Saturday, May 17, 2008

Steven Seagal is Executive Decision!

Rob, myself and several Team Fantasmo All-Stars will shortly be commencing filming of the third season of John Kenneth Muir’s The House Between (woo-hoo!), so blog updates will be on hold for the last week of May. I am however hoping to get up a review of the final Steven Seagal DTV film in my long journey (Shadow Man) before we start. It was an amazing finale to the ride, which came close to ending with the pretty terrible Flight of Fury (which may be the worst of the batch . . . yes even worse than Ticker). So, look for that before the week is out. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a brief bit of wisdom passed along to me by Fantasmo All-Star Chris J. concerning the 1996 Seagal film Executive Decision (Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the film, I’m going to reveal a major plot point involving Seagal . . . you have been warned).

Falling between Under Siege 2 and The Glimmer Man, Executive Decision marks an interesting moment in Seagalogy. It’s the first official supporting role for Seagal, although the advertising campaign at the time tried to keep this a secret. Executive Decision co-stars Seagal and Kurt Russell, with the opening introducing Seagal as a tough-as-nails military commander. When a plane is hijacked by terrorists threatening to unleash a deadly chemical agent, Seagal has to team up with Russell (a bureaucrat-type) to take back the plane in a mid-air operation. The film makes it clear that Russell is a Jack Ryan/nerdy fellow who belongs behind a desk, while Seagal is the competent hero. Meaning we’re to believe that Seagal and Russell will form a grudging partnership throughout the course of the film, leading to a conclusion in which they save the day by employing their unique (albeit different) skills. Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan . . .

About 45 minutes into the film as the two are boarding the hijacked plane via a risky tube link between planes, events take an unexpected turn. The tube between the planes becomes unstable, and Seagal sacrifices his life to ensure that Russell and company make it aboard the airliner safely. He bravely closes the hatch between himself and Russell and gets sucked out of the stealth plane the strike team flew in on (shortly before it explodes). Now I suppose it’s possible he could somehow survive this (crazier things have happened, and it is after all Steven Seagal), but the movie hints that this is not the case. And therein lies the rub. I’ve always (and even more so now) had a problem with them killing off Seagal this early in the picture. It seems like a gimmick . . . and of course it’s completely implausible as this is Seagal we’re talking about. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if Russell’s character weren’t such an incompetent buffoon. I normally like Russell, but here he’s just given a character that’s hard to warm to. So I’ve never been a fan of this movie, and didn’t bother re-watching it when revisiting the classic Seagal films.

That being said, Fantasmo All-Star Chris J. put a perspective on Executive Decision that I hadn’t really considered before. Essentially, Executive Decision is a “what if” film. The question here is what would happen if Steven Seagal were killed midway into a Seagal film? Seen through that prism the film becomes much more intriguing. Seriously, what would happen if Seagal died off 45 minutes into Above the Law, Hard to Kill, Out for Justice, etc., and the sidekick or helper character had to complete the adventure? Of course we all know that it’s absurd to even consider the possibility that Seagal could be taken out of action, which is why Executive Decision is so off-putting when unprepared emotionally to accept such a ridiculous premise. However, if you can get past that and appreciate the film’s ultimate question, it does become a rather unique intellectual exercise. The problem is that you still have to sit through another 88 minutes of watching Russell, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, and John Lequizamo flounder about, which is a tall order. If it were Keith David in Marked for Death this might be tolerable, but that just isn’t the case. In fact, when you look a little closer at the Seagal sidekick roster, it quickly becomes evident that the same problem would exist for many of Seagal’s films. Consider just a few possibilities:

Hard to Kill: Kelly Le Brock

Out for Justice: Jerry Orbach

Under Siege: Erika Eleniak

Under Siege 2: Morris Chestnut

On Deadly Ground: Joan Chen

The Glimmer Man: Keenen Ivory Wayans

Fire Down Below: Marg Helgenberger

Exit Wounds: DMX

You get the picture. Actually one other exception to this rule (along with Keith David) is Today You Die with Treach (who did a pretty good job). Otherwise it’s pretty rough. This shows an interesting pattern of Seagal picking lackluster sidekicks, who ultimately serve as a means of contrasting how necessary Seagal is to resolving the given crisis. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like some of these folks (Joan Chen was great in Twin Peaks), but in the Seagal environment they simply don’t cut it in terms of carrying the film. With this in mind, I’m also not 100% sold that the sidekick(s) could save the day as they do in Executive Decision. I guess the filmmakers think it’s plausible since there are technically a team of sidekicks, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. But there’s no way I’d buy Erika Eleniak taking down Tommy Lee Jones, Morris Chestnut outwitting Eric Begosian/Everett McGill, Marg Helgenberger besting Kris Kristofferson, etc. Please.

So, while Executive Decision does provide us with the answer to an important question, that answer comes at a heavy price. Minus the presence of Seagal, Executive Decision is a rough ride. It’s one worth taking for the purpose of discovery, but it’s a hard sell for repeat visits. Personally for a fine Seagal supporting role, I far prefer Ticker. Although it’s an inferior film in terms of talent roster and production values, it a) doesn’t ask us to suspend disbelief and accept that Seagal could be killed, and b) correctly depicts Seagal saving the day rather than the sidekick. So yeah, definitely watch Executive Decision, but take everything with a grain of salt!

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