Steven Seagal plays a university archeology professor. This is all ye know about Out For a Kill, and all ye need to know.
Hello, friends. I'm Judge Michael Rankins. You know me as a member of the august Court here at DVD Verdict. Today, however, I'm speaking to you not from the Verdict bench, but from the heart. I'm here today as a representative of an important new charitable foundation known as C.E.S.S.P.O.O.L.—Cineastes Ending Steven Seagal's Pollution Of Our Legacy.
Yes, friends, it's time for decent, passionate, quality-loving film enthusiasts everywhere to unite our voices in opposition to the continued waste of celluloid, fiscal resources, and brain cells represented by the ongoing manufacture of Steven Seagal movies. Every dollar that's frittered away on Mr. Cryptic and his witless, incompetent brand of cinematic cheese is a dollar not being given to some talented young filmmaker with genuine artistic vision, to produce motion pictures that lift the spirit, expand the horizons of human imagination, and bring dreams to vivid, colorful life.
We may not, in our lifetime, be able to cure AIDS, or some forms of cancer, or the common cold. We may not be able to root out terrorism and injustice wherever they hide. We may not be able to affect harmony and brotherhood between people of all nations and races, and realize the joys of worldwide peace. But we can stop Steven Seagal. We must stop Steven Seagal. And with the help of your faithful diligence, and your generous tax-deductible donations, we will stop Steven Seagal.
Unfortunately, it is already too late to stop Steven Seagal from making Out For a Kill.
Thank you for your kind attention. We now return you to our regularly scheduled review, already in progress.
Facts of the Case
To say that Out For a Kill has a plot is to assume facts not in evidence, but we'll take a stab at it anyway. Archeology professor and Indiana Jones wannabe Robert Burns (Steven Seagal, Exit Wounds—and isn't it the height of chutzpah to name a character played by the uncommunicative Seagal after one of the English language's greatest poets?) stumbles onto the fact that his expedition to China is being used by an international drug cartel as a cover for a smuggling operation. (Incidentally, when the president of a university introduces Steven Seagal as "our most distinguished academician," one can only wonder: what the devil kind of low-rent, mail-order degree factory is this? If Seagal is your leading scholarly light, who else is on the faculty—the mountain men from Deliverance?) When Burns's assistant is murdered by the smugglers, the archeologist (Steven Seagal, archeologist…snicker) lands in a Chinese prison, framed for dope-running.
Though Burns is quickly released and sent home, the bad guys—your stereotypical Chinese tong—aren't through with the professor (Steven Seagal, professor…snicker) yet. They send hitmen to Burns's house in New Haven, Connecticut (I know it's New Haven, Connecticut, because every time a character scratches his or her nose in this movie, a caption pops up on the screen to tell us where they are—a device that wears out its welcome quickly) to put the kibosh on the tomb raider's lovely wife Maya (Kata Dobo, whose entire purpose in this film is to remove her clothing, then get blown up).
With the two people closest to him dead at the hands of evil druglords, and with a beautiful Chinese cop (Michelle Goh) and a surly DEA agent (Corey Johnson) shadowing his every move, Dr. Burns (Steven Seagal, doctorate…snicker) is, according to the tagline on the keep case, "out for revenge…out for payback." (Note to the Columbia TriStar marketing department: "revenge" and "payback" are synonymous. This double tagline is therefore redundant.)
Burns dukes it out with numerous underworld henchmen. Burns slices and dices a host of nondescript Asian ne'er-do-wells with a samurai sword. (Yes, I know the film is set in China, and samurai swords are Japanese. Please direct your cultural complaints to Mr. Seagal.) Fists and feet fly. Heads roll. Audience members reach for the aspirin. Western civilization takes another inexorable step toward chaos.
With rare exception, movies that open with a flashback are not very good. Ditto movies that open with a slow-motion sequence, voiceover narration, or a scene in a strip club. A film that begins with voiceover narration behind a slow-motion flashback set in a strip club couldn't be good in a million years. Out For a Kill does not exceed these expectations.
