible rape into Seagal’s films for some reason, and it includes some really nasty stereotypes. Of course the little Polish orphan boy is a kleptomaniac. Of course the Turkish Embassy is involved in procuring child prostitutes; apparently the best way to spice up a high society gathering is to give international dignitaries the chance to rape a deeply unhappy child in a dingy broom closet. Oh, and apparently the CIA are so upset with Seagal they’re even willing to work with child prostitution rings in order to get at him.

Po-Chih Leong’s uninspiring direction and forgettable acting from most of the cast (aside from Matt Schulze, who does a great job as people-smuggler Faisal) conspire to make sure that nothing of value is saved from the clutches of the appallingly bad script. Oh, and in the end Seagal only saves the girl he was corresponding with and the little thieving boy who was never abducted in the first place. Those other girls who got shipped over the world? It’s probably best not to think too hard about what happens to them.

Into the Sun

Yet again, Seagal begins a film in the employ of the CIA only to drop out after the first few scenes. This time, he’s playing himself using the name of Travis Hunter, who we meet as he and his squad are preparing to assassinate a Burmese drug baron. However, as they’ve got their sniper rifles out and are lining up the perfect shot, Seagal notices that two of the facility’s guards are attempting to rape a local woman and decides to intervene, botching the assassination attempt in the process.

After leaving the CIA, Travis ends up in Japan working as a sword salesman. He’s brought back into the loop by the CIA when a local anti-immigration politician is assassinated – apparently a sign of a growing alliance between the Yakuza, Chinese Tongs, and the drug cartels of the Golden Triangle. He’s paired up in the investigation with the impossibly incompetent FBI agent Sean Mac (Matthew Davis), who’s basically there to make Seagal look good. Sean knows nothing about Japanese culture, doesn’t speak Japanese, and can’t even eat with chopsticks, forcing you to wonder why the FBI thought it would be a brilliant idea to assign him to the Tokyo office. What’s more, he fumbles about with his gun and accidentally lets it off the first time he gets into any serious action. Not only does it not make any sense for the FBI to select him out of the talent pool they have available to go and work in Japan, but it doesn’t make any sense for him to pass the FBI’s internal training process to make full agent in the first place.

Meanwhile, of course, Sean’s utter ignorance of Japanese culture allows Seagal to show off his mastery of it and bask in Japan’s instant and unquestioning acceptance of him. Like Belly of the Beast, Into the Sun shows Seagal’s idolisation of the Far East in full blossom, with major indulgence of his fetish for all things Japanese. There’s Yakuza chopping off their fingers, there’s dancing geishas, there’s tea ceremonies, there’s Seagal and his beautiful Japanese fiancee (played by an extremely patient Kanako Yamaguchi) strolling around in the park looking at the cherry blossom, which is about the only thing they do aside from plan to get married and have a really abbreviated sex scene before the fiancee is killed off by the bad guys.

The script was written by Seagal himself, in collaboration with Joe Halpin and Out of Reach’s Trevor Miller, and aside from showing Seagal as being this super awesome guy who’s more Japanese than actual Japanese people it also features a restatement of the charming myth that the older Yakuza are basically good sorts who don’t let unpleasantness spill over outside the Yakuza’s little world and it’s the young upstarts who are the problem, which is the sort of story organised crime groups in general have loved for generations.

When all is said and done, Christopher Morrison’s direction isn’t terrible and at least provides some decent action sequences, Takao Osawa and Ken Lo both do a great job portraying the young Yakuza and Tong leaders behind the conspiracy, and Seagal appears to be actually present in his scenes and speaks all his dialogue this time, which puts this film mildly ahead of Belly of the Beast and Out of Reach. Aside from being a bit slow and far too indulging of culture tourism, it’s OK. Not good. But OK. That said, for a straight-to-DVD film the basic features of the DVD leave something to be desired; in particular, there’s no option to have English subtitles just for the bits that are in Japanese – you either have to have the subtitles turned on all the time, or you could end up not understanding crucial bits of dialogue unless you are bilingual.

