Friday, May 14, 2010

Exit Wounds

Exit Wounds occurred at an interesting time for Steven Seagal. It happened well after the glory days of movies like Out for Justice, Hard to Kill, Above the Law, and Under Siege, but just before being relegated to the semi-obscurity of the direct to video market and reality TV stardom. (And his alleged sex slaving—nothing spells career resurgence like an old fashioned sex scandal, so cross your fingers.) His next film, Half Past Dead, would be his last movie release into theaters. (At least until this summer’s Machete, but that is hardly Seagal’s movie.) The movie surprised a lot of people by grossing a ton of money at the box office. This was a transitional period for Seagal, where he was evolving from a legitimate, name-above-the-credits movie star, to a punch line for late night TV hosts. However, he still manages to make a kick-ass action movie now and again.

The cast of Exit Wounds is insane, you have Seagal and DMX as the headliners, and among the supporting cast you have Bill Duke, Michael Jai White, Anthony Anderson, Isaiah Washington, Jill Hennessy, Tom Arnold, Bruce McGill, Eva Mendes, and even Jamie Foxx in an uncredited role. It’s like the filmmakers collected everyone who has ever been in any movie ever and threw them together just for kicks. Looking at the cast there is some kick-ass potential.

What’s even more insane than the cast is the plot, it gets seriously loopy. Seagal plays Orin Boyd, the standard cop movie protagonist who plays-by-his-own-rules-but-gets-results-which-is-the-only-reason-that-they-haven’t-shitcanned-him-yet supercop. In the first scene he single-handedly takes down a militia that tries to assassinate the Vice President. They have a helicopter emblazoned with a giant smiley face. During the conflict Boyd’s bitchin’ black El Camino gets shot to shit (when are bad guys going to learn that fucking with a man’s ride is just going to piss him off), and he tosses the VP, who can’t swim, off of a bridge and into a river.

Instead of having a parade for Boyd for doing the job of the entire police force and the secret service by himself, the department brass (Bill Duke and Bruce McGill of Predator and The Last Boyscout respectively) ship his disobeying ass over to “the 15th,” which they offhandedly compare to Vietnam. By the way, Exit Wounds is set in Detroit, and I can only assume that the 15th will become the precinct that Murphy goes to in RoboCop. It’s a shithole where the other cops tazer each other in the locker room for fun. This is the Wild West.

Here they take a few minutes for some ill advised comic relief. Not only does Boyd put his foot in his mouth when he meets his new commander, Mulcahy (Jill Hennessy who was in that show, Crossing Jordan, that was on for way longer than it should have been), with whom he shares some unearned, and awkward, sexual tension. Instead of dealing with Boyd, she ships him off to anger management classes. In this touchy-feely group our hero meets Henry Wayne (Tom Arnold), an AM talk show host who pays prostitutes to beat him up. Seagal, in maybe his last role where he doesn’t look like a bloated turtle, somehow gets stuck in a desk, breaks it, storms out of the meeting, and pummels a group of guys that are supposed to look tough. (No one in the world looks less frightening than a group of extras sitting on the protagonist’s car in a Hollywood action movie. No matter what, they’re never intimidating.) The beating is met with much delight from Wayne and the other anger managers, who decide Boyd is now the cool kid in their group and they desperately want to be his friends.

DMX and his sidekick TK (Anthony Anderson) are running around this movie as well, and some there are some action scenes, and eventually Boyd fucks up an undercover bust and gets demoted to traffic cop, which leads to another uncomfortable attempt at humor. Man, Boyd sure is bummed out there with his whistle and white gloves directing traffic. Instead of directing the cars, he causes a huge traffic jam and wanders off. The only comedy that is actually funny is the bit during the credits where Anthony Anderson and Tom Arnold have an improvised tête-à-tête about poop. Comedy gold right there.

There are some more action scenes, some good-guys-who-turn-out-to-be-bad-guys, some bad-guys-who-turn-out-to-be-good-guys, and Seagal on a wire, which is amusing. Someone steals a bunch of heroin from the police lock up. Boyd gets an earnest new partner, George (Isaiah Washington), who loves his wife and wants to clean up the streets in the neighborhood he grew up in. The action is fun, but silly, and the story gets more and more absurd as the movie continues. Then again, Andrzej Bartkowiak (Doom and Romeo Must Die) is the director, so that’s what I expected.

Most of the action component of the movie is pretty solid, the car chases and shootouts and whatnot, but the hand to hand combat scenes leave something to be desired. There is more inter-fight cutting going on than you want to see in a Seagal movie. A shot of a punch, followed by a reaction shot of someone pretending to be punched, doesn’t really do it for me. It made me want to go back and watch Out for Justice where Gino takes apart the entire bar with a cue ball wrapped in a handkerchief, and has a stick fight with Dan Inosanto. Those are some of my favorite fight scenes in movie history. The fights in Exit Wounds just feel like fights, not Steven Seagal fights.

Still, there are some good moments. A few of the highlights include an extended sequence where Seagal is handcuffed to the roof of a van and has to fight off a bunch of corrupt cops. (A stuntman died during the filming of this scene.) And the fight at the end where Seagal and Michael Jai White use the arms of paper cutters like swords, which silly, but also pretty fun. Even the absurd sequences are a blast to watch.

I like DMX. He likes his dogs enough to get their names tattooed on him, and despite being white kid from Washington with no MC skills to speak of, I can relate to that. His gravelly voice, hard stare, and charisma give him a definite onscreen presence. For a while, before he started doing shit like impersonating cops, it seemed like he was on his way to being a full fledged movie star, and I was sure that eventually people were going to start calling him Earl Simmons, you know, like how people nowadays refer to the Rock as Duane Johnson.

The role of Boyd is different from Seagal’s most defining roles. Here he is an action hero in a more straight ahead capacity, like a character Bruce Willis would play. His martial arts training is pushed to the side, he uses guns more often, and even employs wires and gimmicks like that. Sure, he is still badass, but his badassery is of the less personal, more removed variety. He’d rather shoot someone than get up close and rip out his windpipe. Boyd doesn’t have a shadowy past like so many of Seagal’s characters. In fact he doesn’t have much of a past at all, aside from a wall full of citations and the mention of an ex-wife, but his divorce is such a cliché that he even says that it is a cliché and leaves it at that. No one strained anything writing that one. There is no spiritual side or political agenda here, like Fire Down Below or On Deadly Ground. You think there’s going to be when the film opens on the VP rallying for increased handgun legislation, but that goes out the window a few minutes later when he is saved by guns. What we learn from this first scene is that guns are awesome and useful, and that Orin Boyd, much like Wu-Tang, ain’t nothing to fuck with.

Apparently this is based on a book, but I haven’t read it, so that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Exit Wounds has a convoluted plot that takes way too long to get to the point, a ton of superfluous characters (does anyone care that the big beefy cop who has three lines once went undercover for a year in the KKK? It doesn’t have anything to do with anything), silly plot points (soaking t-shirts in heroin?), weird subplots (the awkward sexual tension between Boyd and the Commander that comes to an abrupt end when her face is brutally rammed into the windshield of a car? It’s like they threw that in just so they wouldn’t have to deal with this at the end instead of just cutting it out of the movie entirely.), and humor that is more uncomfortable than funny.

It may be bat shit crazy, it may not make a lot of sense, and it may ask you to put aside common sense and believe that DMX is a dot com millionaire, but Exit Wounds is still pretty fucking awesome, and is a good send off for Seagal to the realm of DTV. It’s like he decided to have one last rager, and named it Exit Wounds.

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