Saturday, March 4, 2017

On DVD/Blu-ray: CONTRACT TO KILL (2016) and OFFICER DOWNE (2016)

(US/Romania - 2016)

The last and probably least of seven (!) Steven Seagal movies released in 2016 (in what must be considered an act of mercy, KILLING SALAZAR has only been released overseas with no US debut as of yet), CONTRACT TO KILL is the former action star's worst film in years, and that's not a statement to be taken lightly. With his mumbled line delivery and his reliance on painfully obvious Fake Shemps for any shot that's not a close-up, Seagal's unparalleled laziness has become the stuff of legend among gutter denizens of the VOD/DTV cesspool, but he's a truly depressing sight here. He looks bad, he sounds bad, he fills spaces in lines with "uh"'s and "um"'s, his speech is garbled and he seems winded, like he's having trouble catching his breath. He wheezes his dialogue with a kind of hesitation that indicates someone might be feeding his lines to him off-camera, and that he might not be sure what he's saying or what the movie is even about. CONTRACT TO KILL is a muddled, Romania-shot mess with Seagal as John Harmon, yet another of his off-the-grid CIA/DEA assets who's reactivated, this time to thwart a partnership between the Mexican cartels and Islamic extremists. He assembles a team--far too young CIA protege and improbable love interest Zara Hayek (Jemma Dallender of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2) and hacker/drone expert Matthew Sharp (Russell Wong)--as the story goes from Turkey to Mexico but is mostly shot on the same minimally redressed Constanta block, with a seedy bar whose graffiti logo actually says "Seedy Bar." This leads to more of the typical Seagal fight scenes, meaning people run right into him while he flails his arms, grimaces in a close-up, and his overworked double does all the heavy lifting.

Even by the bottom-scraping standards of recent Seagal, there's no entertainment value whatsoever with CONTRACT TO KILL. His regular director Keoni Waxman, who once showed promise but is visibly regressing and now seems resigned to the fact that his long association with Seagal has probably deemed him unemployable anywhere else, has to stage action sequences around Seagal's minimal participation (even a shot of Harmon walking through a tunnel has to have Seagal awkwardly and obviously composited in). In what's either complete editorial ineptitude or the dumbest artistic decision ever, the final minute of the movie recycles bits and pieces of two random earlier scenes for no reason whatsoever. Waxman's script has more dialogue than any action movie should need, with a gasping Seagal given reams of exposition to recite in every other scene. Dallender isn't bad but no one can sell a character willing to have sex with Seagal, and other than the sad sight of the once-engaging Aikido icon, the biggest downer here is observing Wong slumming through this garbage. The veteran of numerous acclaimed and respected Wayne Wang films (EAT A BOWL OF TEA, THE JOY LUCK CLUB, SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN), big Hollywood hits (NEW JACK CITY, ROMEO MUST DIE), and tons of TV guest spots going back to the '80s, Wong is a real actor and gives CONTRACT TO KILL its only shred of legitimacy. He's taking it seriously for some reason, and Waxman rewards him with a long, contemplative shot at the end where his character is either reflecting on what just went down or the light's going out of Wong's eyes when he realizes Seagal is getting the girl. There used to be some level of bad movie enjoyment you could get with a DTV-era Steven Seagal movie, and once in a while (A DANGEROUS MAN), one might actually be decent. The quality of Seagal's work has plummeted to such an unfathomable depth that willingly watching CONTRACT TO KILL leaves you with the same sense of ghoulishness a decent person should feel after they slow down to rubberneck a fatal multi-car pile-up on the highway. It's a new Seagal movie, kids. Cover your eyes and look away. You don't want to see this. (R, 90 mins)

(US - 2016)

Based on the cult comics series by Joe Casey, OFFICER DOWNE is every bit as grating, obnoxious, loud, over-the-top, and headache-inducing as you'd expect a splattery comic book adaptation produced by Mark Neveldine and featuring numerous members of Slipknot on both sides of the camera to be. The directing debut of M. Shawn Crahan, aka Slipknot's "Clown," who has a lot of experience directing the band's videos, OFFICER DOWNE gets one thing right--casting veteran journeyman character actor Kim Coates in a lead role--but other than that, it's a chore to sit through. Set in, according to the onscreen caption, "Motherfucking L.A.," the film opens with Officer Terry Downe (Coates) going down on a woman while an onscreen "orgasm counter" quickly rolls to 14. Soon after, Downe is killed in a drug lab explosion set off by nefarious Headcase Harry (Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor), but through the miracle of science and reanimation, he's back on the street as an unstoppable killing machine. He works alone, but rookie cop Gable (Tyler Ross) is assigned to be his partner, which usually means going in and cleaning up after Downe's department-sanctioned massacres. Downe is hellbent on bringing down a crime syndicate known as The Fortune 500, overseen by masked figures Lion (Crahan), Tiger (Lindsay Pulsipher), and Vulture (Slipknot percussionist Chris Fehn), who dispatch martial arts mercenary Zen Master Flash (Sona Eyambe) to eliminate Downe for good.

There's also a convent of crazed killer nuns led by Mother Supreme (Meadow Williams) and Sister Blister (the once-promising Alison Lohman, who quit acting after marrying Neveldine and now just does cameos in the shitty movies he produces, like THE VATICAN TAPES and URGE), shameless '70s grindhouse pandering with Zen Master Flash introduced in a sequence filled with fake print damage and speaking in badly-dubbed English, tons of exploding heads and gory carnage, and shaky-cam action sequences scored to constant, pummeling metal riffs, all assembled in an eye-glazing blur by editor Doobie White, whose recent work on RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER was the object of universal derision. Crahan opens with a non-stop, in-your-face assault over the first 15 or 20 minutes, then the pacing is all over the place, with occasional bursts of cartoonish splatter countered with long stretches of tedious dialogue between Gable and irate police chief Berringer (OZ and DEXTER's Lauren Luna Velez, who also deserves better material). Slipknot fans may laud Crahan's "vision," but this has Neveldine's paw prints all over it. 2006 was a long time ago, and by this point, we can call the brilliant and inventive CRANK a fluke one-off, as everything Neveldine has been involved with since--CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE, PATHOLOGY, JONAH HEX, GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, etc.--ranges from awful at best to unwatchable at worst. OFFICER DOWNE is like ROBOCOP, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, and DREDD for real-life Beavis and Buttheads who found something like HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN a little too complex and highbrow. There's a lot of the kind of anything-goes humor that made DEADPOOL a hit but if, like me, you're in the minority that hated DEADPOOL, then you'll find OFFICER DOWNE downright excruciating. Props to giving a well-cast Coates (who looks a lot like Vic Morrow in 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS here) a starring role in an action movie, but how about one worthy of his talents that doesn't sideline him for a long stretch in the middle? (R, 91 mins)

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