Today You Die

Today You Die represents a major artistic departure for Seagal, in that it is the first time to my knowledge he plays a character who is not, and has never been, a cop or a secret agent or a commando of some kind, a break from his previous work as major and as earth-shaking as Radiohead putting away the guitars for Kid A, Patrick McGoohan quitting Danger Man to make The Prisoner, or Dylan going electric. Instead, he plays… well, fuck, he’s still playing Steven Seagal. But it’s Steven Seagal in the guise of Harlan Banks, a professional thief with a Robin Hood code of ethics. At the urging of his girlfriend Jada (Mari Morrow), a psychic who sees the future in her dreams and believes that Harlan killed her in a past life and then swore a blood oath to protect her in order to repent, Harlan decides to go straight, and heads to Las Vegas to accept a legitimate job from his good friend Max (Kevin Tighe), who is blatantly obviously a gangster.

Needless to say, what Seagal thought was a mere job conveying money from Max’s casinos to the bank turns out to be a holdup, and Seagal finds himself in the midst of a breakneck car chase with the police down the Las Vegas strip, with Max’s stooge Bruno (Robert Miano) holding a gun to his head. Shit hits the fan, cop cars flip over and get into explosions, and Seagal dumps the truck in an alleyway and flees, but is caught by the cops. He ends up in jail because having a gun held to your head doesn’t really excuse killing (or at the very least horrendously injuring) police officers, and because he can’t sell out Max to the feds because, apparently, Max was murdered the day of the robbery.

The robbery hasn’t gone unnoticed by the criminal fraternity, however – especially since nobody knows where the money is. So whilst Jada is being hassled on the outside (and, apparently, seems to be kicking a certain amount of ass just to protect herself) by treasure-hunters, Seagal’s very presence on the inside sparks off a gang war between opposing factions – one of which prominently includes Bruno, who may be working for the not-actually-dead Max – who are determined to find out where the treasure is. In the company of fellow inmate Ice Cool (Treach), Seagal decides to escape and take down Max.

The script by Kevin Moore and the uncredited Les Weldon (based on a story by Danny Lerner) is, to put it bluntly, not subtle – there’s a bit where Jada is talking to Seagal about how they need to stop worrying about all the poor people they give stolen money to and start need to thinking about their own needs, and then they drive past a children’s hospital with an enormous “Closing Down” sign in the front and a pretty little sick girl wrapped in blankets in a wheelchair looking sad, though it’s spiced up by the occasional bit of occult weirdness – like Jada’s visions, the occult protection sigils set up in safehouses, and the occasional implication that Max dabbles in black magic.

Likewise, the direction by Don E. FauntLeRoy is by and large straightforward, but he throws in the occasional little trick to show that he’s a bit smarter than your average director of Seagal straight-to-video flicks – I especially liked the use of brief flashes whilst Jada and Harlan are talking in jail to tell a little story about how Jada shot and killed an intruder in her home who was after the money, even as she’s telling Seagal that she’s just getting threatening phone calls. The cumulative effect is that the movie resembles a Seagal film scripted by Tim Powers – a light-hearted action romp with an otherworldly undertone which becomes explicit in the final confrontation with Max in his Satanic hideout.

The action sequences, by the way, are the best in any Seagal film for years – there’s a fantastic bit with a fight in a warehouse between two rival gangs which Seagal and Treach intervene in towards the end to mop up the remains, and the car chase towards the start is excellent. Likewise, what talky bits occur during the film are kept short and too the point, avoiding Seagal’s tendency towards long silences and mumbly lectures about philosophy and engines that run on water. That said, if you look closely there are the occasional bits that confirm the film’s direct-to-video origins – like fight scenes where Seagal is wearing a brown coat which include the occasional shot where he’s fighting in a black coat in a completely different location, and few really ropey-looking bluescreen shot which reveals that Seagal and Treach were never actually at some of the outdoor locations.

