USA, 2001. Rated R. 101 minutes.
Cast: Steven Seagal, DMX, Isaiah
Washington, Anthony Anderson, Michael Jai White, Bill Duke, Jill Hennessy,
Tom Arnold, Bruce McGill, David Vadim, Eva Mendes
|Grade: C+||Review by Carlo Cavagna|
amn if those maverick cops aren't stirring up trouble again! There must be a heckuva lot of maverick cops out there, because Steven Seagal never runs out of maverick cops to portray. Maybe you thought that the whole maverick-cop area of the human condition had been cinematically examined pretty thoroughly. But long after his maverick-cop-portraying colleagues from the 1980s (like Eddie Murphy and Mel Gibson) have moved on to non-maverick cop things, Seagal is still out there plying his trade. Which is playing maverick cops.
Seagal burst onto the scene with Above the Law, Hard to Kill, and Marked for Death… They all run together, but Seagal's perpetually scowling countenance, slicked back hair (with optional ponytail), and kung-fu moves stood out. Then came the Mystical Period. In 1997, one of Seagal's Buddhist teachers, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, announced that Seagal was a reincarnated Buddhist lama. As a result, in the 1990s (On Deadly Ground, The Glimmer Man, Fire Down Below, The Patriot), Seagal was still scowling and raising hell as one kind of maverick law enforcement officer or another, but doing so with enlightened sensitivity. Seagal's New Age Ass-Kicker persona didn't play as well at the box office, however, and his star began to wane.
Now Steven Seagal is fifty years old (can you believe it?) and launching a new decade of maverick law enforcement with Exit Wounds. All you really need to know about Exit Wounds is this: It's Seagal's best movie since Under Siege (where he stretched himself by playing a maverick former Navy S.E.A.L.), and he's ditched the prayer beads and Nehru jackets from The Glimmer Man, as well as some of the bloat.
This time, Seagal's maverick cop is named Orin Boyd, and the location is Detroit. When Boyd intervenes in the attempted assassination of the Vice President, he crosses over the line of acceptable maverick cop behavior once too often. So instead of the medal that he deserves (and would probably have received in the real world), he gets sent to the worst precinct in the city. There he continues to employ the consummate investigative techniques of a maverick cop--which is to say, he walks around and stumbles into major crimes being committed everywhere he goes--to uncover a cop-run heroin ring.
Seagal is more generous than usual here, sharing the screen with a surprisingly able, diverse, and, if you watch a lot of movies, recognizable cast that includes rap superstar DMX (Belly) as Latrell Walker, a drug kingpin with a mysterious past, and Anthony Anderson (Romeo Must Die, Two Can Play That Game) providing comic-relief as Latrell's henchman. Also featured are Isaiah Washington (Romeo Must Die, True Crime) as Boyd's new partner, Jill Hennessy (TV's Law & Order and Crossing Jordan), Michael Jai White (Spawn), Tom Arnold (True Lies and the Roseanne show--both on TV and in real life), and veteran character actors Bruce McGill (The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Insider) and Bill Duke (The Limey, Predator). Seagal has wisely done here what he did with Under Siege (and attempted to do with On Deadly Ground), surround himself with more talent than the project is worth. Arnold's comic relief doesn't work, but everyone else's efforts enhance the film, helping to make it watchable and entertaining.
The plot makes no sense, of course, but it's got enough twists and reversals to keep it from seeming too much like the throwaway story it really is. (Unfortunately, the biggest twist, which takes place more than halfway through the film, has been given away by the movie's advertisements, so don't read the video box.) To further disguise the story's weakness, not five minutes go by without some action. Directing it all is a cinematographer with a long action-film resume (Speed, Species, U.S Marshalls, and the action classic Terms of Endearment), Andrzej Barkowiak, who made his directorial debut with Romeo Must Die--a good-looking film though a bit slow and pretentious. Barkowiak proves to be a capable hand, as the action scenes are crisp and keep the film chugging along. They are reminiscent of the action in the Lethal Weapon movies, which may not be a coincidence, because Barkowiak was the cinematographer on Lethal Weapon 4.
Granted, saying that a movie is Seagal's best since Under Siege is not high praise. It's not intended to be. It's simply a way of saying, Seagal's in good form, the movie has high production values, and ass-kicking can be a load of fun once in awhile--emotionally cleansing and empowering, even, as long as it's not taken too seriously--no matter what our cultural arbiters, like Joseph Lieberman, say.
© September 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 Warner Bros.
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