Spotlight On Seagal: Out Of Reach

Director    Po-Chih Leong
Starring    Steven Seagal, Matt Schultze
2 stars

2nd January 2005

I love Steven Seagal. Don't get me wrong - if I was to choose someone to explore the inner depths of my man tunnel, I could think of much better people to do the job. No, I love Steven Seagal because he's been allowed to continue his career, long after having lost whatever 'talent' he was supposed to have. His are the kind of movies that demand attention, not because they contain any artistic merit, more because watching them is akin to watching your asthmatic grandfather trying to swat a wasp before finally resigning himself to the armchair of despair.

Out of Reach is classic Seagal, and by 'classic Seagal' I mean 'terrible as usual'. Of course, Steven Seagal doesn't live in the same universe as us, and as such his movies cannot be rated by conventional means, but I'll do my best. Steve plays Billy Ray Lancing, an ex-CSA government agent who has shunned his former life to take on the role of (get this) forest ranger, and now spends his time tending to injured animals and nurturing them back to health from his shack in the woods. At the beginning of the movie, we see Billy Ray pick up an injured hawk and cradle it like a child. This is to show his tender side, which will be even more meaningful later on in the movie when the ASS KICKING begins. He's much more complex than your Van Dammes or your Stallones, and always insists on having his characters portrayed as sensitive types with other life skills, who only resort to violence because society (or terrorists) force them to. In Under Siege he was a chef, in Fire Down Below he was an Environmental Protection Agent and in Under Siege 2 he was still a chef. See, a continuing pattern that ultimately holds the key to the wonder of Seagal's movies. As per usual, you could remove this character wholesale and place it in any of his other movies and not notice the difference.

Seagal got old. And fat. And I don't just mean a little chubby, he's now an old, fat guy. And he's orange, distressingly so. Combined with his wrinkles and permanently concerned facial expression, he looks like the Cuprinol man gone crazy. It doesn't help that his hair is thinning too - at the start of the movie (before he has a random haircut, presumably off camera) his hair starts off thick at the top and as it runs down the back of his neck to form a girly little bun, it gets so thin it comes damn close to not existing at all. Setting off the look is a flasher's Mac buttoned right up to the top, which his ample frame fills easily - he quite often looks like two kids, one on the other's shoulders, wearing a big coat and an old Seagal Halloween mask. I don't know exactly what was Out of Reach, but it sure wasn't the twinkies.

Billy Ray Lancing also happens to be a big girl's blouse - not only does he spend his days poncing around the woods looking for beavers with aching paws, but his only friend is a little Polish girl with who he exchanges regular letters. When his penpal is sold to a child trafficking organisation led by a textbook villain called Faisal, Seagal uses his psychic Kung Fu powers to guess something's up, and travels all the way to Poland (on a whim, remember) to find out what's going on. Seagal then proceeds to cut his way through swathes of dodgy looking be-suited types, following the clues that his penpal is leaving him (even though she has no idea he's even coming for her) to find and rescue her. And even though Faisal doesn't know who the girl's penpal is, or that he's even coming for her, he starts tracking Seagal down. If your brain starts to hurt, it's not because the plot is complicated, it's because you're GETTING STUPIDER for watching.

There's something very sinister about an ageing Kung Fu expert who lives alone in the woods travelling to the other side of the world to rescue a little girl he's never even met. And if you think that's bad, wait 'til you get to the bit where he invites a small Polish boy back to his hotel bedroom and lets him get drunk on the minibar, before whisking him around the country following an illegal child trafficking organisation without even asking his parents first. Real responsible, Steve. If you're prepared to root for a possible paedophile (martial arts skills notwithstanding) then I guess you're prepared to root for anyone.

The fight scenes in Out of Reach have a wretched stink of tragedy to them. Even old Seagal movies like Under Siege and Nico were almost redeemed by some bone-crunching moves and brutal neck snappings, but about the only move Seagal has left nowadays is the old 'dodge enemy attack and smash enemy's head into nearby wall'. Naturally this requires him to fight near a wall at all times, which doesn't make for the most exciting fight scenes you've ever seen. He's also really concentrating too, you can tell because during fight scenes he keeps straining like he's taking a dump. Slow-motion effects and exciting music stings accompany his more adventurous moves, like his super-courageous front roll, but they don't disguise the fact you're watching an old guy pretending to hit stuntmen. Even the gun fights in Out of Reach suck - on several occasions, henchmen fire hundreds of shots from the one clip, and in the final battle, they're such bad shots they start shooting the heads off statues and breaking lamps that are on the other side of the room. Quite how you could miss a guy the size, colour and shape of Steven Seagal I have no idea. When even big dumb action films can't do big dumb action scenes, that's when the stink lines start to visibly rise from your TV screen.

If you're thinking perhaps a strong supporting cast could save Out of Reach, obviously you've never seen a Steven Seagal movie before. The main villain Faisal, played by some dude called Matt Schultz, is taken straight out of The Big Book of Action Villains Vol. 4. He sports designer stubble and a neat line in white polyester suits plus hair that would make Vanilla Ice blush, and talks in hushed, gravelled tones at all times, except when he suddenly SHOUTS to show how DANGEROUS and EXPLOSIVE he can be. He's always alluding to some secret past that he used to share with Seagal's character (which is never explained), enjoys drugging young girls for no reason and doesn't even have the dignity to die properly in the climactic battle - in fact, he fights like a girl and isn't averse to having a ladylike tussle with Seagal in the lobby of his big white castle. There's also a French female cop embroiled in the whole situation, but quite what purpose she serves is unclear - she never figures anything out, never suggests a plan of action and generally just acts as the makeshift mother for the young child Seagal has adopted on his travels. The rest of the cast proves that anyone can make it into movies these days, no matter how shitty they are.

Out of Reach has some unintentionally hilarious moments, particularly the final freeze frame and the scene in the brothel (also totally unnecessary) where Seagal sports a shit-eating grin through proceedings, like a kid who's been granted access to his older brother's porn collection. Most of the dubbing isn't even done by Steven Seagal himself (including all the voiceovers), meaning you're not even listening to his voice half the time - it's like even he realised it was a piece of shit and refused to answer the director's phone calls after the shoot. If you can get your head round the nonsensical plot, pointless characters and a protagonist who may or may not be a child molester, then I'm sure you'll have great fun with Out of Reach. Remember, laugh all you want, but if Seagal keeps huffing and puffing the way he is now, he'll be dead soon and then you'll all be forced to watch his back catalogue on Channel 5 in remembrance.

More:  Action  Seagal
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