Between Jada, Treach, and Treach’s contacts, Seagal comes into contact with a large number of black characters in this film, and we’ve learned that Seagal’s record with films with a significant ethnic minority cast is patchy to say the least, but in general my SJW instincts twitched less this time around than it did for any of Seagal’s other direct-to-video movies. Granted, there’s the occasional bit where Seagal tries to act all “gangsta”, but the response from the other characters present tends to be one of bemused embarrassment, coupled with an understandable willingness to indulge the man who knows where the $20 million dollars are hidden.

That said, the film doesn’t quite get out of dodgy territory – it’s set in a Grand Theft Auto-like world of warring gangs split by ethnicity, with black, Asian and white gangs all warring for the cash, so the film’s treatment of race is slightly not OK in the same way that Grand Theft Auto is slightly not OK . Likewise, switching Minority Warrior clubs from my race iron to the gender putter, I kind of wish Jada and Agent Knowles (Sarah Buxton) actually got to do a bit more, although Jada at least gets to kill someone in a flashback which is a better deal than Knowles gets. Still, all of this is baseline Hollywood fail rather than anything like the achievements above and beyond the call of fail on show in On Deadly Ground.

But even this can’t spoil the best Seagal film for a long time. Even the acting is pretty good in this – Kevin Tighe is a lot of fun as Max, especially since he works on maintain the ambiguity as to whether Max is actually possessed or is just a crazy person who thinks he’s possessed. Robert Miano also offers a decent turn as Bruno, who goes from endearingly grouchy security guard to recurring menace with ease. Treach seems to be just along for the ride, but he is at least able to pull off a decent action scene along with Seagal, who seems to have more energy than he did for his last few films. As well as being the most professional-looking and high-quality direct-to-video film in Seagal’s back catalogue so far, Today You Die is easily his best film since Exit Wounds, and might just be his best since Under Siege.

Black Dawn

This is actually the sequel to The Foreigner, a previous Seagal straight-to-DVD film, making it the first Seagal sequel since Under Siege 2, though you could argue that all of his films are sequels to each other. Seagal plays Seagal reprising the role of Jonathan Cold, a former CIA agent gone freelance. After being hired by petty crook James Donovan (John Pyper-Ferguson) to spring his arms-dealing brother Michael Donovan (Julian Stone) from jail, he ends up caught up in Michael’s scheme to obtain a nuclear bomb and some delicious plutonium to fuel it, and sell them to Chechen terrorist Nicholi (Nicholas Davidoff), who intends to blow up LA because the CIA killed his former boss (because Chechen terrorists don’t have any targets higher up their hit list…). Matters are complicated by Cold’s former assistant, CIA agent Amanda Stuart (Tamara Davies), who’s been keeping tabs on Donovan’s operation and has to work out whether Cold has really turned or is looking to destroy the deal from the inside.

That all sounds like a good premise for a Seagal film, but director Alexander Gruszynski starts out poorly with an overlong title sequence consisting of brief scenes of interactions between the Chechen terrorists, with ominous-sounding bits of dialogue sampled and repeated over and over again until it gets beyond irritating. The movie picks up once Michael is out of the slammer and Amanda is on the scene. The script by Martin Wheeler adeptly juggles three separate factions – the Donovans obtaining the items required, the Chechens getting the money together to get the stuff, and Amanda’s investigations, with Cold in the middle of all of them playing his own game – and as long as it focuses on doing that it’s pretty decent. Unfortunately, towards the end of the film it turns out that the CIA is secretly running drugs and we’re back to the tired old conspiracy theory ramblings that plague any Seagal film where the CIA is involved (which is 90% of them).

As far as Tamara Davies’ performance goes, whilst it’s great to see her get to mix it up in a few cool gunfights and pull off some awesome stunts too – like the bit where she’s clinging to the edge of a speeding truck during a car chase which is probably the best action sequence in the film – it’s not great the way she ends up screamy and hysterical in many scenes. I mean, she’s a CIA agent, she should be able to deal with this shit, but instead we get the usual action movie refusal to believe that women are capable of maintaining their cool under pressure.

