Sunday, January 25, 2009
When I was a younger man I enjoyed me a good martial arts flick from time to time. Okay, seriously, I was pretty obsessed. I would pretty much watch anything that involved people kicking the crap out of each other. Name any used up martial arts action star from the 1970's, 80's, or 90's, and chances are I've seen their entire catalog (or as much of it as I could get my hands on). From Don "The Dragon" Wilson to Jean-Claude Van Damme, to Sho Kosugi, I'd heard of them, seen them, their movies, and knew at least part of their bios. And this before the age of the internet.
And although I would watch just about anything that came on late night on Showtime, whether it was Best of the Best, or even worse, some terrible Billy Blanks actioner, nothing and no one could capture my interest quite as well as Steven Seagal. Yes, Steven of the eternally stern eyebrows.
In my youth I was astonished by the high kicks and fast hands of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. I wanted to be just like them. But that was all to change. In came a new man. With a new style (not really new, just new to movies). Steven Seagal and his amped up style of Aikido burst on the scene in the 1988 action movie Above the Law. Seagal played the part of Nico Toscani, a cop who uncovers a tangled knot of police corruption and government complicity.
The movie hit the mark. It seemed to be the breath of fresh air that the action genre needed. Seagal handled his opponents as if they were little more than life sized rag dolls. It was a new sight for most Western eyes. Aikido (a more action packed version of it) and Seven Seagal had made their grand entrance. The newly broken in action star signed a deal with Warner Brothers and was off running. After playing a cop in a few more three word titled action flicks, Seagal finally had a big hit with the 1992 Under Siege, costarring Gary Busey and Tommy Lee Jones. Under Siege is generally accepted as Seagal's big hit. Sadly it would be the last time such honors could be claimed. That is not to say that I stopped watching. I stuck faithfully with the star through the forgettable Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, The Glimmer Man, and I watched in horror as his movies began the slow decline into ego-driven, self produced, tree hugging, nonsense such as Fire Down Below and On Deadly Ground.
The final straw was Exit Wounds. I saw Exit Wounds in the the theater. By myself. Now Exit Wounds could have been a passable action movie. It had all of the required elements of Seagal's past movies and even a bit of humor. Throw in a rapper named DMX as Seagal's erstwhile adversary, and you've got yourself a movie! However, the bloated Seagal is obviously past his prime and uses a stunt double in a few scenes to deliver a few spin kicks and wheel kicks to a few unsuspecting baddies. This is where I drew a line in the sand. Steven Seagal does not spin kick. He doesn't wheel kick. Why in the heck change the formula, and use an (obvious) stunt double to do it?
I never saw another Seagal movie after that.
Until a few days ago. I caught part of one of his latest films (probably a direct to DVD title) while flipping through the channels, and obviously the only thing that has changed since Exit Wounds is Seagal's waist line. And it hasn't gotten smaller, if you know what I mean. The ponytail is still there. The menacing eyebrows are still there. And those terrible leather, braided coats are still there. Anyway, the scene I caught (and the only scene I watched because I hastily flipped to something else soon after) showed Seagal doing all sorts of spin kicks and acrobatics (with the use of a stunt double, and once again an obvious stunt double) that have clearly never been the hallmark of this once great action star. I couldn't bear it.
Steven Seagal must not have been paying attention when it was announced that Seinfeld was going off the air. When asked, Jerry Seinfeld related that he wanted to go out on top of his game.
Maybe Dirty Harry said it best when he warned, "A man's got to know his limitations."