Merrick actually looked up how to spell “shittiness”…
Vern just sent in this review of Steven Seagal’s new MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE.
Wow…what a sad title. Ever notice how the shittiness of titles seems commensurate with a project’s budgetary considerations, release plans, etc.? Someone should develop a “Historical Scale of Titular Shittiness” to see if this theory holds.
Seagal once broke Sean Connery’s wrist while training him for NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. Let’s see if he now breaks Vern’s heart…
Hello, my name is Vern and I am currently rated one of North America's top three or four practicing Seagalogists, as well as one of the top two Verns on google. I am the man to come to for the inside dope on every new Seagal picture. However for the last one, BLACK DAWN, the guy who gets me the early screeners fell through and I had to rent it after it hit the shelves just like anybody else. No big deal, I can take my lumps, but there's a few guys out there - I remember Fat Paul was one of them, and a few others - they're asking me if I can hook them up with the early review. And as someone who strives for excellence, I got no choice but to come through.
I missed my screener for MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE too but I managed to score the actual DVD just 48 hours before they hit the streets, and I'm here to share my preliminary findings. It's an Easter miracle.
MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE is the most convoluted Seagal picture in a while. Seagal, obviously, plays a mercenary (for justice) and his best friend Radio Jones (no relation to Cuba Gooding Jr.) has convinced him against his better judgment to take a gig fighting against the French in a small island nation in southern Africa. They've been hired by the two main villains of the movie, and for the first time in a long time they got actors I like (and have heard of) to play the heavies. First of all you got "CIA Dirty Deeds Man" Dresham, played by Luke Goss. I don't have to explain to Ain't It Cool Newsies who Luke Goss is, because we all loved him as Jared Nomak in BLADE II.
The more impressive casting coup though is Roger Guenveur Smith. You might not know who that is but you'd probaly recognize him. He's in six Spike Lee movies, most famously as Smiley in DO THE RIGHT THING. If you saw GET ON THE BUS, he was the cop on the bus. If you saw that Soderbergh show K STREET he was Francisco DuprÃ©, the mysterious new guy at the firm. I guess he was in OZ, too, as well as KING OF NEW YORK and DEEP COVER. He plays alot of different types, but especially slick smooth-talker types with gentle voices. Here he does all that but goes more over-the-top and evil than usual, and seems to change his mind about what accent he wants constantly throughout the movie. Like at the end of TERMINATOR 2 when Robert Patrick gets fucked up and starts going through all the different forms he's shapeshifted into before.
So maybe it's not his best work, but I was still surprised they managed to get this guy in a 2006 Seagal movie. Seagal has faced many esteemed villains in the past, including Academy Award Winner Tommy Lee Jones (UNDER SIEGE), acclaimed playwright Eric Bogosian (UNDER SIEGE 2), BLADE II's Kris Kristofferson (FIRE DOWN BELOW), and Academy Award Winner Michael Caine (ON DEADLY GROUND). But that was a long time ago. I think the last "name" villain he fought was Morris Chestnut in 2002. He's no Michael Caine and that was ten movies ago.
Anyway Smith plays Anthony Chapel, "Black Opps Producer" (that's how they spell it onscreen), the guy who hired the mercenary team (for justice) but didn't tell them they were working for the CIA.
"I want these... independent contractors to think they're liberating these people," Dresham says to Chapel, but they agree they're actually trying to "get rich off of diamonds and oil."
In the midst of a heated gun battle, Seagal and his buddy Radio agree that they've been set up by the CIA. Radio announces, "I shouldn't've dragged you into this, John. They used me to get ahold of you, man! AAAARGGGHHH!!" The last part of that sentence is his way of saying "I just got shot a bunch of times and there's blood tripping out of my mouth." Not surprisingly, if you've ever seen a movie before, Radio soon asks Seagal to "take care of Eddie and Shonda" and then dies.
Meanwhile, the rest of the mercenaries (these ones not as much for justice), led by a couple of racist assholes from South Africa, have been kidnapping the French ambassador and his family. They use these hostages to help the team escape safely to the US, but Seagal is pissed at them for doing it.
In this opening battle there has been covert ops (or opps), a CIA led coup, a good dose of betrayal, and a cameraman being killed by soldiers. It kind of seems like Seagal might be going back to his ABOVE THE LAW roots, getting into preachy CIA corruption stories again. Or at least making a murky foreign policy thriller in the tradition of Jack Abramoff's RED SCORPION or Jean-Claude Van Damme's SECOND IN COMMAND. But no, it's really not all that political of a movie. It's a twisty secret agent kind of deal with different factions trying to outsmart each other. And since Seagal has a hot babe, a computer expert and a big dude named Bulldog on his team, it almost has a MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE type feel to it.
But first it has to get personal. Seagal goes to visit Radio's son Eddie and widow Shonda in Miami and give them some money. Even though the kid looks 9 or 10 years old, he says, "I'm gonna look after you and the baby now." Then he kills some dudes outside of the house and gets snatched and brought into Chapel, who wants to hire him for another job. He refuses, until Chapel plays him a tape of Eddie and Shonda kidnapped with masked dudes behind them (very classy in these times of constant terrorist kidnapping tapes).