Aside from that, there’s really not much to say about this film. It’s not entertainingly horrible but it doesn’t really have very much to recommend it either. The most amusing thing about it is probably the lame special effects when the nuke goes off at the end, which are are painfully bad. That’s it.

Shadow Man

This time Seagal plays Seagal again, only this time he’s Jack Foster, a widowed former CIA agent turned Fortune 500 CEO and martial arts teacher with funky chi abilities that give him the power to explode watermelons. Jack heads off with his daughter Amanda (Skye Bennett) and his CIA executive father-in-law George (Michael Elwyn), on a holiday to Romania because it’s quite cheap to film there to visit Jack’s dead wife’s birthplace. Blah blah CIA conspiracies blah blah chemical weapon developed by the MK Ultra project (which I thought was about mind control in real life), blah blah blah blah blah George gets blown up by a car bomb and Amanda gets kidnapped by Anya (Eva Pope), a mysterious taxi driver. It transpires that George has given the formula for the chemical weapon to either Amanda or Jack – most likely without them knowing it – and the FSB, CIA, and everyone else wants to get their hands on it.

This is a reasonable concept for a Seagal film, but for some reason the film just doesn’t quite gel. There’s an excessive use of shaky-cam, especially when a car chase is happening, which is delivered in the artless fashion of someone trying to be arty but just ends up making it hard to concentrate on the film, and the script is sketchy enough to make it really hard to follow what’s going on. A guy called Harry who we are supposed to infer is yet another CIA colleague of Jack’s shows up in the airport just before George gets blown up and Jack just plain trusts him right up to the point where Harry betrays him and it’s slightly too late to do much about it. Characters drift in and drift out, we’re not really kept up to speed on whether the people Jack is fighting right now are FSB or CIA, there’s a really strange bit where Jack randomly knocks over a drug dealer’s mansion for cash which, whilst including a pretty good fight scene, doesn’t quite establish why he’s doing that when he’s an executive at a major corporation and so presumably has more than enough savings in the bank.

There are a few good set-pieces – the fight with the drug dealers is great, and the best part of the film is bit where Seagal uses random objects found in a safehouse to improvise some traps and a homemade shotgun; one of the few things Seagal is good at is fiddling around with small objects in a purposeful and methodical manner, so the McGuyver ripoff works quite well. The downside is that the connecting tissue between the action set-pieces is too weak to give them the impact they should have. There’s also a really horrible bit where Seagal garottes Eva Pope to try and force her to tell him where his daughter is – and yes, almost immediately afterwards the FSB goons do the same sort of thing to her with a plastic bag, so I can tell they’re trying to establish parallels between him and them, but the net effect of that scene is to make me lose any sympathy with Seagal’s character. Similarly, when Anya kills an innocent cop and Seagal convinces her it’s no big deal I end up disliking both of them.

There are two things notable about this movie. The first is that it includes the worst dialogue Seagal has ever delivered. This comes after Eva takes her top off and sits in front of him in a “hey, I’m just wearing my bra over here” sort of a way:

I wanted to say something to you – you know, seems to me you’d like everybody think you’re this ice… cold-hearted woman. But I know you. I see your heart. You’re soft, you’re sensitive, you’re loving and you’re caring. And I thank you.

As you can see, Steven Seagal mushy talk is the worst mushy talk and I feel angry at director Michael Keusch didn’t cut it.

The other notable thing is that the movie includes the worst special effect in a professionally produced movie I have ever seen. It’s almost as though Seagal churns out badly-made, half-finished trash these days.

