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Well, shit. I've had this review done, but I was letting it sit and simmer or something. Or being too lazy to send it in. But now poor Isaac Hayes has died, so I better address that. Black Moses isn't shown on the cover or in the trailer for this upcoming Steven Seagal DTV event, and that's fair because he's barely in it. But Hayes does in fact appear in a few scenes as "Coroner." Seagal's homicide detective character is buddies with Isaac, so Isaac is pretty liberal with letting him check the dead bodies for clues. I call him Isaac because that appears to be his name - Seagal's character refers to him as "Is" (or "Eyes"). My theory was that Hayes was playing himself and that this is what he's been doing in Memphis since quitting that snot-nosed cartoon you guys are so fanatic about. But maybe not. At the time I thought it was cool to see Isaac Hayes in a Seagal movie. He did so many types of B-movies, from TRUCK TURNER to UNCLE SAM, it was about time he showed up in a Seagal picture. But now it's kind of sad because really he doesn't do anything in the movie, it's too bad they didn't give him a better role. I hope Seagal at least got out the guitar on set and got Isaac to sing "Walk On By" or something. Damn, tough weekend. Rest in peace Duke of New York, A-#1, Isaac Hayes. You too Bernie Mac, even though you're not in KILL SWITCH (which is probaly for the best.) * * * As most of you know, I wrote this book about the films of Steven Seagal, now available in bookstores. If you haven't read it, it's pretty good. You know that stupid book about how powerful Chuck Norris's beard is and how big his dick is and all that? My book is that book's opposite. It will be there standing in the shadows when that book exhales its last breath, and it will not shed a tear. All the Chuck Norris book will see is a glimmer, and then it will be dead. I only mention it because this is my first post-SEAGALOGY review of a Seagal movie, so I feel a little lost. I was working on that thing for five years. It became a big part of my life, waiting for the next movie to come out, writing up detailed notes, working up my first draft and writing a separate, less detailed Ain't It Cool review. I'm sure some day years from now I'll get to update the book and I'll really study the new ones. But as of today I'm free! This is a historic day. I saw the new Seagal movie and I didn't have to take notes! According to the description on the screener, KILL SWITCH is about "Detective Jacob Stillwell" pursuing a serial killer "into the dark, depraved Memphis underworld of street sex and senseless violence." I'm not sure what "street sex" is, and I don't think it's in this movie. Also, Seagal's character is named Jacob King. And at least half of the senseless violence is committed by King himself. But it is true that Seagal plays a Memphis homicide detective, and that means he attempts to do an accent for the whole movie. As you know if you've seen OUT FOR JUSTICE that's not enough to destroy a movie, but I have to admit it makes his performance laughable and cartoonish. I wish he was wearing a Kentucky colonel outfit, that would be pretty cool. Seagal is in a bluesman phase, so he likes to mix in some Southern idioms and some ebonics. He repeatedly calls people "baby", "brotha" or "potna," and enjoys the phrases "right quick," "sho nuff" and especially "Lahd have mercy." The plot finds King hunting not one but two serial killers (take that, S7V&N [or whatever the official nerd typing of the movie SEVEN is]). One killer he's already caught, but he got set free due to a minor technicality involving a certain aikido practicing homicide detective breaking into his apartment, beating the shit out of him and throwing him out a window. The other one uses a secret code of carving zodiac symbols into his victims (very imaginative) and King eventually tracks him down. I don't know why exactly but the GLIMMER MAN rule still applies here - for some reason it's more fun to watch an action movie where the bad guy is a drug dealer, a terrorist, a kidnapper or a gangster than some pervert who likes to cut people up. Maybe they just need more over-the-top actors, I don't know. Maybe if it was John Lithgow or somebody it would be fun, but instead they just got some dipshit with frosted blond hair and a hoodie who tries to act spooky. The character turns out to be a lyricist for a shitty local band that's really into the zodiac.Yeah, I just convinced myself, if that was Lithgow it would work. Give him an earring and a sleeveless vest, it would be awesome. Seagal's character has a young girlfriend who's also a cop, but he rejects her advances because he's obsessed with his work. He also has a female FBI agent following him around and he laughs at her because she throws up at a crime scene. One of the things that turned Seagal into a star was the extra brutality of his fights. He expressed his deep respect for the audience with a sound collage of broken bones and anguished screams often peppered with phrases such as "My balls! My balls!" or "My leg! You took my leg!" That's why many Seagalogists will be happy to see that in one scene Seagal has taken his brutality to a squirm inducing new level - he actually makes a guy bite the edge of