Steven Seagal, the Weighty Warrior himself, is back in another movie
exactly like his others. I suppose he's made so many nearly identical
flicks that he's run out of good titles, because this particular name
seems to have nothing to do with the action. "Born to Raise Hell" sounds
like it ought to take place in South Carolina and should star Jerry Reed
and Burt Reynolds, with a cameo by Willie Nelson. Or maybe it should be a
creepy horror film about the dead returning to earth. But it's neither.
There ain't no hell-raisin' here, just the usual Seagal film, and a lot of
shootouts in downtown Bucharest.
Seagal has really stretched his acting skills this time. Usually he
plays an ex-agent-turned-mercenary who was dismissed from government
service because he just has too much integrity, dammit. But this time it's
a whole new ballgame. This time he's still an agent, still on the
government payroll! Dust off an Oscar!
I guess he hasn't been fired because he's been assigned to a special
task force in Romania, where there is absolutely nothing one can do to get
fired. He could walk into the office of the mayor of Bucharest and plug
the sumbitch, and the Romanians would simply thank him and start dividing
up the dead guy's possessions.
Speaking of "Whatta country!", one of the Russian mobsters in this film
actually delivers this variation on a classic Yakov Smirnoff line: "In
America you watch TV. In Russia, that shit watches you!"
The plot, if you want to call it that, basically involves a three-way
war between casually violent Romanian drug traffickers, purposefully
violent Russian mobsters, and the Special Honorable International Task
Force Opposing Russkies By Raiding All Intercepts Nightly, Stealthily
(known to their friends and enemies as SHITFORBRAINS). As you can guess,
some of these groups shoot at others, then others get revenge, and still
others get revenge for the revenge, etc.
Seagal appears to be ideal for an assignment in Dracula's home country,
since the Pudgy Paladin seems to have a black widow's peak painted on his
forehead to make him look like a vampire, in the manner of SCTV's Count
Floyd. Like Dracula, the Bulky Battler is up all night every night,
draining the blood from people. Unlike Dracula, however, he obviously gets
a remarkable amount of sun, because his skin is so orange he might have
reason to fear a paternity suit from Snooki's mom.
The Stout Sensei doesn't do a lot of hand-to-hand combat any more, and
when he does, the action is filled with jumpy edits to make everything
seem a lot faster and more impressive than it actually is. Rapid-fire
cutting can make anyone look like a martial artist, in the same way that
strobe lights can make anyone look like a dancer. (Even me. Long story for
another day.) Of course, no amount of screen magic can make Seagal look OK
without a shirt, so he manages to do his sex scene fully dressed. Not that
I'm complaining, mind you, because the chick is undressed.
Seagal wrote this film and, to be fair, he did a serviceable job. Of
course, the dialogue reads like a ritual ceremony in honor of Seagal's
ego, but the film does have a few things going for it: (1) the Russian bad
guy is a complex character; (2) the Bucharest locations are exotic and
generally pretty cool; (3) the narrative is smooth and comprehensible
after a few opaque moments at the beginning. I was wondering how Seagal's
fans have reacted to the film, so I checked out a few internet bulletin
boards dedicated to the big fella. The only real complaints I saw involved
the fact that Seagal and the top Gypsy psycho didn't have a good combat
scene. Apparently Darren Shalavi is an accomplished battler, so fight fans
were hoping for an epic battle between Shalavi and Seagal. The two
characters did have a fight, but Shalavi's character was never given a
chance to compete. Seagal's character landed all the punches, and threw
Shalavi around like a rag doll until Shalavi surrendered like a girlie
man, As soon as Seagal dropped his guard, the sniveling Shalavi pulled out
a hidden gun, like Harvey Korman in Blazing Saddles. ("Oh, sorry, I just
remembered ... I AM armed.") What happened then? Well, let's just say it's
not a smart move to pull a gun on Big Steve when he's playing a character
he scripted for himself. Why, his hands are so lightning-fast that he can
disarm you from the next room, and if you do miraculously get off a shot,
you'll end up accidentally killing a little kid or a puppy. Then the Jumbo
Jock will be really mad.
I have seen much worse Seagal movies. Given that you know in advance
that the great mano-a-mano battle between Seagal and Shalavi will never
happen, and given that you should have a certain realistic set of limited
expectations for a latter day Seagal movie, this film probably will meet
your expectations, but not exceed them by much.
Frankly, I still think SS would be much better as a bad guy. I liked
his character in Machete much more than I like any of his "honorable"
characters with their sycophantic phony respect for foreign cultures. Hey,
Big Steve, you want to get back into theatrical releases? You gotta turn,
man. Gotta turn. Learn from the WWF. You suck as a babyface. You were born
to be a heel.