Attack Force

There’s really big warning signs over this one from the very start. From the beginning, a large proportion of Seagal’s dialogue is dubbed by an actor who doesn’t sound like Seagal and doesn’t even try to sound like Seagal. (Looking closely, I think a certain proportion of the other actors’ dialogue was dubbed as well, but everyone except Seagal dubbed their own lines). Apparently the dubbing was due to the plot being extensively changed after filming was mostly done, so you know we’re not in for one of Seagal’s more coherent movies. (In some ways it’s appropriate that Seagal doesn’t sound like Seagal in this movie, mind – because on the DVD cover, as has become customary, he doesn’t really look like Seagal, or at least not like Seagal as he actually appears in the film. In fact, it looks very much like they copy-pasted a Nico-era publicity shot of Seagal over Keanu Reeves’ head in a Matrix publicity shot.)

This time Seagal is playing… you guessed it, he’s playing Seagal. This time, he’s in the guise of Marshall Lawson, commander of an elite US army commando unit with links to the Majestic chemical weapons research group. When sent on a covert assignment to Paris, the younger team members decide that the best way to prepare for a difficult and complex assignment is to go to a strip club, get really drunk, and invite a prostitute (Evelyne Armela O’Bami) back to their hotel room for a four-way. (Meanwhile, Seagal and his second in command Dwayne (David Kennedy) sit around sipping fine liquor and smoking cigars.) Things go a little wrong when Reina, the young woman in question, flips out and kills them with the assistance of Aroon (Adam Croasdell), the nightclub owner she works for. Marshall and Dwayne’s investigations reveal that Aroon is in fact an ex-military scientist who went AWOL. Aroon was the co-inventor of CTX, a drug which turns its users into psychotic killers – and he intends to release it into the Parisian water supply because…

I have no fucking idea why he wants to do that, but Seagal has to stop him – and to do that calls in Tia (Lisa Lovbrand), the scientist who co-developed CTX with Aroon.

I suspect, however, that the CTX thing was invented for the revised plot. The way the CTX addicts kill some of their victims with bites to the neck, the fact that they hang out in spooky gothic castles, references to “the infection” (chemicals aren’t infectious) and suggestions that you need to use special weapons to kill the CTX addicts makes me suspect that the original plot wasn’t about sinister drugs at all. In particular, the way the “heightened adrenalin” of the CTX gives them the power to knock over thick stone walls, apparently teleport, and causes their eyes to blink in an abnormal fashion goes well beyond anything you could believably expect a drug to do – especially the blinking thing, which would require the drug to change the physical structure of their eyes. No, I think this was a vampire movie which had the vampires turned into drug addicts when the backers got scared that a Steven Seagal movie with vampires wouldn’t work. (He would eventually do a vampire film though, Against the Dark, so my dream of seeing Seagal invade Forks High School to take down the plague of vampires there comes one step closer.)

As all of the oddities and plot holes outlined above indicate, the removal of the vampire angle simply doesn’t work – there’s too many plot holes left behind and too many stylistic choices that suggest vampirism. Most of all, Aroon’s plan to dump CTX in the water supply makes very little sense, except as a way to justify disturbing scenes where the military burst into darkened houses and restaurants, line people up, and watch people’s eyes to see if they blink – and then callously killing them if they blink in that funny way the CTX addicts do. Such scenes are mildly horrifying if CTX is just a drug (surely the addicts could just go cold turkey?), but make sense if the film is actually about the military trying to contain an outbreak of vampirism. (Most of all, even though Aroon declares he intends to put CTX in the water supply, he never makes any effort to actually do it, but a bunch of people get infected addicted anyway.)

The parts of the film which do seem more or less polished don’t quite work. The visual style is limp and uninteresting. The scene in which Reina uses her powers most blatantly involves her wearing a mainly brown ensemble and killing two men whose clothes also tend towards brown in a brown castle, with a brown filter over all of that. Nigh-monochromatic scenes seem to be in vogue, and whilst in the hands of a particularly talented director it might work well, but Michael Keusch this time around just doesn’t seem to be able to make it work. The script by Joe Halpin and Steven Seagal is as utterly lifeless and dull as any of Seagal’s movies.

