Thursday, April 3, 2008

Steven Seagal is Attack Force!

My foray into the world of DTV (direct-to-video) Seagal continued Tuesday evening with the first truly disappointing entry, Attack Force. You may recall my odyssey through Seagalogy began by revisiting all the classic films and theatrical releases up through Fire Down Below. Then I checked out the lesser lights of Exit Wounds and Half Past Dead. At that point I adopted a personal strategy for plowing through the 17 or so video releases, having identified four possible courses of action:

1 – View the films chronologically.

2 – View the films randomly.

3 – View all the bad ones first.

4 – View all the good ones first (good as determined by Vern’s reviews and other trusted sources).

Ultimately, I chose option number 4. My thinking was that by viewing the best of the bunch first, I would build up a reservoir of good will to carry me through to the end. And up until Tuesday that reservoir was overflowing after my screenings of The Foreigner, Black Dawn, Pistol Whipped, Urban Justice, Into the Sun, Belly of the Beast, and Out For A Kill. Let’s just say that I’m glad I chose the course I did, as Attack Force would have been a really rough way to start my DTV journey . . .

First off, let me start by giving you the official plot synopsis from the box:

“Steven Seagal (Shadow Man, Black Dawn) is back in this high-octane, action thriller! When MARSHALL LAWSON (Seagal) loses his strike-team in a cold-blooded and seemingly random attack, he takes it upon himself to investigate the suspicious circumstances of the brutal killings. Soon he uncovers CTX Majestic, a covert military operation so secret, that now the military wants Marshall eliminated. Resolute in his pursuit, Marshall engages in a merciless battle with a drug dealer operation that appears to be secretly funded by a rogue arm of the military.”

This generic description does nothing to indicate the bizarre manner in which Attack Force unfolds. The film begins with an opening action sequence that seems unconnected to anything that follows. I can only assume it exists to introduce Seagal’s character Marshall Lawson (an admittedly inspired Seagalian name). However, it’s unclear as to what is happening and even more disorienting is the fact that Seagal is dubbed (I believe entirely) by a terrible surrogate. To give you some idea, he sounds like the narrator in the extended cut of David Lynch’s Dune. If you are unfamiliar with that reference, think a throaty Wilford Brimley. Unfortunately he is dubbed for probably 75% of the film (easily the most I’ve seen so far, the previous record being Out For A Kill), which does a lot to minimize Seagal’s presence. Then we get some not terribly interesting fisticuffs between Seagal and unidentified baddies, and the scene ends.

From there we cut to Seagal forming a strike team for no apparent reason, whose members are all greatly impressed by their new leader (particularly one fresh recruit). We get a little of the classic business of side characters praising Seagal’s skills, but nothing close to the brilliance of On Deadly Ground and its ilk. After some introductions the characters go out on the town for some R&R (despite the fact they have yet to do anything), and are promptly killed by an attractive girl they meet at a dance club (who dispatches them in a superhuman fashion). Apparently the girl was taking a drug called CTX which gives the user tremendous physical abilities, and also makes their eyes open and close in a reptilian manner. As it turns out the head CTX dealer is planning to release the CTX into the city’s water supply in order to infect the entire city, presumably to endow the populace with super powers. It is never made clear why he thinks this is a good idea, maybe he’s just a generous sort who thinks everyone should be able to live the life of Wolverine. In any event, Seagal then forms a new strike team to avenge the one that was slain in the first 10 minutes of the film. It includes a rock solid right hand man, a female biochemist/combat expert who apparently has some sort of romantic connection with Seagal, and a cadre of faceless gunners who are on Seagal’s “a-list.”

Let me just say this right here . . . the description I have just given you was put together after a) viewing the film, b) reading the box description, and c) re-reading the chapter on Attack Force in Seagalogy. Trying to piece all of this together while actually watching the film is a daunting challenge, as the film is nearly incomprehensible. Attack Force is something that happens to a viewer, rather than something which resembles a typical movie viewing experience where one receives coherent information in which a sequence of events flows naturally in a cause and effect type manner. This film had my full, undivided attention and all I know is there were a lot of mediocre action sequences, some strange futuristic looking weaponry, a dubbed Seagal, and randomly introduced characters that were difficult to connect to the goings on. I’m really not even entirely sure why Seagal’s character was in on this adventure.

