Steven Seagal

THE ASIAN CONNECTION

The Asian Connection title

2016 – Amateur bank robbers Jack (John Edward Lee) and Sam (Byron Gibson) run afoul of Cambodian drug lord Gan Sirankiri (STEVEN SEAGAL) when they unwittingly steal a cache of his money during a heist. 

As with his previous movie, Sniper: Special Ops, the cover art for [The] Asian Connection is a tad misleading. See that guy in the background, just over Steven Seagal’s God-like right shoulder? He’s our star. See those cars tumbling through the air on that brightly-lit highway? That never happens. See Seagal? Yeah, of course you do. He’s the bad guy, a kind of righteous spiritual martial arts drug lord with a soft heart and a great reverence for fish.

The movie opens very promisingly, with Sirankiri having a sit-down with a rival drug lord to hash out some drug-related stuff. It’s not really important; what IS important is that they decide the only way to settle things is via sword duel. Sirankiri says that this puts him at a disadvantage, as his foe is a master with the blade. I don’t want to give away this scene’s twist ending, but Sirankiri may be slightly more skilled with the blade than he lets on.

I, for one, would have been happy seeing a movie focused on Seagal’s drug lord character. He may be the bad guy, but he lives a fascinating life. He’s from America but he has an Asian name, and his chief lieutenant is a guy named Klahan Sirankiri (Byron Bishop). Are they brothers? Distant relations? Did Klahan save Gan’s life and Gan took his last name as a sign of gratitude and friendship? We never know.

Sirankiri also has a startlingly large-breasted Asian girlfriend who he appears to be training in martial arts. He grows roses in his back yard. He is interrupted during a lecture on how the fish is “the most important sentient being,” and we never learn what the hell he was talking about. It’s like you’re at the multiplex watching a crappy movie about a generic Jack Nicholson wannabe, but you keep catching glimpses of a more fascinating film on your way to the bathrooms.

Tragically, we have to spend most of our time with this Jack fellow, who has few discernible character traits aside from liking his girlfriend Avalon (Pim Bubear). Jack and the hot-headed but much more entertaining Sam are stuck in one of those awkward situations where the drug lord’s treacherous henchman is forcing them to rob more banks so that he can steal the boss’s money. This henchman is the “Asian connection” of the title, because he’s Jack’s connection. And he’s Asian.

Robbing banks is especially easy in Cambodia, it seems. Every one of them has the exact same layout, employs one or fewer guards, and has lots of money in convenient stacks in the vault. The police also have a strict “one car per bank robbery” rule, so they’re never especially effective.

We’re supposed to see Jack and Avalon as one of those doomed True Romance-type couples, but they’re just annoying and poorly-acted. Avalon doesn’t seem too concerned that the heap of money in their bedroom is obviously stolen; instead she asks Jack, “Why don’t you do me on all this cash?” When was the last time you heard the term “do me” in any context?

Michael Jai White is in the movie for all of two seconds, but why anyone would care is beyond me. He’s another one of these “why is he famous” guys to me. Is it because he was in The Dark Knight? So was Anthony Michael Hall, but you don’t see everyone slobbering over his tiny role in Foxcatcher. And yes, by this logic, Michael Jai White : The Asian Connection :: Anthony Michael Hall : Foxcatcher. Deal with it.

In the grand pantheon of Seagal movies, this ranks pretty low. It also follows the recent trend of very minimal involvement; it makes me fear for the rest of 2016’s Seagalian releases.

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SNIPER: SPECIAL OPS

Sniper Special Ops
2016 – On a mission to rescue a kidnapped US Congressman from Taliban fighters, sniper Jake Chandler (STEVEN SEAGAL) is left behind and must hold out until his comrades can return.

This is a very different type of Steven Seagal movie, in that it contains very minimal amounts of Steven Seagal. The majority of the film focuses on the efforts of the rest of his unit to get back to him and the wounded comrade he stayed behind to protect. Every once in a while, we’ll cut back to Seagal sitting in a room, staring out the window. There aren’t any classic Seagal lines; there’s no hand-to-hand fighting; he doesn’t even get the girl at the end.

