The title of the latest Steven Seagal direct-to-video actioner pretty much sums up the man’s career — “Today You Die” is what you call a movie when you can’t be bothered to put any thought behind it. Are you kidding me? “Today You Die”? Sheesh. They’re not even trying anymore. Couldn’t they have called it something cooler, like, “Today You Are Marked For Deadly Death Under Ground”? Or maybe, “The Foreigner Who is Marked To Die Deadly Fire Run Run Run”? I especially like the second title. Adding “Deadly” and “Fire” to a Seagal movie title just seems…right.
In his latest opus, Seagal plays Harlan Banks, a high-tech thief (we know he’s “high tech” because he has a black doohickey that turns off alarms and whatnot) who robs from the rich and gives to the poor. Or at least that’s what some guy with a shotgun tells us. After his latest heist goes bad (he kills Mr. Shotgun and about 10 of his associates), Stevie hightails it to Vegas, where his nagging girlfriend Jada (Mari Morrow) nags him into a real job, or as she puts it, a “j-o-b”. He does, driving an armored car for shady guy Max (Kevin Tighe), who we know is shady because the first time we meet him there is ominous music, and let’s face it, actor Kevin Tighe hasn’t a clue what subtlety means.
As expected, the j-o-b is not exactly legit, and ol Stevie ends up in a high speed chase through the Vegas strip in said armored van. Apparently Harlan is a real Renaissance man — he’s not just a Robin Hood high-tech thief, but he’s also a world class martial artist and the world’s greatest getaway driver. Although take note: despite being a Robin Hood type of fella, Harlan sure doesn’t see anything particularly wrong with killing about a dozen cops — at least — by using the armored van as a battering ram during the getaway. In any case, he’s caught and sent to prison (wait, didn’t we already see this movie?), where he befriends young tough black guy Ice Kool, played by rapper Treach (okay, now I know I’ve seen this movie before). But since this isn’t “Half Past Dead 2: Three-Quarters Deader”, Harlan escapes prison, determined to hunt down the fiend Max who set him up.
The action in “Today You Die” are the usual Steven Seagal stuff, namely bad guys point guns at him from 1 foot away instead of just shooting him, he breaks their arms or takes their guns away, then kills everyone within 100 yards of the area. The action scenes are not particularly logical, but that’s nothing new, especially in these days of Seagal direct-to-video offerings. The efforts with which the script goes to justify its action moments are abysmal. Although here’s a curious question for the screenwriters: when a hospital is getting ready to close down, do they really slap a bright yellow sticker that reads, “Going out of business” over their sign? That seems a little, er, grocery store-like to me. But then again, I’m not a highly paid Hollywood screenwriter, so what do I know.
The direction by FauntLeRoy (apparently just one word) is just as lazy and uninventive as the script. At one point, we get a POV shot of some guards walking down a hallway. Moments later, we get what is supposed to be footage from a stationary security cam in the hallway of the same guards walking, except FauntLeRoy is so lazy that he just re-used the footage of the guards walking down the hallway and re-played it on a “security monitor” within the movie. FauntLeRoy later repeats this fabulous technique during a newswoman’s “report” of Harlan’s insanely easy prison break. Later, a thief pulls out a gun with a silencer attached, and before he can even fire his silenced gun, two guards inside another room entirely leaps into action before the first (silenced) shot was even fired. Yes, folks, it’s that kind of dedication to detail that has made Steven Seagal’s direct-to-video career a major success.
You expect bad rappers-turned-bad actors in a Seagal movie, but it’s terribly disappointing to see how low the great Nick Mancuso has fallen. (Tell me you didn’t love “Stingray.”) Mancuso plays an FBI agent who can’t even be bothered to act normal when we first meet him, since he has “clich’d FBI asshole” written all over him. Sarah Buxton plays an FBI agent with collagen in her lips (or is she an actress with collagen in her lips playing an FBI agent?), who for some reason sorta falls in like with Seagal. Sorry, Sarah, ol Stevie’s already got a tarot card-lovin’ girlfriend name Jada, who, in perhaps an attempt to increase Harlan’s street cred, happens to be black. Wow, no wonder Harlan gets along with the black cons so well, the guy’s practically a brotha!
The film’s best moments (and I’m being very lenient here) involves Seagal and Treach going about the film’s second half trying to locate criminal mastermind Max. The screenwriters try their best to inject some camaraderie between Harlan and Kool, but predictably, it all falls into the realm of unintentional humor. The line readings that are supposed to represent rapport between these two guys sound like both actors were given their script the morning before the shoot, and couldn’t really remember their lines. It’s really that painful, albeit in a funny kind of way. Hilarious, even. That insane interplay about a character’s supposed homosexual predisposition will have you laughing in the aisles.
What can you say about “Today You Die” except that it’s, well, a Steven Seagal movie made in the twilight of the man’s career. When you’ve been in as many bad direct-to-video actioner as Seagal has, pretty soon your movies start to look like it was stitched together from three other movies you’ve already done, which seems to be the case with “Today You Die”. And apparently someone has figured out that Seagal does best when he’s paired up with a younger co-star, in particular young black co-stars who are also gangsters. Now that’s what I call finding a niche and sticking to it. Yo yo yo! Or somesuch.
Don E. FauntLeRoy (director) / Joe Halpin, Danny Lerner, Les Weldon (screenplay)
CAST: Steven Seagal …. Harlan Banks
Anthony ‘Treach’ Criss …. Ice Kool
Sarah Buxton …. Rachel
Mari Morrow …. Jada
Nick Mancuso …. Agent Saunders
Robert Miano …. Bruno
Kevin Tighe …. Max