Monday, November 5, 2012

DVD Review: 'Maximum Conviction'

I’m a huge Steven Seagal fan, and have been for most of my life at this point. Films like “Out For Justice”, “Under Siege”, and “Hard to Kill” rank among my all-time favorites, and with a scarce few exceptions, I’ve seen every movie the man has made. Even with these qualifications, it’s getting harder and harder to watch the man’s new work. Over the last few years he’s become a bloated caricature of his former self, and nowhere is that more evident than in his new direct-to-video offering, “Maximum Conviction”.

“Maximum Conviction”, or “MaxCon” as it will henceforth be known, is another in a long line or recent Seagal films where the title combines two words that sound tough, but that mean nothing and have little connection to the actual film. It’s also another in a troubling line of films with lackluster fight scenes. As Seagal ages, his onscreen battles have become increasingly choppy and marred by editing. While in his early years his fights were fluid shows of martial arts prowess, in “MaxCon” they are filmed almost exclusively from the mid-torso up, and cobbled together out of dozens of quick shots that only encompass a move or two before moving on. The end result comes across as a jumbled, awkward, disappointing slap-fight.

These editing issues don’t stop with Seagal’s hand-to-hand combat scenes either. Gunfights, of which there are many in “MaxCon”, play out like this: there’s a shot of a man, framed from the waist up, firing a machinegun to the right. The next shot is a mirror image where another man returns fire, his machine gun pointing left. With no other establishing shots, you can’t help but feel that the two sides are directly in front of one other, blasting away, hitting nothing. It’s like a talking heads version of a firefight. Seeing just a slice of the action like this eliminates much of the tension and sense of action, making these moments boring and dull.

Co-headliner Steve Austin, sans the “Stone Cold” moniker these days, has a few decent fights—he makes great use of a screwdriver—but his action relies more on brute force similar to wrestling moves than anything else. As far as the action goes, the highlight belongs to Bren Foster. That’s a strange thing to write because Foster is most known for his role on NBC’s venerable soap opera “The Days of Our Lives”. But he’s also a former Tae Kwon Do world champion, and a regular on Discovery Channel’s “Fight Science”. Hiss big fight near the end of the film is the action apex of “MaxCon”, and according to the commentary from director Keoni Waxman and producer Bihn Dang, they filmed the whole sequence in just two hours. Framed in such a way that you actually witness the fight, not just a line of clips strung together, you could see Foster having a solid future in this realm of action. He’ll never be a Scott Adkins level fighter, but he could play second fiddle supporting roles with competence.

The plot of “MaxCon” is simple—two security contractor buddies Steele (Seagal) and Manning (Austin) come together to help decommission a secret military prison. As Austin says in an additional interview on the Blu-ray, this is a movie, and nothing goes right, so a team of mercenaries shows up to “extract” one of the prisoners. Not on Steele and Manning’s watch, buddy, let me tell you that. Problem is that the script adds needless complications, like attempting to establish a complex background where the characters reference mysterious events that happened on earlier missions and such. After a while the pace bogs down in vague details until you no longer care.

Austin has a definite presence in his movies, and even though he’s the same in every single one—smart-ass tough guy redneck—he’s fun to watch. As legitimate as Austin comes across, Seagal comes off equally as fake. He bounces in and out of that weird pseudo-southern accent he adopted around the time of “Lawman”, and everything he tries to do feels like bullshit. Still, the real treat of “MaxCon” is seeing these two onscreen together from time to time. The movie itself doesn’t have much to recommend it, but going in with low-expectations, fans might get a kick out of this movie for that fact alone.

The Blu-ray comes with a handful of bonus features. There a few minutes each of extended interviews with Austin and Foster, a brief discussion of how the two Steves came together for the film, and a ten-minute behind-the-scenes feature. All of this is standard stuff, and not terribly interesting. Of all the extras the high point is the commentary with Waxman and Dang. While not the most exciting track ever laid down, if you’re into “Maximum Conviction” you might want to give it a shot. If nothing else, it gives you some insight into low-budget action filmmaking. At one point the production lost their primary location because “Man of Steel” took it over, gutted it, and built a massive set.

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