All that said, Sniper: Special Ops is a good movie. The acting is in the decent-to-okay range (except for Three-Headed Shark Attack‘s Rob Van Dam), there’s some tense action (especially the opening sequence), and the plot is free from the unnecessary complications that plagued Seagal’s earlier direct-to-video efforts.

The real main character is Vic, played by Tim Abell – an honest-to-God real life Army Ranger who plays his role with convincing toughness, humor, and charm. He’s the kind of guy who isn’t afraid to bend the orders of his superior, Colonel Jackson (Dale Dye, who you may recognize as Captain Garza from both Under Siege movies) if it means getting a shot at rescuing his friends and taking out a local warlord.

Abell really carries the film, and he’s a good enough actor to make even Rob Van Dam seem halfway competent. The other standout character is Janet (Charlene Amoia), an embed reporter who everyone avoids like the plague because she’s an Admiral’s niece and a “jinx.” I don’t want to give anything away, but she turns out to be cool, competent, and capable of kneeing a terrorist in the balls and telling him to burn in Hell. Now THAT’S how you establish credentials for a character, Star Wars Episode VII.

What will likely upset most viewers is the real lack of classic Seagalian stuff. Considering that he’s billed first, and he’s the only character on the DVD cover art, AND the trailer focuses entirely on him, I can see why people might feel… misled. But look on the bright side: this shows that Steven is still a bankable star that can put a movie over the top. At this stage in his career, he’s like a late-80s Andre the Giant – not what he once was, but still a respected enough force to give a push to up-and-coming talent.

There’s one moment, at the very end, that plays almost like an homage to Seagal’s entire career. He’s been wearing his sunglasses the entire movie, but as Janet approaches him he finally takes them off and gives her his trademark squint. They have the following exchange:

Janet: Are you really as good as they all say you are?

Seagal: …Every once in a while.

Yeah, Janet. He is. Haven’t you ever seen Marked for Death?

Sniper: Special Ops is, admittedly, a niche movie, but it’s a pleasant surprise as opposed to the typical big, bloated disappointment that most major studio films turn out to be.

Despite minimal screen time, Seagal still manages to kill 20 bad guys.

ABANDONED MINE

Abandoned Mine Poster

2013: Four friends and one stereotypical Indian spend Halloween night inside the spooky Jarvis Mine. It’s supposedly haunted (it isn’t haunted [OR IS IT??? {No, it’s not (Well, maybe)}]).

I’m going to spoil this one, but trust me, you’re never going to want to see it. Imagine an episode of Dawson’s Creek and an episode of Scooby-Doo mating; this movie would be their deformed, tedious offspring. It can’t decide whether it wants to be an angsty teen drama or a creepy ghost adventure, so, like a blindfolded kid attacking a pinata, it takes halfhearted swipes at both and ends up hitting itself in the nuts.

The viewing experience was like taking a 95-minute dump without a book or cell phone to entertain myself; it was that appallingly dull. No opportunity to drag things out is squandered, like the montage of the girls trying on Halloween costumes accompanied by a song repeating “I’m going craaaaazy o-ver you” again and again. Or the scene where one of the girls gets up to pee and we watch her do so in real-time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie portray the full experience of urinating. Now I have (the movie is Abandoned Mine).

The premise, with annoying jock Brad (Reiley McClendon) setting up a spend-the-night-at-the-haunted-mine adventure for his friends, is promising. The characters themselves are not. The gang consists of Brad’s current girlfriend Sharon (Alexa Vega), football henchman Jimmy (Adam Hendershott), ex-girlfriend Laurie (Sage Thompson), and Laurie’s friend Ethan (Charan Prabhakar). Note that Ms. Vega appeared in 1996’s The Glimmer Man as Steven Seagal’s daughter, immediately making her the most accomplished member of the cast.