So he reconsiders and takes the job, which is to break into a high security prison and release an arms dealer who is the son of a rich Greek guy. The exact size of his wealth is in dispute - Chapel describes him as a "millionaire extraordinaire" but he describes himself as "a billionaire many times over." Whatever he is, Seagal and the other mercs have 4 days to break his son out of this prison while also evading Luke Goss and his CIA guys, who are pretty pissed at them.
Next is the clever (but not believable) part of the movie as a series of tricks slowly unfolds, and although it's a little hard to follow it's nice that they don't tell you what's gonna happen. But I will. Basically it lays out like this. Goss abducts Seagal's colleague (ex-girlfriend?) to get information on what he's up to, but instead of snitching about the prison break she claims they're planning on breaking into a thing called "the black vault." So the CIA has the local cops stake out this bank in South Africa, while Seagal leads the racist mercs into the prison.
Once they get inside, though, Seagal and friends abandon them inside and forget about breaking the Greek dude out. Now the mercenaries for racism have been separated from the mercenaries for justice. At this point, Seagal's girl tells Goss that actually they're not going to break into the black vault, it turns out that was only a decoy so they could break into the prison. So they send all the cops over to the prison, at which point Seagal comes over to the black vault and actually does break in. The Greek millionaire extraordinaire finds out that his son was not broken out, so he tries to put a $500 million bounty on Chapel's head. But Seagal uses illegal accounts found inside the vault to blackmail a Greek Army Chief of Staff into arresting the billionaire. And some other stuff. And then he goes to save Eddie and Shonda and blow up Chapel's car.
I know it's a fancypants kind of plan. But it's hard out here for a mercenary for justice.
The director is Don E. Fauntleroy, a veteran cinematographer who also directed Seagal's TODAY YOU DIE. He shot both movies as well, and they are better looking than the various DTV Seagal pictures shot around Europe. Not that this movie is gorgeous or anything. And for god's sake, can we please stop imitating SAVING PRIVATE RYAN in battle scenes? This DVD even has a 15 minute making of featurette where Fauntleroy brags about watching SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and BLACK HAWK DOWN 20 times and trying to copy their look. I'm starting to wonder if more people copy SAVING PRIVATE RYAN than THE MATRIX.
This is not my favorite type of Seagal picture. I wish he would get back into the intimate hand-to-hand on the street type of fighting. Instead the DTV era is more about traveling around to different countries tracking people down and then most of the action is machine guns and exploding cars. There are some pretty good chunks of aikido here and there though, and Seagal does seem to be moving pretty fast (except in a couple shots where they obviously sped it up). He has 3 stunt doubles listed in the credits, but they seem to have mostly been used for scenes where he wasn't there (like showing a pair of cowboy boots running along somewhere and pretending it's him).
One pretty funny part is when he's sitting down at a table and a guy attacks him, and he does his aikido arm-twisting self defense thing without even standing up.
He's pretty much playing the same character as always, but there's one little thing that surprised me. He almost always plays a fearless, invulnerable character, but for some reason in this one there are two different scenes where he gets a gun pointed at him and instantly surrenders. In one scene he's saying"I oughta fuckin kill you right now, boy," when a guy points a gun at him and says, "I don't think so." And he says, "Yeah, maybe not right now" and walks away real fast.
Another part, a guy says "We can all end up looking like Swiss cheese, or we can go have a nice cup of coffee. What's it gonna be?" and he says, "Let's, uh, let's go have a cup of coffee."
But other than that he's his usual tough guy smartass self, and he even gets one Schwarzeneggerian pun ("I always thought he had an explosive personality.")
Anybody who gets a kick out of flawed DTV filmatism will have a few chuckles, but it's not nearly on the crazy level of an OUT OF REACH or something like that. Still, I noticed some pretty strange continuity errors (like when there's multiple references to three people dying in a sequence where only two people died). There's only obvious dubbing in a handful of parts, but they are some doozies. The best one is when Roger Guenveur Smith has a line looped by what sounds like a British guy reading off of a cue card. I guess there's no point in doing a DTV Seagal movie if you don't have one part where you get dubbed. He probaly requested it.
MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE isn't exactly like any other Seagal picture, but it doesn't have unique enough qualities to really stand out. Except that in one part Seagal uses the word "'Tis," as in, "'Tis, isn't it?" That is a historical first. I bet he will start using it alot though. Steven Seagal 'Tis... OUT FOR JUSTICE.
That's another thing, they used the OUT from OUT FOR JUSTICE a couple times lately (namely, OUT FOR A KILL and OUT OF REACH). But obviously the FOR JUSTICE part has been needing some love, so it's good to see him dusting that part off and getting some more use out of it. I hope he brings back MARKED FOR pretty soon too but we can't have everything we want, can we?
Those are my early findings. Only time will tell if deeper study will tell a different story.