Do you ever wonder why, in a Steven Seagal movie, characters with guns run up to Seagal’s character from behind until they’re almost on top of him, instead of just shooting him from a distance like someone with half a brain? Apparently the only person who hasn’t wondered this is Steven Seagal, who has used the same gimmick to disarm, and then kill bad guys (usually involving the loud crunch of a breaking arm), since he burst onto the scene with the then-refreshing “Above the Law”.
The tradition continues with “The Foreigner,” a film that casts Seagal as the improbably named Jonathan Cold, an ex-U.S. Government operative working in Europe as a freelance mercenary. When Cold is paid to deliver “a package” to a gazillionaire in Germany, he finds a world of trouble. Curiously, as Cold goes about France, Germany and Poland (or in all probability, just different parts of the same country) trying to learn the secret of “the package”, all I could think of was, “My God, Steven Seagal has not aged gracefully at all.”
I must confess that the only reason I bothered watching “The Foreigner” at all was to see the present state of Steven Seagal, former action movie star. Unfortunately the word “former” is most appropriate, because Seagal looks unfathomably old and tired and, well, just old. His face has turned into something akin to a blow-up bag, and his cheeks are as puffy as bread dough. Also, he is still incapable of doing a “character”, and continues to do the same character he did in “Above the Law” and has subsequently redone in every movie since.
It seems the only growth Seagal has gone through is in his belly, which director Michael Oblowitz gamely attempts to cover up by filming much of Seagal’s stand-alone scenes in the dark or covered in shadows. Also, Seagal walks through the whole movie (yes, he walks; Seagal never runs, or has not run, since “Above the Law”) in a baggy black leather jacket because, as we all know, black is slimming. Seagal is still sporting that unsightly ponytail, which now seems to resemble wavy tree branches instead of hair. Do you know how Seagal seems to suck in his entire mouth and make that painful looking expression when he’s about to do something “action-packed”? The point is, Seagal seems determined to “play Seagal” for good now. “Range” is not just for cowboys, Steven. Hire an acting coach, for God’s sake.
“The Foreigner” is a mess of a film. It’s part Evil U.S. Government Conspiracy and parts “Ronin”, a superior movie also set in Europe and involving a maguffin “package”. Unfortunately writer Darren Campbell must have forgotten the Movie Law that states the maguffin doesn’t matter, and shouldn’t be opened — ever. As a result of Cold opening the maguffin, the movie completely loses any sense of mystery. Not only that, but what’s discovered to be inside “the package” is a total letdown. See? There is a reason why maguffins are not meant to be open.
As a whole, the screenplay by Campbell is terribly clich’. The Evil U.S. Government Conspiracy angle is all about Shadowy Government Operatives talking about this and that, but never really doing anything of note. There is also a CIA assassin who walks around Germany dressed in the most outlandish pimp daddy clothes and use slang like he’s a 10-year old in the ghetto. Gee, way to go with the whole covert angle, Superfly! Campbell also has a bad habit of having his gunmen, when they’re about to kill someone (usually Seagal’s Cold), go on a lengthy diatribe involving (supposedly) “clever dialogue”, proving once again that screenwriters everywhere are still suffering from Tarantino-itis even in 2003.
The direction by Michael Oblowitz is actually quite good, even if he does make the mistake of framing some of Seagal’s scenes from behind, thus hiding Seagal’s aging face and protruding belly. (Of course, this also means we have to see more of Seagal’s bizarre ponytail, natch.) If “The Foreigner” has taught me one thing it’s that buildings, houses, and even businesses that are shown to be sitting alone in the middle of nowhere are meant to be exploded, engulfed in flames, or severely trashed. For example, when I saw a cottage in the middle of nowhere toward the end of the film, I nodded knowingly and thought, “There goes the cottage.” True to form, the cottage was engulfed in flames moments later!
It’s not that “The Foreigner” is a terrible movie, it’s just a terribly bad movie. It’s Seagal doing Seagal, which he has been doing since “Above the Law.” The man has no sense of change or growth, and will probably “play Seagal” until the day he dies, or until people stop giving him millions of dollars to make a silly film where he does the same thing he’s been doing, only slower and with less believability.
FYI: “The Foreigner” is the third of Seagal’s movies to go directly to video shelves here in the States. If this keeps up, Seagal will be giving fellow former action star Jean-Claude van Damme (“The Order”) a run for his money.
Michael Oblowitz (director) / Darren O. Campbell (screenplay)
CAST: Steven Seagal …. Agent Cold
Max Ryan …. Dunoir
Anna-Louise Plowman …. Meredith Casey