Did I mention Ethan is Indian? I feel I should, because that is his character. Being Indian, he is of course extremely smart and emotionless. Much “fun” is had with how his real name is hard to pronounce. He tells everyone that he worked in a call center in Calcutta, but later admits he never did (huh?). He also knows a lot about mines – because he’s smart, remember? Random mine trivia about how sound travels and how air flows and how the tunnels are constructed. At one point he determines how far below the surface they are. “How did you know that?” one of them asks. “Calculation,” he replies. OF COURSE!

Eventually everyone wanders into the mine, falls down a shaft, and panics. They are beset by bone-chilling horrors like MUSIC PLAYING! DRAFTS! OLD BOXES! And NARROW TUNNELS! They wander about, encounter some spoooooky bats, and at the 56 minute mark it becomes painfully obvious what the “twist” is going to be. Surprise, everybody! There are no ghosts, and Brad is masterminding an elaborate (if illogical) practical joke on everyone. The movie unveils this unsurprising development in a series of “reveal” shots like it’s The Sixth Sense or something

After over an hour of listless attempts at horror – a character puts on an old miner’s hat OH NO nothing happens – the movie throws us another curve: Brad’s prank has worked all too well, with Laurie and Ethan running terrified into the bowels of the mine. Convinced that the ghosts are going to get her, Laurie goes nuts, puts on a feathered headdress, bites the head off a rat (no kidding), and beats Brad to death with a metal pole when he comes looking for her. Brad also sees the oft-referenced ghosts of the miner and his daughters before he dies. What? It doesn’t matter.

Pfffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff

Pfffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff

Everyone else lives. There’s a sad little wrap-up about Brad basically being a loser who would have been trapped forever in their piss-ant mountain town, and then we cut to Laurie editing together the footage from the tragic night. She looks out the window and sees the ghosts from the mine. What? Nobody cares.

Now, I ask you… why make a movie like this? Why start with a premise like “haunted mine” and try to pull off a coming-of-age drama instead? Why include two brief shots of (maybe) actual ghosts at the very end? Were the ghosts there the whole time or merely the product of the characters’ over-stressed minds? Was Brad really just a prankster or did he have darker motivations? Did any of the friends notice or care that Laurie killed him? Did the police? His parents? Anyone?

You'll wait 88 minutes for this. Worth it? No.

You’ll wait 88 minutes for this. Worth it? No.

More like A-BAD-oned Mine, am I right?

 

AXE GIANT: THE WRATH OF PAUL BUNYAN

2013 – Young adults at a first-time offenders’ boot camp discover the legend of the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan is real, but is much more horrifying than they could have imagined.

Rejoice, my twos and threes of readers! After a lengthy starting-a-new-job-and-having-it-drain-all-my-creative-passion exodus, I have returned to help you answer life’s pressing movie-related questions. Foremost among these today is: how can a movie entitled Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (or AGTWOPB) not be the greatest movie ever made?

Here’s the thing: bad movies are only good when they’re not supposed to be bad. It’s like watching someone pretend to trip vs. seeing a legitimate tumble – or, for instance, watching Sharknado as opposed to The Room. The key ingredient is the knowledge that the filmmakers were trying to make something good and failing gloriously in the attempt.

The makers of AGTWOPB consciously set out to make a cheap, bad horror movie. Tragically, they shouldn’t have even had to try. Paul Bunyan is really a gigantic, near-immortal mutant who goes on a bloody killing spree because some kid steals the horn of Babe, the long-dead blue ox? How can that turn into such a dull, lifeless, forgettable affair? In the interest of time (we’ve got a lot of ground to cover) I’ll run through my main complaints:

  1. There are too many characters with too little screen time. Who is the hero? We should know who to root for within 3 minutes of the opening credits.
  2. The deaths were not creative enough. Decapitations get old after three or four.
  3. There’s a pathetic shoehorned-in sympathetic backstory for Bunyan. I don’t care. This isn’t King Kong.

The only glimmer of hope I have is that the ending leaves things wide open for a Friday the 13th style sequel where Bunyan’s corpse could re-animate at the bottom of a lake. With that in mind, I’m proposing a big-budget, star-studded remake to turn this cinematic dump into the cash cow franchise it deserves to be.

