Pistol Whipped ★★★

I wasn't gonna - I was happy to never watch a Steven Seagal movie again - but I read Seagalogy by Vern, aka Outlaw Vern, a guy I'm pretty sure is one of the more memorable shit-shooters from the usenet days. His going pro wouldn't have been enough to get me to read Ain't It Cool News had I known it at the time, but if that guy wants to write a whole book defending Seagal, I'd give that a shot.

So I don't think I'm ever going to see fully eye to eye with Vern on this subject; even the revised edition predates Seagal's fun late-career turn as an authoritarian bootlicker and wackadoo novelist and, uh, subject of biannual creepery accusations. But he did single out a couple of Seagal's latter-day movies as particular standouts, and I figured I'd chase them down.

The interesting thing about this movie is that Seagal isn't playing a typical Seagal character - he's playing a total fuckup. He's still got this Totally Awesome Steven Seagal backstory, but nowadays he's a sad-sack divorced gambler with a daughter he's neglecting but who always holds out hope for him. He even has to do a scene where a guy puts a gun to his head and makes him act an asshole to her in front of her way-cooler stepdad.

Okay, wow. This is way out there for Seagal, who to say the least, has a type he plays in literally all of his other movies. He used to talk about doing Hamlet and man, I guarantee you his Hamlet would've had a shadowy background in the CIA. What hasn't come up in his career a lot is playing this Paul Giamatti shit.

Now, he isn't going full Giamatti. This guy can pick up a sexy bartender, which...maybe it isn't even all that hard, I don't know, but Seagal makes it look like it's not that hard. Actually she's a spy or something? I still think he did okay for a guy who comes across as he does.

The fight scenes are neither fancy nor brutal, but they do have what looks convincingly like Seagal himself doing the fighting, in an appealingly simple (if quick-cut) manner - in a plot filled with goons, he's taller and bigger and knows how to fight. I was happy to see it. I didn't like the shootouts though, rote and long.

I was ready to re-adjust my expectations a little for this one. Shooting around the world sounds prestigey in a Mission: Impossible movie, but this does not translate to a Steven Seagal movie. Here, the prestige is that it was filmed in the US. It was even directed by Roel Reiné, who has since specialized in making DTV sequels nobody asked for, but seems here to be able to balance character and action better than in, say, Hard Target 2.

I have to say I'm pleased, but that's more to do with the rare sight of Seagal doing something a little extraordinary than with anything superlative going on with its action/crime movie materials, which are made with a scuzzy cheapness that hovers on the line between feature and bug. I mean, this is a guy for whom even trying is off-brand these days, where unless his face is taking up half the screen, you can probably assume you're looking at one of his many doubles. It's like a cheaply-made version of what he might've made if On Deadly Ground was a hit and he'd been more willing to take chances. I suppose he would've made this after his Hamlet. I refuse to imagine that would've been a hit.

Does he take any hits? I don't think physically, but this is Seagal in extremely rare, emotionally vulnerable form - being totally dommed for the whole movie by a spooky crime lord guy has got to hurt.