But what would be major flaws in other films are mere stumbles compared to the central problem of this film, which is that it simply isn’t finished. There is no fucking excuse for dubbing half of Seagal’s lines with an actor who doesn’t even slightly sound like Seagal – either dub them all or reach into your pocket to get Seagal to finish the job, because only dubbing half the lines sounds stupid. Worse still is the way the film only does half the work of changing the plot to revolve around CTX instead of vampires – by the end of the movie the commandos still end up wandering around a sinister dungeon with spooky whispers and sudden attacks from the darkness spicing things up, but I have no idea how they got there, what they intend to achieve, what the CTX addicts intend to achieve, or why anyone thought this film was in a fit state to release.

It is painfully obvious that the producers ran out of money partway through removing the vampire angle, and what we see on the screens is the twisted, stitched-together remains of a horribly butchered movie, a film which might have been stupid fun if it had stuck to its guns but as it stands simply doesn’t make any sense.

Flight of Fury

Flight of Fury opens with the CIA trying to wipe Steven Seagal’s mind, presumably to make him forget he’s an actor and stop making horrible movies. He’s playing himself, as usual, and this time he bears the name of John Sands, an Air Force pilot who’s seen too much and is trying to keep his head down after escaping from the memory-erasing facility. When he’s caught by the police after foiling a convenience store robbery with vastly excessive violence, he’s brought in by his former commander General Tom Barnes (Angus MacInnes doing his best Richard Crenna impersonation), who wants him to track down a stolen prototype of the next generation of stealth aircraft – a plane that thanks to the power of cheap CGI can actually turn invisible (like Wonder Woman’s plane!). The twist is that the aircraft was stolen by one of its test pilots – Ratcher (Steve Toussaint), who was trained by Seagal and is about as good as him – and Ratcher has taken it to Afghanistan for the use of Peter Stone (Vicenzo Nicoli), leader of a band of mercenaries who collaborate with anti-US terrorists as part of an insane campaign of revenge. Apparently, these mercenaries are currently collaborating with the Taliban’s air force, because they’re plotting to use it to mount an attack with biological weapons against America! Can Seagal defeat those naughty Islamists before it’s too late?

Seagal co-produced this one with Michael Kreusch, who also wrote and directed it, and in Kreusch Seagal has found a true partner in incompetence. This a film that could only have been written and directed by someone who knows absolutely nothing about Afghanistan. Everyone in the part of Afghanistan the film takes place in talks with British or American accents (with the occasional Eastern European accent) and dress in Western clothing, so you would never know the film took place in central Asia if the script weren’t regularly reminding you. Secondly, whilst Eliana Reed (Katie Jones) does a great job as Stone’s second in command is cool but I’m not sure the Taliban would be especially keen on collaborating with folks who let women lead men into battle. Actually, I’m pretty sure there aren’t any Afghan-based insurgents who are rich enough to hire a mercenary group so well-equipped they can actually maintain a small air force. Stone’s group are are described as “Black Sunday”, apparently a reference to the Black September organisation, so as well as being supremely ignorant about the situation in Afghanistan Kreusch’s view of international terrorism seems to around forty years out of date.

The fails just keep piling up. There’s a really crass sequence where Reed is distracted from searching the home of Jessica (Ciera Payton), a local CIA asset, when Ciera flashes her tits at her and makes out with her before stealing her gun. Stone himself is described as having a Muslim mother and a British father, so apparently “Muslim” is a nationality these days. (Presumably it’s the term for a citizen of the Nation of Islam.) The mercenaries occasionally say things like “The Americans are entering our airspace!” and the US forces say things like “That’s in the no-fly zone!”, which implies that the US is in the business of recognising terrorist groups’ claims to airspace these days, and I’m fairly sure that’s not the case.

So the script is appalling. The direction is also sixth-rate. Yet again, Seagal is dubbed at points by another actor, although this time the actor in question is at least trying to sound like Seagal. The film is padded out with epic amounts of elderly-looking stock footage of actual stealth fighters to pad the film out and long scenes of running around in a quarry shooting at each other which resembles a paintball game more than a covert op. I can’t bear to waste any more time analysing this thing. I’m done.

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