Joe Estevez as Meeks
Axe Giant Joe Estevez The legendary bad movie actor plays a standard “crazy old coot” who warns the kids about Bunyan but then turns out to be sort of in league with him (I guess). Let’s upgrade to the most respected Estevez, Martin Sheen, who can re-capture some of his Spawn-era glory with a hammy turn here.

Axe Giant Martin Sheen

Dan Haggerty as Foreman Bill

Axe Giant Dan Haggerty

Foreman Bill is the guy who goes off to take a dump at the beginning of the movie after killing Babe the blue ox. We need a big, imposing brute for this role, and there’s nobody bigger or more brutish sans makeup than Ron Perlman. He’s down for anything.

Ron Perlman Axe Giant

Thomas Downy as Sgt. Hoke

Axe Giant Thomas Downey

He’s “the jerk.” The movie blew a real opportunity with this character, a guy who’s such a bastard that he makes up a song about what a bastard he is and forces everyone else to sing it. Unfortunately, Hoke just isn’t given time to blossom. This role is an opportunity for a badass actor to really ham it up and chuckle at himself, meaning it’s perfect for my long-dreamed-of Steven Seagal career revival.

Axe Giant Steven Seagal

Amber Connor as CB

Axe Giant Amber Connor

She’s “the good girl” among the no-good kids at the boot camp. This is the perfect role for a young up-and-comer who needs all the exposure she can get – think Jennifer Lawrence in Last House on the Left. As a matter of fact, hell, let’s just go with Jennifer Lawrence. It’ll give her a chance to prove that her “golly gee I’m so excited to be meeting all the big movie stars because I’m just a regular ol’ gal” routine is as genuine as we all know it isn’t.

Axe Giant Jennifer Lawrence

Tim Lovelace as Tanner

Axe Giant Tim Lovelace

He’s “the sheriff” and CB’s dad. Another of the movie’s many maybe-heroes. We need a washed-up older guy who still has convincing tough guy credentials. Call in Gary Busey before he succumbs to that stroke he’s been working on the past 20 years.

Axe Giant Gary Busey

Jesse Kove as Zack

Axe Giant Jesse Kove

He’s “the other jerk,” the sullen kid everyone hates who turns out to maybe have a bit of a heart before the end. When you think “jerk everyone hates,” you think Shia LaBoeuf, right? Yeah, I did, too. Just look at him. Jerk.

Axe Giant Shia LaBeouf

Kristina Kopf as Ms. K

Axe Giant Kristina Kopf

The goodhearted counselor who is the yang to Sgt. Hoke’s yin, Ms. K is the third member of the movie’s confusing “too many heroes” triumvirate. What we need here is an older, halfway-respectable actress who just doesn’t care anymore. Clearly, as evidenced by her role as Young Hillary Clinton in those awful-looking Divergent movies, Kate Winslet fits the bill.

Axe Giant Kate Winslet

Jill Evyn as Trish

Axe Giant Jill Evyn

She’s “the red-haired slut” and fulfills (barely) the movie’s requisite topless scene. Since she has red hair I was going to suggest replacing her with Bryce Dallas Howard

Axe Giant Bryce Dallas Howard

…but since she also shows her boobs, I’m going to go with Kat Dennings. Just… because.

Axe Giant Kat Dennings

Clifton Williams as Marty

Axe Giant Clifton Williams

We’ve come to “the black guy.” This character doesn’t do much, save for one scene where he screams and cries mournfully. Therefore, the actor most perfectly equipped to portray Marty is Will Smith’s Son. I’m not going to bother to look up his name.

Axe Giant Will Smith Son

Victoria Ramos as Rosa

Axe Giant Victoria Ramos

Again, as the cast’s requisite “non-white woman,” poor Rosa is rather neglected in the screenplay. She is Hispanic, however, and therefore we have no choice but to cast Michelle Rodriguez in the part.

Axe Giant Michelle Rodriguez

Chris Hahn as Bunyan

Axe Giant Chris Hahn

Nothing against Mr. Hahn, but we’re going to need to power up and cast Kane Hodder, a.k.a. Jason, as the monstrous mountain man.

