END OF A GUN
(US - 2016)
BFF Vladimir Putin. Two Seagals have been released on DVD/Blu-ray in the last week, along with a third (CONTRACT TO KILL) hitting VOD. END OF A GUN is a rarity for present-day Seagal in that, while he's doubled in some fight scenes by his more svelte stuntman being shot from the neck down as bad guys just walk into him and get knocked on their ass, his character is actually in the whole movie and doesn't take the customary mid-film sabbatical where the star vanishes for 25 minutes of screen time. While Seagal is capable of colorful supporting turns (he did a nice job in as a cranky loan shark in the indie GUTSHOT STRAIGHT), he pretty much stopped giving a shit years ago. END OF A GUN is another one of his Romania walk-throughs, mumbling his dialogue in a barely audible whisper and keepin' it real by wheezing terms like "ho"'s and "y'all muh-fuckaz." Seagal is Michael Decker, a undercover DEA agent in Paris (of course, the city is played by Bucharest with repeated time-lapse stock footage shots of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe) who saves stripper Lisa (Jade Ewen) from a beating by a shitbag club manager, who pulls a gun on Decker and promptly gets shot in the head for his trouble. A grateful Lisa lets Decker in on her plan to steal $2 million from the trunk of a car being stored in a parking garage. The car belongs to the dead club manager's criminal boss Gage (Florin Piersic Jr.), who works for Vargas, a Texas-based meth lord who Decker's been trying to bust for years (so why is he in Paris?). Decker finds himself falling for Lisa and is forced to take action when she's kidnapped by Gage and his goons, as Gage understandably wants his money back. I probably don't even need to point out that all of this will lead to a climactic shootout at an abandoned warehouse.
Director/co-writer Keoni Waxman has helmed some of the (relatively speaking) better latter-day Seagal vehicles, like 2010's surprisingly solid A DANGEROUS MAN. But Waxman seems to have given up trying to get anything out of his star. Seagal is totally sleepwalking through this, which is a shame, because Waxman approaches this not like a Seagal shoot 'em up with some bits of what passes for the star doing Aikido (though it ends up there), but rather, a heist thriller with distinctly Steven Soderbergh/OCEAN'S ELEVEN touches. There's a bouncy jazz score, multiple characters followed via split-screen, and even a couple of half-hearted attempts at the kind of non-linear editing that Soderbergh famously used in OUT OF SIGHT and THE LIMEY. Waxman doesn't necessarily pull it off, mainly because he's not very gifted, the story's not that interesting, and his lead actor's range is somewhere between Mushmouth and Mannequin Challenge. But Waxman is at least trying to make something out of nothing, though perhaps he could explain why Vargas is always shot from behind and with a dubbed voice, deliberately hiding his face as if putting the pieces in play for a big reveal that never comes. Piersic plays a stock Eurotrash villain but he puts forth some effort, and the stunning Ewen is a gorgeous femme fatale, so everyone seems at least somewhat invested in this except the star who simply can't be bothered to wake up. Man, remember ABOVE THE LAW and OUT FOR JUSTICE? Where did that guy go? (R, 87 mins)
THE PERFECT WEAPON
(US/UK - 2016)
1989 martial arts actioner that served as the intro to Jeff Speakman's short-lived big-screen career, THE PERFECT WEAPON is set in the gloomy dystopia of America 2029. It's filled with rainy neon and sub-BLADE RUNNER cityscapes with the mandatory giant TV screens on the sides of skyscrapers. Here, Seagal is "The Director," the totalitarian overlord who rules this future world via surveillance and "conditioning" to control innate human weakness and emotion. Condor (Johnny Messner) is one of The Director's chief enforcers, a killing machine charged with taking out The Director's enemies, including a corrupt politico (Lance E. Nichols) plotting an insurrection. When Condor makes a heat-of-the-moment decision and chooses to not terminate a female witness to one of his hits, his handler Controller (Richard Tyson) is ordered by The Director to terminate him, as his innate humanity has made "reconditioning" impossible and he's simply outlived his usefulness. Going on the run after finding his presumed-dead-but-still-alive wife Nina (Sasha Jackson), Condor is branded a traitor to The Director and must deal with Controller as well as The Interrogator (an embalmed-looking Vernon Wells, best known as THE ROAD WARRIOR's Wez), the kind of sadist who puts out a cigar on Condor's chest ("That...was just foreplay!") and threatens to pay a visit to Nina while licking a razor blade and purring "I can be very persuasive."
Starting with Messner's wardrobe and shaven-headed appearance, it's obvious from the start that director/co-writer Titus Paar (a Swedish music video director who gives himself two supporting roles and is credited with "harsh vocals" on the metalcore closing credits tune) has fashioned THE PERFECT WEAPON as a blatant and very tardy HITMAN ripoff fused with every bleak future dystopia cliche you can imagine. Seagal, also an executive producer, puts in a few sporadic appearances, barely awake, visibly bored, mumbling nonsense and interacting with his co-stars as little as possible. The storyline is muddled and there's about five endings, and that's before a ridiculous last-shot twist that rather presumptuously leaves the door open for a sequel. Filled with endlessly recycled genre tropes, crummy CGI, and laughable dialogue (Controller, to The Interrogator, as he hold a razor blade to Condor's junk: "I won't have you slicing off his manhood for your own amusement!"), THE PERFECT WEAPON is cheap, lazy, and doesn't even try. In other words, it's everything you expect from 2016 Steven Seagal. (Unrated, 87 mins)