Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal (2008) Book Review

There are so many categories of fans. Take the average sports fan, for example. A sports fan, if he’s dedicated, can quote a plethora of statistics about his favorite team, highlight the strengths and weaknesses of individual players, where they attended college, what teams they’ve played for and even give you a historical summation of his team’s accomplishments, successes and failures. Movie fans are a different breed, altogether. Most movie fans know that the main actor/actress starred in this or that blockbuster last year and they used to date some gorgeous supermodel before they realized they were gay and, to satisfy their parental urge, adopted an entire Southeast Asian village. You’d be hard pressed to find a single fan who knows what school(s) their favorite action hero attended, what kind of work they did before they became successful and do a movie by movie breakdown of their entire career, to date, comparing, contrasting and finding every ounce of personal influence in each and every production. Well, he’s out there and his name’s Vern. No, not Vern so-and-so, just Vern.

Vern is a self-proclaimed expert on badass cinema. According to the bio in his new book, Seagalogy (release date May 23, 2008 from Titan Books), Vern is a frequent writer for Ain’t It Cool News and has “gained notoriety for his unorthodox reviewing style…” If, by that, they mean that Vern is a funny and irreverent son of a bitch then they’d be absolutely correct. Guillermo del Toro, the director of Pan’s Labyrinth, once called Vern a “national treasure.” This country has some seriously messed up treasures lying around. Let’s all point and laugh, shall we.

Vern has taken Seagal appreciation, Seagalogy, to an entirely new level. Movie by movie Vern breaks down seemingly insignificant details into a respectful and entertaining book that never comes across as a sycophant’s mindless hero worship. It’s obvious that Vern respects Steven Seagal as a person but the fact that he proves his point not by simply writing about the man but, instead, has chosen to show the man through his work. It would be, very much, like telling people the life of Henry Ford by only telling people about the cars that he made and the company that he started. The really entertaining aspect about this book isn’t the sheer magnitude of information and “Seagalogy” theories proposed, like how much glass is broken from one movie to the next or which movies have bar fight scenes in them and which ones don’t, it’s the writer’s genuine and humorous way of proving each of these whacked out proposals.

Seagalogy opens with an introduction, written by fellow “Seagalogist” and director of The Pineapple Express, David Gordon Green, that talks more about why people turn into Seagalogists than it does about the author and the content. Both of these guys really have a serious thing for Steven Seagal. I will say that, thankfully, neither one of them begin to affectionately refer to Seagal’s appearance. Although a couple of times Vern does point out Seagal’s wardrobe but it’s usually to mention that it’s either too flashy, in the case of the inappropriately named Glimmer Man, or nothing more than black clothes under a black trench coat, in On Deadly Ground.

Vern’s own introduction to the book, at one point, mentions the fact that many of Seagal’s movies are hard to take seriously when they feature a badass with a ponytail walking around spewing lines like, “What does it take to change the essence of a man?” He then irreverently compares Seagal’s movies to the Holy Bible and claims that neither is received well by everyone. He may have a point there.

Seagalogy breaks the career of Seagal down into four distinct “eras.” The first, the Golden Era, discusses four radically different movies dating from 1988 to 1991. The most notable of these is probably Seagal’s first picture, Above The Law. Vern points out that the main character, Nico, has a past that resembles Seagal’s in many ways. Both began studying martial arts, at a very young age, because of hearing a noted master speak at a sporting event (Nico was at a baseball game and Seagal was attending a football game) and both moved to Japan to complete their training. Vern then goes on to make correlations with later films, including discussing common themes in the storylines, recurring character eccentricities that are “typical Seagal” and ends each chapter with a Vern generated list of specifics for each movie. This includes things like crew credits, distinguished co-stars, most awkward one-liner and, the most “Vern” category of all, just how badass is this guy. The last category is usually a line or speech another character says about Seagal’s character that proves that he’s one dude you don’t want to mess with.

The next two eras covered, the Silver Era and the vague Transitional Period (an awkward time period starting in 1998 and lasting four years) when Seagal began falling out of public favor. Vern empathizes with Seagal and, without actually admitting that he agrees with his politics and spiritual views, actually spends page after page discussing how impressive it is that one of the things that makes Seagal so badass is that he’s willing to be a decent human being when it counts. While this attitude may not have made him a complete blockbuster draw it certainly has gotten the attention of guys like Vern, which says a lot.

The final era, the currently ongoing DTV (direct to video) Era, will definitely have you laughing as Vern follows his own formulas to their hilarious conclusions. He even follows it all up with a series of appendices on various Seagal appearances (including an appearance in The Celebrity Guide To Wine), movies he didn’t make (you mean there were some that bad???) and a review written the day after he attended a concert featuring The Steven Seagal Blues Band and Thunderbox in Seattle.

Vern’s writing isn’t very kid friendly. Those who have read many of his reviews on Ain’t It Cool News will not be surprised at just how raunchy some of the language can be. However, even with all the badass speech and ridiculous theories, Seagalogy competently proves Vern’s philosophy and shows him to be a talented and entertaining writer who more than adequately knows his material. He also shows some real brilliance in his thoroughness and ability to find so many commonalities in twenty years worth of Seagal films. Most readers will enjoy the writing style and irreverent commentary. Movie fans will enjoy the attention to detail and offhand comparisons to other cinematic works. True Seagal enthusiasts will have found a canon of work, written by an expert theologian of badass cinema about a master who creates badass cinema. Seagalogy may not be a religion but, according to Vern, it’s a philosophy that “breaks the wrists of it’s followers and throws them through a window.” Seagologists, your Bible has arrived.

By Vern
Titan Books, London, 2008
352 pages

Buy This Book from Titan Books

Seagalogy Book