Seagal’s latest DTV opus, “Out for a Kill”, proves once and for all that every conceivable Generic Action Movie title has been taken. Having squandered eye-catching titles like “Hard to Kill” and “Marked for Death”, Seagal is now left with the completely generic-sounding “Out for a Kill”. Considering the slim pickings, I’m looking forward to Steven Seagal in…”Kill Dead Fire Deadly”!
Besides being the nth film to feature Seagal as a Super Duper Martial Arts Guy With a Mysterious Past, “Out for a Kill” continues Seagal’s pretentious love affair with all things Chinese. Here, Seagal plays Burns, a highly decorated Yale archaeologist who gets framed by the Tongs, aka the Chinese mob, while doing a dig in China. But the Tongs don’t know who they’re messing with. You see, besides being a grave robber, Burns also used to be a master thief who got sent to prison, gained his Masters in Chinese history while in the can, then changed his name and turned his life around. Of course in a Seagal movie Seagal’s character never has to tell us that he’s a Super Duper Martial Arts Guy With a Mysterious Past, since that’s the job of everyone else. Cause, you know, if Seagal says it, it would be, like, bragging or something.
There are a number of things about “Out for a Kill” that irritates. Such as, why does director Michael Oblowitz (who also directed Seagal in “The Foreigner”, apparently going under the false assumption that directing Seagal at least means he’s working and that can’t possibly be bad for his career) keep inserting captions accompanied by a singular computer sound effect? Does high-tech sounding caption effects really belong in a movie like this? Also, when Oblowitz tells us that the EEE-vil Chinese Bosses are in Paris having their Evil Meeting in a Dark and Smoky Room once, is it really necessary to keep telling us where they are and what time is it over and over again? Especially since the entire sequence was probably shot in one sitting, then chopped up to be sprinkled throughout the movie, complete with superfluous zooms?
The above is made even more irritating because the movie keeps cutting to the Dark and Smoky Room about every 5 minutes so the EEE-vil Chinese Bosses can impart on us just what a Super Duper Martial Arts Guy With a Mysterious Past Seagal’s character is. Which brings up another question: why does a bunch of Chinese people, speaking in English, keep referring to Seagal’s Burns as “the gwilo”? You’d think that if they were all speaking English, that they would call him whatever it is that “gwilo” means in English, no? I mean, if they were talking in Chinese — okay, calling him gwilo over and over again makes sense. But if they were speaking in English, why would “gwilo” be the only word they keep using in Chinese?
Joining Seagal for this ride to vengeance (this time they didn’t just threaten to kill his dog and his wife, they actually killed his assistant and then blew up his wife!) is Michelle Goh as a Hong Kong cop and Corey Johnson as the really thickheaded (not to mention completely useless) DEA Agent. There’s also an Urban Black Character who, for some reason shows up in a Chinese prison early on, only to never be seen again 2 minutes later. I guess Seagal was going under the assumption that you really increase your urban demographic if you throw in a hip young black fellow ala Ja Rule or DMX, since it seemed to have worked in “Exit Wounds” and “Half Past Dead”. Even if, you know, it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Actually, it’s probably a bit disingenuous to call “Out for a Kill” an American movie because, let’s face it, there’s nothing very American about it. Seagal’s last few movies have taken place overseas, where his star wattage remains somewhat bright, and while “Out for a Kill” tries to tell us it’s taking place in New York and other parts of the States, they’re obviously location doubles.
As for action, there are actually a lot more — and much better — action sequences in “Kill” than in Seagal’s last few movies. We get an encounter between Burns and two sword-wielding assassins (replete with gratuitous slow-motion, natch), then a scene where Burns takes on a guy armed with monkey kung fu (the guy, not Burns). The second encounter is interesting in that the unwieldy Seagal just stands there waiting to punch the monkey guy, who is crawling all over the walls and ceiling. Granted, Seagal is no longer as thin or mobile as he once was, but you do wish he would at least try to give the false impression of some mobility. Not so with Seagal, who simply refused to move during the entire fight.
The thing about Seagal is that he’s at a point in his career where he really could care less about changing. Range is something to be found on ranches, not in his movies. It’s also interesting to note that for a guy who claims to really love all things Chinese, Seagal (who co-wrote the screenplay) seems unconcern about perpetuating the stereotype that all Chinese people know kung-fu since, well, every Chinese person in the movie knows kung-fu. Of course, they’re not as good as Seagal, who wipes the floors with them. All of them. Without breaking a sweat. And should I even mention that all the bad guys have Steven Seagal Syndrome, where they run up on him from behind with guns instead of just shooting him from, say, 5 yards away?
“Out for a Kill” is so…Steven Seagal-ish. Whether that is a good or bad thing is completely up to you.
Michael Oblowitz (director) / Dennis Dimster, Danny Lerner, Steven Seagal (screenplay)
CAST: Steven Seagal …. Travis Burns
Michelle Goh …. Tommie Ling
Corey Johnson …. Ed Grey
Kata Dobo …. Maya