a bar and then hits him in the back of the head a bunch of times, breaking the guy's teeth out. (And yes, the guy does announce [with surprisingly good enunciation] that Seagal broke his teeth.) I have to admit that for the first time ever in a Seagal movie that might've been a little too much for me. This is just some dude in a bar, his only crime is that he doesn't want to answer a cop's questions. It's a pretty harsh way to deal with that whole "stop snitching" thing. The last time I saw a guy curbed in a movie it was performed by Edward Norton as a Nazi skinhead in AMERICAN HISTORY X. So seeing a redneck cop do it to a black man brings bad associations. I'm not inclined to side with the cop. The blonde waitress does, though. She smiles like it was cute and says, "You're one tough cop!" Seagal gets sole screenwriting credit, and while it's not a very good story it does have a few memorable touches and variations on the usual Seagalogical scenarios. For the first time he has flashbacks not to some important experience in his career but to his childhood: he had a twin brother whose throat was slashed during a game of hide and seek. During their birthday party, no less. The flashbacks keep showing the killer's face, so you assume King will run into this guy, but it never happens. Instead the backstory is there to show why King is so driven to beat the shit out of suspects. They played rock paper scissors to decide who went into the woods. It was completely by chance that he was the surviving twin. If only he had chosen paper it would've been him with his throat slashed. (Or he would've done aikido on the guy.) The working title for the movie was A HIGHER FORM OF LEARNING. I'm not sure what that means. I think it should be called ROCKED FOR DEATH or THE TWIN WHO SHOULDN'T HAVE CHOSEN SCISSORS. Anyway, I was gonna list some of the memorable touches. One of the killers beats a woman to death with a baby doll. That's kind of a missed opportunity though because with a minor tweak of sound design he could've been beating her with a live baby. There's a weird tangent where King's potna tells a story about catching a cannibal in the act of eating a clown, and you may see the punchline coming but at least this storytelling gag is a new trick in the Seagal playbook. Another weird thing about the movie that's probaly not intentional is that it repeatedly shows violence being ineffective. When he breaks that guy's teeth out the only information he gets is useless, and then it leads to a huge shootout to avenge the broken teeth. When the female FBI agent interferes in a domestic situation she kicks the abusive boyfriend's ass and all it does is make the girlfriend run to his side. When King beats the shit out of a killer in order to learn which wire to cut on the bomb implanted in a woman's chest (long story) he finally gets an answer, but he's smart enough to know it's not the correct answer. (Maybe Seagal saw TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.) In the end his girlfriend is dead, the smiling waitress is dead, and for all we know the serial killer he left alive will be let loose just like the other one was. King says he has "unconventional methods" and what that means is he happened to find a ball peen hammer on the floor and use it to break every bone in the guy's body. (The arm is apparently the worst, since the guy yells "Mah arm, you fucker! My arm!") But definitely the highlight is the crazy ass ending. SPOILER WARNING + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + remember when they used to do spoiler warnings? I'm bringing that back. + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + After beating the one killer nearly to death and the other one actually to death, King leaves behind a letter to his partner and disappears. We hear the letter in a voiceover as the partner smiles, and it dissolves to a shot of Seagal wearing a black and white cowboy outfit, riding off into the sunset on a zebra. + + + + + + + + + + + That's not true, that was a decoy, it was still part of the spoiler warning. + + + + + + + + + + Seriously though. Okay, it's not as crazy as that, but the ending threw me for a loop. After the story is seemingly wrapped up we see King driving up to a house covered in plants. He goes to the door where a woman, two kids and a nanny are thrilled to see him. "Papa! Papa!" the kids say and he gives them presents. The blonde lady dances seductively into the bedroom, takes off her dress, puts a ribbon on herself and he follows her in and closes the door. The end. You probaly had to be there, but in the context of the movie this is crazy. Until this point we've only seen him in Memphis. What the fuck is this supposed to mean? He has a backup family squirreled away for emergencies? I've talked to a couple people who've seen the movie and haven't heard any theories, but after watching it twice and meditating on it for a while I decided maybe he's living a double life because of his dead twin. For all we know he tells this family that he's Daniel King. (If not Jacob Stillwell.) He lives the grim life of a Memphis homicide detective, but allows his twin to live on in a fancy garden house with two kids and a nanny. That's the Kill Switch. His brother gets killed so he switches with him. He switches