Having read Seagalogy however, I knew going in there was a reason for this madness. As it turns out, Attack Force was written to be an alien/sci-fi film (originally titled Harvester). The decision to morph it into a European, drug-trafficking tale was made entirely in the editing room after everything had been shot. This helps to explain a lot of that dubbing! I don’t know why they decided on the change, but it was a terrible decision. The reworking of the plot resulted in a confusing story that almost resembles Woody Allen’s What’s Up Tiger Lily? crossed with Blade 3. In other words a catastrophe of epic proportions. While the futuristic weaponry employed by Seagal and the CTX mutants (e.g. Predator-like wrist-blades and discs) was an interesting first for a Seagal film, it just wasn’t enough to salvage what was really a pretty boring mess.

Yes, you can watch this for the train wreck entertainment value, but I confess I had been spoiled by the previous DTV titles. They were all a little crazy/ridiculous, but nevertheless fun, action-packed, and full of Seagal trademarks. Between the dubbing and a lack of screen time, this one doesn’t feature nearly enough of Seagal. Some of the final moments of the film in which Seagal fights the main villains are pretty fun, but they come far too late. Despite its numerous flaws, this is certainly a must see for devoted/aspiring Seagalogists, but if you’re not a dedicated disciple you’ll probably want to steer clear, or at least save it for later in your viewing cycle. For myself, it confirmed the wisdom of my chosen strategy, and I’m certainly glad my reservoir was braced for the impact.

On a related and more positive note, I must express great thanks to Fantasmo All-Star Chris J. for taking the plunge and beating me to the punch (aikido-style) of purchasing Seagal’s Lightning Bolt energy drink. Chris invested in the “Asian Experience” flavor, as opposed to “Cherry Charge” which I consider a wise decision. He then generously brought a cooler filled with this unique beverage to our Gi-Ant Fantasmo and shared it with myself and others. I had never consumed an energy drink before (unless you count OJ and the like), so I wasn’t sure what to expect. As it turned out, that evening provided a good test run as I was pretty exhausted when we started with Empire of the Ants. Although there was no control group in our experiment, I must tell you that after drinking in the “Asian Experience” I was alert well into the early hours of the morning (truth be told I didn’t get to sleep until around 3:00 a.m.). Whether this was due to Seagal’s magic elixir or the adrenaline rush of seeing giant ants on the big screen is impossible to say, but when in doubt I tend to go with Seagal.

If you’re interested in learning more about Lightning Bolt (and why wouldn’t you be), I highly recommend that you check out the Web site at: I particularly love the explanation of how Seagal came up with the name of the drink:

“The name Steven Seagal’s Lightning Bolt Energy Drink was an inevitable afterthought. When Steven Seagal finished creating a drink that holds untold natural power, there was only one equivalent in nature – The Steven Seagal’s Lightning Bolt. Both mysterious and powerful, it’s a symbol of the untold energy the earth has to offer – Such is Steven Seagal’s Lightning Bolt energy drink.”

I only wish that I had a Lightning Bolt on hand when viewing Attack Force, as it would no doubt have provided me with a bit of an extra boost during its 90-minute run time. Actually the notion of an “inevitable afterthought” is somewhat appropriate to both Lightning Bolt and Attack Force, as one could make the case that shifting the plot in the editing room from aliens to mobsters was also an “inevitable afterthought.” Luckily the “untold energy” of Seagal was enough to make the experience a worthwhile one in spite of the aforementioned deficiencies!


Joe said...

Jim Blanton -
You are a far, far braver man than I.

Jim Blanton said...

Yes, it's a daunting prospect when taking on the challenge of unleashing the "untold energy the earth has to offer" but someone has to do it : )

It's a fine line between brave and foolhardy . . .

Chris Johnson said...

To ge through Attack Force you truly need superior attitude . . . a superior state of mind!

Jim Blanton said...

Indeed sir!

fantsamo all star craig said...

Good God, was this stuff awful!

I didn't feel particularly energized, either. The worst part came at about 0830 or so...after I got back to Rob and Phyllis' house, I was talking to her for a bit when I belched...and the taste came roaring back. God, it felt and tasted like I was eating hot garbage! Never again...but I guess it is my fault for drinking something partially made with the fungus from snail shells in it.

However, I do have my can proudly displayed on my book case now...

Jim Blanton said...

No one ever said that the "untold energy" of the earth would taste good . . . that kind of power bears a heavy price tag my friend!