Axe Giant Kane Hodder

I would also accept Andrew Bryniarski.

Axe Giant Andrew Bryniarski

For now, though, if you want an entertainingly bad movie with almost the exact same plot, check out Grizzly Park.

BORN TO RAISE HELL – 4/30/2014

2010 – 4.5 out of 10 stars on IMDB

Everyone has “their guy,” an actor whose movies you’ll watch no matter how horrendous they might seem. My guy is Steven Seagal.

As an actor, director, writer, and even as a musician, Seagal is completely unique (I’ll direct you to Vern’s excellent book Seagalogy for an explanation of how personal and uncompromising his work is). For years now, my dad and I have been on a mission to watch every one of his films – not only that, but chronicling every F-bomb dropped and every person he kills (he’s up to 659 and 498, respectively, with 41 arm snaps, 11 leg snaps and 16 neck snaps through 33 films).

In Born to Raise Hell, the latest in this glorious undertaking, Seagal (who also wrote the screenplay) is Bobby Samuels, head of a task force looking to rid Bucharest of drugs. His primary opponent appears to be Dmitri (Dan Badarau), a Russian mobster who uses vicious killer/rapist Costel (Darren Shahlavi) as muscle. I’m going to stop naming the actors now, because you’ve never heard of any of them.

Seagal makes a lot of daring choices this time around. For instance, he chooses to kill off the character who announces that his wife is expecting their first child. Didn’t see it coming. He also chooses to give himself a girlfriend at least 40 years his junior, and then makes the even bolder choice to include an uncomfortable sex scene in which she is completely naked but he somehow keeps all of his clothes on.

Sarcasm aside, this movie does have a few genuine surprises – like when Dmitri, who looks like the Big Bad early on, is shown to be an honorable Russian gangster (you know the type) and decides to team up with Seagal. Or when Dmitri’s ruthless blond henchwoman, who we see ruthlessly executing informants earlier on, ends up comforting his young son after Costel attacks his home.  Meanwhile, Seagal’s one assistant, who is always skulking around and smirking and who seemed to obviously be a double agent, turns out to be just a regular guy.

This being a Seagal movie, there are a number of things that are downright bizarre. Dmitri’s criminal associates meet him in a park, where he is shown playing chess. There’s never anyone else around – are we to understand that he plays against himself all day? There is also a sequence were Costel and his gang walk out of their club, and it’s the most painfully protracted “cool” slow-motion walk you’ve ever seen, interspersed with shots of girls dancing and blowing fire.

Seagal provides himself with a number of crowd-pleasing (or at least me-pleasing) beat-up scenes. When he takes his girlfriend to a restaurant, two guys he beat up earlier swagger in and he brutalizes them again. He puts one through a glass display case. Never even breaks a sweat. When Seagal finally confronts Costel, it’s almost like his famous fight against William Forsythe in Out for Justice – he lets the bad guy come at him again and again, effortlessly turning aside his attacks and manhandling him. It’s almost as though Seagal is some kind of karmic avenger, allowing Costel’s own violent, destructive nature be his undoing.

The best and most definitively Seagalian scene is near the end. Dmitri is back in the park at his chess board, and suddenly a hand comes into the shot and moves a piece. Checkmate. Dmitri nods slowly and says, “Only a brilliant strategist could beat me in one move. Those can only be the hands of one man.” Then he looks up and, of course, it’s Seagal. The way the scene is shot, Seagal could have either beaten Dmitri on literally the first move of the game (which is impossible), or he made the finishing move of a game already in progress (in which case didn’t Dmitri technically beat himself?).  Either way, it’s absurd, but it’s so oddly sincere that I nearly applauded.

A fun note on Seagal movies: most of the titles describe him, e.g. Steven Seagal IS Hard to Kill. Steven Seagal IS Marked for Death. Steven Seagal IS A Dangerous Man… and yes, as this movie once again proves… Steven Seagal IS Born to Raise Hell.