between family life and killing killers. See? Kill Switch. I don't know. Anyway there's enough weird shit that this one's not a total write-off. But after two really high quality Seagal DTV pictures (URBAN JUSTICE and PISTOL WHIPPED) it's a big let down. And the biggest problem is in the most important area: the action. Seagal's been making movies for 20 years now, and the action genre has changed. There are many differences in audience taste and expectations that have affected the genre, but to me the biggest and most painful issue is that directors and editors generally are not interested in and/or capable of staging coherent action scenes. Greengrass and Nolan may have found ways to make shaky, confusing action scenes that work, but they're the exception to the rule. It used to be that fights and chases were carefully designed to pull you in and make you feel like you're hanging off the back of the car trying not to fall off. Now they try to make you feel like you're a basketball in the trunk of the car driving 60 mph on a cobblestone road. It's all shaking and blurring and spinning you around in circles blindfolded only to find that you are not holding the bat, you are in fact the pinata for Michael Bay and his followers to take a whack at. Action-wise Seagal movies have stayed pretty traditional and have turned sideways to this plague (an aikido move to avoid being hit straight-on). Until now. There are several fight scenes, most of them long and brutal, but they're ruined by some of the worst fight scene editing I've ever seen. Early on, when he kicks a serial killer through a window, it literally shows the guy going through the window ten or eleven times (I don't have to know the exact number, because I'm done with the book), sometimes switching angles but not always, and all in rapid succession, so it's not like it gives you a better look at it. While Seagal's hitting people they just randomly take a bunch of frames out of the middle of some shots, other shots they re-use a bunch of times in a row. A guy's head goes through a cigarette machine three times, a guy flies into a table four times, then a different table three times. I have learned that Seagal by contract does his own cut of a movie, and delivered something more straightforward. I am told that the stunt people did good work and there was nothing to hide. But for whatever reason somebody thought it would make it more exciting to pull this shit. Even compared to Michael Bay's editing it seems drastic. I am not exaggerating to say that it seems like somebody accidentally put their elbow on the keyboard and fucked up the files and then just left it that way. Or hired a baby to drool and crawl around on the keyboard to create a new experimental form of storytelling. And I am not against babies but for God's sake let's have competent adults edit all Seagal movies from this point forward. Babies shouldn't be watching a violent movie like this anyway. What does a baby know about getting curbed - he doesn't even have teeth. In my opinion KILL SWITCH is one step back after the two steps forward of URBAN JUSTICE and PISTOL WHIPPED. It really looked like he was on a roll there. Hopefully this is just one little stumble and not any indication of the direction his movies are headed. But right now I can't really predict where it's gonna go because I have to tell you, friends, I received a tip that Seagal's career and public persona may be about to go in a surprising new direction. I have received reliable information that Seagal has already filmed episodes of a reality television show. Luckily it's not some wacky Osbournes or Hulk Hogan type of family shenanigans, it is a crazy premise that involves Seagal doing some of that mysterious tough guy shit that he claimed to do and nobody (even me) totally believed him. (If you have Seagalogy there's a part in one of the appendixes in the back where I mention what I consider a "questionable" claim on a talk show appearance - well, this show may make me eat my words.) Based on the small amount I've heard of this show it sounds like some crazy shit and I'm dying to see it. On the other hand, I'm worried about Seagal going down the reality TV path. I mean jeez, I finally convinced a couple of people that his body of work is worth examining seriously. It'll be a shame if this show turns him into a joke or a freak show like Flavor Flav. I'm no fan of this pop culture cycle we have now where they pump somebody up into a celebrity, then stab them in the back, leave them to rot for many years and then dig them up again and tell them it would be cool for them to be in on the joke so then they show up again and everybody laughs. Fuck that ironic shit. This show sounds like it's intended more in a "DOG THE BOUNTY HUNTER" minus the racism type of vein, but we'll see if and how it turns out. KILL SWITCH comes out October 7th. Up next is one currently called RUSLAN, from the same director as KILL SWITCH. In that he plays a Russian gangster turned crime novelist. I'm sure it's mostly about him struggling with writer's block, falling in love, ultimately finding inspiration in an unlikely place, and then winning a book award. Still no word on PRINCE OF PISTOLS, though. --Vern SEAGALOGY HERE!

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