Steven Seagal is an Alien. Can We All Just Agree On That?
Movie studios have always looked to the world of combat-based sports in the hopes of finding their new diamond in the rough. You might look at the soaring popularity of someone like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and ask yourself: “How???” or “Why???”, but even if you don’t understand the appeal, it’s hard to deny he has a presence. It’s not an evident road from pro wrestler to big time action movie star, but it’s not as farfetched as you might think either, considering how “wrestling” isn’t so much a sport as it is amateur theater. So it only makes sense that people like him, and more recently John Cena, have caught the public’s eye with their larger-than-life personas. In wrestling it's not so much about physical attributes, but showcasing an overt personality.
What with advances in computer effects and a generally larger pool of resources, physical skill has become secondary these days. It used to be if you wanted to be taken seriously as an action star, you needed to have proven yourself as an accomplished martial artist, capable of doing your own stunts, or at the very least have an extraordinary physique. Sure, there were a couple of Hulk Hogans, but no one ever took him seriously. Yet there was this one guy, a stoic blob who had neither much in terms of discernible charm, nor was he ever willing to show off much of anything he picked up in all his years training under several alleged martial arts masters. Yet he still gained worldwide fame in the world of kicking ass and taking names – I am, of course, talking about Steven Seagal.
Steven Seagal is, according to his IMDb, a “striking and somewhat boyishly handsome (often with ponytail) action star who burst onto the martial arts film scene in 1988 in the fast-paced Warner Bros. film Above the Law (1988).” His nicknames (again, according to this IMDb page) are “Lord Steven,” “The Great One,” and “The Master of Aikido.” Just going to let that information sit with you for a second. ....Okay, we good to go? First off, I wouldn’t exactly call Above the Law fast-paced but other than that? Well played, Mr. Seagal. He also claims to have been trained in the art of Aikido from the age of seven, at one point moving to Japan in order to further improve his skill. Above the Law seemingly even starts out in a semi-autobiographical fashion, where you can see him conversing fluently in Japanese, so let’s just assume it checks out. But there are clearly some ego issues at play here, and I want to know who enabled his descent to our planet, and gave him the keys to Hollyweird.
One of his first major hits was John Flynn’s Out for Justice (1991). Out for Justice sees Seagal don the black beret of Gino Felino (settle down), a rough-and-tumble Brooklyn-born cop of Italian descent who plays by his own rules, has the ego of a megalomaniac baby in need of a new dipey, and seeks vengeance for his murdered partner. It’s the role he was born to play! Truthfully everyone in this acts like a complete lunatic and I’ve gotta wonder if Italians are in any way offended by this movie because the accents in it are so stereotypically off the charts bananas. The main bad guy is played by William Forsythe, whose acting style can best be described as “running on cocaine fumes,” so believe me when I say that this was the part he was born to play. As such, Out for Justice remains one of the most entertainingly misguided entries in Seagal’s early career, and therefor I declare it my LOCK of the WEEK.
His first, and last directorial effort would follow three years later with On Deadly Ground, an “environmental action-adventure film” which co-stars Michael Caine, Joan Chen, R. Lee Ermey and a whole bunch of other character actors who all seem to agree that Seagal is the baddest motherfucker in the universe, capable of preventing the explosion of an oil rig by merely... showing up. It’s the role he was born to play! On Deadly Ground is Seagal acting and directing at the height of hubris. A more humble man would recognize his flaws, stick to what he’s good at. Not sure what exactly that would be in this case, but I gotta admit it’s fascinating to observe if only as a social experiment. As a movie, however, it’s almost worth watching as a showcase for overblown vanity projects, where the biggest environmental crime that’s being committed isn’t oil pollution, but a bloated runtime and a hell of a lot of scenery chewing. Stay awake to catch that final five-minute-long monologue where Seagal indirectly inspired Elon Musk to start Tesla. I shudder to think of the consequences had we gotten the original ten-minute version.
Finally, we arrive at one of Seagal's very last big budget blow-outs before he’d submerge in the swamp of direct-to-video fodder: John Gray’s The Glimmer Man (1996). The Glimmer Man has “The Great One” team up with Keenen Ivory Wayans in a Lethal Weapon-esque buddy cop flick, in which no one seems to know where exactly Seagal came from, but they sure as heck were instructed to treat him as the second coming of some sorta otherworldly being. Look, I honestly don’t recall the details of this 50% boring, 50% insane movie, and it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the fact that this was the part Seagal was born to play, and some of the improvised dialogue found here is undeniable proof that he is without a single doubt in my mind Not of this Earth. Case in point, there's one scene where Seagal and Wayans are at a morgue, looking over the dead body of one of the serial murderer's victims. After Seagal instantly assesses the girl as being “Russian, most likely Georgian” (not the same thing) without any prior information, Wayans quips: “Oh right, lemme guess, she’s an Aquarius and likes country music.” Upon which Seagal replies “She WAS an aquarium.” Guys, I’m not making this shit up. I cranked the volume up to 200% and he 200% says “aquarium.”
Anyway, if it sounds like I'm being down on the guy, I guess I kind of am? I legit don't understand based on what, other than a huge favor, he managed to break into movies, but I suppose therein lies my fascination. I'm generally more of a fan of people in movies who defy the norm than those who know how to act. Steven Seagal may be kinda boring on the surface, but at least his existence in cinema is interesting. And hey, when they start rounding us up for interplanetary repatriation, just... don’t look at me. I voted for Lord Steven.