Thursday, August 23, 2007

Movies: Out For Justice (1991)/Mercenary For Justice (2006)

Last week, Steven Seagal said he wants a public apology from the FBI for the damage a Bureau investigation did to his career. It’s clearly a reach; Seagal’s career was on the skids before the Feds came around. But the story reminds me that, problems aside, I like Seagal. I kind of miss the guy. And I miss the sort of movies he makes. (Yes, he’s still making them, on the cheap and primarily for video.)

I’m talking about your stripped down, basic action film. Not even meat-and-potatoes. Try meat only, bloody and still on the bone. The plot’s always the same. Bad guys do bad things. A badass who’s a good guy gets pushed too far. He settles the score by punching people in the face and snapping a few necks. Watching a bunch of one-dimensional louts get their asses kicked can satisfy on a deeply primal level.

Recently I stumbled onto Out For Justice, a big favorite around here. (Believe it or not, Rosemarie is a fan, too. You know the observation that Fred Astaire gave Ginger Rogers class while she gave him sex appeal? Rosemarie gives me class and sex appeal, while I contribute crap action movies and Dijon mustard. Surprisingly, she seems happy with this.) I left the movie on for two scenes and ended up watching the whole thing again.

One scene is what Rosemarie calls “the Uncle Pino story.” Seagal, playing a New York cop hunting down a childhood friend on a drug-fueled rampage, stops the narrative cold to recount a rambling episode about going to the movies as a kid with his Mafioso uncle. It’s got nothing to do with the rest of the action, but it’s strangely compelling, in part because Seagal wasn’t a bad actor. It’s also an example of the off-beat human moments that somehow found their way into Seagal’s early films. I’m not saying he was Robert Altman, but Seagal’s movies often wove in textures that weren’t necessary but always appreciated.

The other key scene is a bar fight. Every good action movie’s got to have at least one, with these two beats: somebody sails into a neon beer sign, and a pool cue is used for a purpose other than the one for which it was designed. Out For Justice’s is a doozy. To this day, when I can’t find something I’m looking for, I’ll wander around Chez K bellowing “Anybody seen Rich-IE?” There’s also a fine sequence in which our Steven lays waste to a pork store.

Fast forward a few days. I’m flipping around and find Mercenary For Justice, one of Seagal’s later efforts, on basic cable; the premium channels don’t touch his stuff any more. Seagal has thickened up considerably, and doesn’t move so well now. You could fit a craft services table between him and the goons he’s ostensibly thrashing.

Worst of all was a throwdown in a swank restaurant men’s room. Seagal gestures vaguely toward a thug, who goes sailing into a wall so hard that a urinal falls off. Literally, it falls off. There’s no geysering water. It’s not even connected to any pipes. It might as well have been hung there by Marcel Duchamp.

That’s the real reason for this post. I wanted to mention Steven Seagal and Marcel Duchamp in the same breath. My work is done.

Miscellaneous: Links

William Gibson talks noir and other subjects. And I’m glad I’m not the only person who notices these things: Vulture on how Michael Kamen’s score for Brazil is suddenly everywhere.