Spotlight On Seagal: Today You Die

1 stars


23rd July 2006

If ever there was a movie that needed an exclamation mark after its title, it's this one. If Steven Seagal had used his considerable weight to get the director to rename it Today You Die! then at least it would go some way to explaining all the unintentional laughs it contains. Instead, the solemn-faced title marks yet another chapter in the fascinating career trajectory of everyone's favourite ponytail-sporting ass-kicker, following the successful formula of teaming Steven with an unknown black rapper and having them face off against a posh white crime boss, throwing in a sexy female FBI agent and a sick little child, then letting the results speak for themselves. If the results really could speak for themselves, they'd say: "I can't believe you just spent money on me, I'm only going to pay for another bonsai tree in Steven's meditation chamber." Sucker. I got my copy for free.

Seagal plays Harlan Banks, an ex-con looking to go straight - stop me if you've heard this one before. Apparently unaware what happens when you take "one last job," Seagal nonetheless decides to take a legit gig transporting $20 million from a casino, and is shocked - as are we - when the armoured truck he's driving is hijacked. The resulting chase scenes are pretty badass, with the truck smashing through police roadblocks and flipping over cop cars with gay abandon. However, a little research revealed that the whole scene was actually stock footage lifted from a ten year-old Peter Weller flick - I did wonder why you never actually saw Seagal in a shot that wasn't 100% zoomed in on his gurning face as he drove. Seagal ends up crashing the truck, and is picked up by police who demand to know where the money has gone. Claiming he's been hit by an unfortunate bout of amnesia - which I can totally understand, given his age - the police throw his ass in jail, where he meets the token black sidekick, Ice Kool (seriously). I've never heard of this rapper, Treach, but I'm thinking if he thought that appearing in this movie would kickstart his career, he's probably realising about now that he was mistaken. Together, they execute the most ridiculous prison escape ever (just get your helicopter owning friend to drop in and lift you out - the makers of Prison Break must be kicking themselves) and vow to get their $20m mo'fuckin' payday.

Steven Seagal doesn't want to be a Buddhist anymore, he's now attempting to become a black man. Although he speaks in his normal tone when speaking to white characters - hushed, barely raised above a grumble - whenever he's speaking with his partner, he says things like "I hear dat" and "Das wha' ahm sayin." Apparently, black people in this movie communicate by banging their hands together and generally converse like the two African-American stereotypes in Airplane ("Leg her down 'n' smack 'em yak 'em!"). There's a lot of unnecessary swearing (this is how black people talk, remember) and pointless banter between the two, which looks forced until Seagal improvises and throws Treach off the trail, so he usually replies with a non sequitur like "Believe dat." Treach does get to say the title line after popping a cap in a mid-level boss, but kinda spoils it by adding "Li'l bitch" afterwards. Not cool man, you just killed the guy, you don't need to call him a bitch as well.

You won't be surprised to hear that the action scenes are below par, even by Seagal's recent standards. In the last movie of his which I saw (Out Of Reach) his biggest stunt was a forward roll, but even that would be a stretch these days. The movie's tagline is 'The fist is mightier than the gun' but this is disproved when Seagal is confronted by a high-kicking kung-fu master and just shoots him. Most of the fights are done by a stunt double (hope he got paid well) leaving Seagal to do the close shots (most of which are repeated several times) and the arm-breaks. Although he doesn't employ someone else to do his voiceovers for him like last time, even things like walking through doors and jumping on ladders seem to be done by his double, and you can totally tell because he's packing at least 20lb less than Seagal himself (it's hilarious to think that his stunt double is probably being forced to gain weight along with the big man or lose his job). Steven spends the entire movie wearing the baggiest clothes possible; when he's in prison he dons a huge denim jacket and even in a love scene he's wearing a massive hooded jacket - ooh, sexy. (I can pretty much guarantee that Steven Seagal will never appear in a movie set on a desert island or anywhere else hot, due to the problems his wardrobe will cause).

If you're one of those nerds who submit the goofs to IMDb then prepare for your Holy Grail. There's so much in Today You Die that doesn't make sense, it's baffling to keep up. For example, Seagal's wife has prophetic dreams (of nothing in particular) and warns Steven of impending danger. There are a few early scenes when Seagal comments on her psychic voodoo skills and on the mystic paintings in her room, setting the movie up for a cool Live And Let Die-style scenario. This, however, comes to nothing. Turns out she was just full of shit. Also, the main bad guy Max (white, bearded, displays a talent like playing the piano which means he can't be all bad) just kind of disappears in the end scene. For the whole movie, everyone's been claiming he's dead, then he shows up, sets his number one goon on Seagal and just leaves, never to be seen again. Maybe, with his amnesia and all, Seagal just darn forgot about him. Talking of his apparent memory loss, it's hinted at that it's all a con (but never explained), and the final scenes see the token rapper removing the pair's stolen money from a Swiss bank. Call me cynical, but this means that Seagal had to have deposited the cash some time after the chase and before he was captured, which looked to have been just a few minutes. Considering he was seriously injured and his armoured truck was on fire, you'd think the cashiers at the bank would have asked for some identification or something. "Sorry Mr. Banks, it's says here you're an ex-con so we can't accept your $20 million. You'll have to take your flaming truck elsewhere." Seagal ends up spending the money on a Children's Hospital, which would have otherwise gone out of business. We know this because they had a bright yellow sign outside that said 'Going Out Of Business.'

There's loads more goofs to spot too, most of which are gloriously half-arsed. For example, Seagal gets into a fight with one guy wearing a black jump-suit, but when he throws him through a window, the shot from the outside shows a different guy wearing sleeveless body armour falling to his death. He also shoots the same guys more than once in the many gun fights (one chap gets shot in the same shoulder twice, which must have really fucking hurt), some of which do cool things like appear from spawning spots behind statues and round corners. Oh yeah, and for a movie that's supposedly set in the bright lights of Las Vegas, it sure does have a lot of abandoned warehouses. The only time you're aware they're actually in Vegas is during the Peter Weller chase scene, which as the movie draws to a close, you realise was the best bit. They even have the gall to call it "the most extraordinary chase scene ever filmed" on the back of the box. Shame it wasn't yours, assholes.

Personally, I think Seagal needs to sit down a watch a few of his recent movies. No wait, I think he needs to get a haircut, then sit down and watch them, so he can realise how dumb his hair looks too. Stop pretending to be black, stop pretending to be a Buddhist, stop stuffing twinkies into your face and start working out again. Jesus, if Jean Claude Van Damme can supposedly get cast as the villain in Rush Hour 3, then there's still hope for the Steven Seagals out there. It's not quite as unintentionally funny as Out Of Reach (there's no nursing of poorly kestrels here) but you might get a kick out of it if you want to see just how little effort it's possible to put into a film. Still, it's hard to see how things could get any worse unless he gets some sort of face double and only agrees to appear in scenes which require standing still or eating.

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