Indeed, so much is wrong with Out For a Kill that the only way to improve it would be to burn the script, fire the cast and crew, and make a totally different movie. One might well ask, What did you expect from a bargain-basement, direct-to-video action flick starring Steven Seagal? But that's the point, isn't it? There is no valid reason on God's green earth why Seagal should still be getting paid cash American to make awful movies like this one. When was the last time he made a decent picture? Under Siege? That was eleven years ago, people. Even Kevin Costner, the reigning king of stink-o-rama, has hit paydirt since then.
Seagal was barely tolerable when he was young, lithe, and could kick butt with the best of them. Now he's stiff, middle-aged, and roughly the size of Shamu (Seagal wears a bulky jacket throughout this film—even in scenes set in a blazing desert—hoping we won't notice that he's lingered at the neighborhood Krispy Kreme about three dozen times too many), and the Whispering Smith act lost its dramatic impact about ten films ago. In Out For a Kill, he's not even trying, muttering obtuse aphorisms that make it seem as though his character served time in a Chinese bakery rather than a Chinese prison. "Out for payback," my sweet aunt—"out for paycheck" is more like it.
Of course, not even Olivier (Sir Laurence, not Martinez) could have turned a pathetic, implausible, utterly incomprehensible script like the one turned in by Dennis Dimster-Denk (Steven Seagal, meet Manny the Hippie) into gold. (This is the kind of movie where Seagal's wife hears about his arrest in China on a radio news broadcast. Think carefully—when was the last time your local news made it a point to announce the arrest in a foreign country of some obscure academic on an archeological dig? That's what I figured.) Then again, a better script would only have been squandered on the talentless Seagal and his equally inept supporting cast. I mean, another writer might have actually have felt compelled to employ words of more than two syllables, and frankly, I'm just not sure Slammin' Steve is up to that challenge.
If there's a rainbow in this storm cloud anywhere, it can only be that Out For a Kill is over in a relative hurry, clocking in at a mere 90 minutes. Then again, in 90 minutes, you could do something productive with your life. And you should.
Columbia TriStar unleashes this direct-to-the-loss-leader-table spectacular on a technically satisfactory DVD. The picture quality—at least as much of it as you'll see through slitted eyelids before you drift off to sleepytown—is reasonably good; no print damage (no kidding—they made this, what, two days ago?), relatively few digital quirks. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, conversely, is an amateurish botch job. There's ample activity in the surrounds, with thunderous bass creating a huge, enveloping soundfield. But all this bombast comes at the expense of the dialogue, which is mixed so low in the track that at times the viewer would not be certain the actors (especially the monotone and subsonic-volume Seagal) were speaking at all, were it not for the subtitles. Speaking of which, although both the audio and subtitle menus offer to translate the dialogue into French, Spanish, or Portuguese, there are no corresponding options labeled "Coherent," "Intelligent," or "Non-Insulting." Hey, when Seagal is talking, I'd settle for English.
The only extras—thank heaven someone saw fit not to include "The Wit and Wisdom of Steven Seagal"—is a theatrical trailer (can you call it a "theatrical" trailer if the flick goes straight to video?) and a pair of bonus trailers (for The Foreigner and Double Vision, which together are the artist and title of an album I once owned, back in the day).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Michelle Goh is a stone fox. Who should fire her agent. Today.
By buying or renting Out for a Kill, you only encourage the people who made it. Take responsibility. Just say no to Steve. (Make your donation checks payable to C.E.S.S.P.O.O.L.)
Guilty of lowering the collective I.Q. of the audience by a few percentage points, and of perpetuating the flagging career of a washed-up, non-emotive wack job. Sentenced to burial at a university dig in the Gobi Desert, where archeologists in a far-future millennium will unearth it and offer it as conclusive testament to the moral dissipation of 21st-century humankind.
Court is adjourned.
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