With the release of Steven Seagal‘s latest movie, Mercenary: Absolution, I took the opportunity to not only catch the big man’s new flick, but willfully digress a little into my fascination with all things Steven.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Steven Seagal movies. Most fans will agree there are those classics that everyone mentions (Nico, Out For Justice, Under Siege) and then, in more recent years, a very mixed bag of the awful (Attack Force, Flight of Fury) to the surprisingly enjoyable (A Dangerous Man, Born to Raise Hell). Since his string of very mixed work throughout the early noughties, the more recent output (including those just mentioned) has presented a stronger set of low budget, indie productions which keep things simple and allow him to go back to basics with what he does best: simple plots (revenge, catch the bad guy, etc), gritty urban settings, tough one-liners and plenty of bone-crunching violence. While the latest titles may not live up the standard of the late 80’s, I would ask: doesn’t the current roster (at its core) still represent the formula he is best known for?
On this same note I have an interesting conflict. On the one hand I admire and strongly respect those artists, of any kind, who evolve, grow and experiment with new subjects. On the flip side, I also greatly admire those who unashamedly stick to their guns. Full throttle, making no apologies or trying to be cool or fashionable, they just do what they do. They have their niche and they stick to their story. Whether you like his films or not, Seagal clearly falls into this camp. In truth, this type of action actor has existed for countless generations before. We’ve had the John Waynes, Charles Bronsons and Chuck Norrises who have all continued, well into their maturing years, gunning down bad guys and kicking ass – mostly for the cheers of long-time fans and genre veterans. Hell, the entire Expendables franchise was built on this nostalgia!
On this basis, even if the output is mixed, I do look forward to new Seagal movies, just as I do many other action actors, and all for different reasons. At the very least, with big Steve you know exactly what you’re getting. For me, his films have provided some of the most satisfying, brutal acts of choreographed vengeance I’ve witnessed. This is why Born to Raise Hell was such a clean, simple and effective vehicle. Steve was a tough cop hunting down a loathsome, horrible villain (played by the late, great Darren Shahlavi) and, ultimately, we see our hero tear apart the criminal underworld to find this man, before beating six kinds of stuffing out of him (spoiler alert there, but then what did you think would happen?). Oh, and I do mean a ridiculous, punishing beatdown. Not a quick gunshot or fast, underwhelming finale. Real pay off. If you happen to like these types of films, this is pretty important.
I also love how you often find user reviews give Seagal films a “regular rating” and a “Seagal rating” – in other words scored as a “normal” movie by straight standards and then judged within the realm of Seagal which is fascinating in itself. I think they’re only made for fans who understand the formula! [Note: See Vern’s great book Seagalogy for a much more comprehensive, and entertaining, look into his career]
If you’ve followed me this far, I’m sure you’ll get the idea by now. This thinking is what kicked me off writing this piece, tying into a write-up on his latest film.
In the story for Mercenary: Absolution, a Special Forces operative is initially recruited to take out an Afghan drug dealer and discovers that profits from the drug world are being split between powerful Afghan families and secret groups in the US. When he rescues a victim of sex trafficking, he is convinced that the drug lord is also involved in this illegal trade and, along with his partner, will tear apart this criminal organisation known as the “syndicate” to punish those responsible.
There isn’t a Seagal film I haven’t seen and this ranks as one of his better ones in recent years, continuing the directness and simplicity of A Good Man. This is all completely standard fare and you know exactly what you’re getting but, if you enjoy these types of films, this should keep you entertained. It’s a boys’ night in, beer and popcorn kind of affair.
For me, this one scores extra points for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I liked that our anti-heroes are pretty much unlikable. Seagal’s gun-for-hire, John Alexander, and his Triad sidekick, Chi (Byron Mann), are complete badasses and execute unarmed targets during missions, make putty out of mere men and are even shown leaving a “sauna”. I liked that it didn’t sugar coat them as clean-cut heroes. These are dark characters and it had the guts to show them as such.
The other thing I liked was Vinnie Jones‘ batshit crazy villain, literally named “The Boss”. This guy is insane and Jones hams it up big time. He dresses in gimp attire, beats and kills prostitutes, shouts like a madman and has the questionable idea of sending goons after Steve and Byron – bad move. For a villain this animated, I would’ve liked more screen time but what we got was entertaining.
Byron Mann did a very good job and showed good ability and some nice kicks during the fight scenes. As well as his better known work in The Man with the Iron Fists, etc, he has worked with Seagal previously on A Dangerous Man, Belly of the Beast and the TV series, True Justice. They work well together and I’d love to see him back.
There are some nice short and sharp fight scenes throughout. Highlights go to decent scraps with action veterans Ron Balicki and Lauro Chartrand, both of whom have worked with Seagal before and have great work under their belts. Props to the fight and stunt team who created some nice stuff and delivered a pretty awesome explosion, showing a bad guy being blown out of a window, aflame, and landing on a car. Worthy of a rewind.
Once again, this follows the Seagal formula and if you’re familiar with his recent output, you’ll know what to expect. Here we get added replay value from fun moments, funny moments, some nice beatdowns and Jones’ larger-than-life, cartoon villain. That’s Friday night in sorted!
Mercenary: Absolution is out now on DVD from High Fliers Films and US theatres and On Demand from 15 May.