Thursday, May 1, 2008

Steven Seagal is Submerged!

I honestly hadn’t planned on writing another Seagal DTV review until my final viewing experience (which is scheduled to be Flight of Fury), but I just watched Submerged last night and can’t allow this one to pass by. I wasn’t expecting much from Submerged, as it is widely held to be among the worst (if not THE worst) of the Seagal filmography, but part of me was also really looking forward to it for that very same reason. For me, I far more enjoy the insane entries that defy all logic than the boring, marginally competent stuff like Ticker. Additionally, Submerged is directed by Anthony Hickox, who is responsible for a number of memorable horror films from the 80’s and 90’s (e.g. Warlock, Hellraiser 3). Most importantly, he directed the minor classic Waxwork (1988), and its not half-bad follow-up Waxwork 2: Lost in Time (1992). As such I was interested in seeing how he did with a Seagal picture. Unfortunately the results aren’t pretty. Truly, I had thought it impossible for another film to approach or surpass the muddled madness that was Attack Force, but Submerged has managed to do that with flying colors!

Much like Attack Force, any discussion of Submerged must begin with analysis of the supposed plot. What’s interesting about this one is that the synopsis varies by where you happen to be looking for it. Here are a couple of examples:

From the box description:

“Steven Seagal (Belly of the Beast, Out for a Kill), the free world's most "independent" anti-terrorist agent, is going down under - not to foreign ports but submerged, under the sea, where waves of deceit are set to torpedo his command permanently. Chris Cody (Seagal) is summoned from his military prison cell and promised a presidential pardon - with a hitch. An American Ambassador has been assassinated - by the U.S. Secret Service. Now the C.I.A. wants Cody to uncover and terminate this deadly operation, but they don't tell him the truth. Cody ends up overpowered and trapped beneath the waves but hardly out of his depth.”

Maybe not out of his depth, but possibly out of his mind! Here’s the description from Netflix:

"In director Anthony Hickox’s underwater thriller starring Steven Seagal, a submarine’s hazardous cargo develops a leak, accidentally releasing a lethal biological agent. The vessel and its crew soon end up trapped on the ocean floor – and under assault by a U.S. destroyer that’s turned on them, traitors within the ranks and, worst of all, mutant organisms inhabiting the deep.”

And there are certainly more synopses online which differ wildly. While neither of these do an accurate job of describing the film, the first one is a little closer to what I “think” was the plot. I say “think” because Submerged is an absolutely indecipherable mess. I’m 100% sure Seagal is a soldier released from military prison (along with his also imprisoned team) to undertake some sort of covert-op against folks experimenting in mind control, but that’s all I can say with any certainty. Oh, and they spend a brief period in the middle of the film in a submarine. There are no “mutant organisms” to be found. In re-reading the chapter on Submerged in Seagalogy, it turns out that this was another one which apparently underwent significant changes along the way to finished product. It’s very telling that you have horror director Hickox at the helm, the film was discussed in Fangoria magazine, and there is mention of “mutant organisms,” all leading one to surmise that Submerged was originally a lot closer to the Netflix model than what was actually released.

The fact that, like Attack Force, Submerged was transformed from sci-fi/horror into another standard (if you can call any Seagal outing “standard”) action film is another real disappointment in my opinion. I would very much like to see Seagal in a full-blown genre picture of that kind. Why he, or some interested party(ies), feels that is a bad idea is beyond me. The only thing I can figure is that their profit formula is so tight, they are concerned that any deviation will ruin their guaranteed returns . . . which really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. After all the ridiculous Seagal pics that have been released during the DTV-era, I challenge anyone to back up an argument that fans have some high-bar expectations with each impending release. At this point, if they’re still tuning in, I think they would welcome wilder plots . . . such a move could only improve the situation.

Okay, having tackled the plot it’s now time to turn to some of Submerged’s other distinguishing features. Perhaps the most noteworthy element, beyond the confusing story, is that Seagal is dubbed for the vast majority of the film. I believe Vern puts it at over 50%, but I think that’s being generous . . . I’m thinking 75% or higher. When he’s not completely dubbed, it tends to be a Seagal/dub mixture. Rarely do you have entire sequences where it’s total Seagal. Interestingly though, this actor attempts not only to mimic Seagal’s raspy voice, but also his quasi-Cajun speech pattern that has emerged (not submerged) in the late-DTV era. It’s the same speech pattern he uses in entries like Pistol Whipped and Urban Justice, where strangely enough it worked. Here it’s just plain bizarre. You’ve gotta give the voice actor credit though, he’s a lot better than the Wilford Brimley-like voice from Belly of the Beast (which don’t get me wrong was a completely awesome movie)!

Also, I can’t mention this whole dialect thing without pointing out Seagal’s constant referral to his number one team member as “Alligata.” Priceless. I have vowed to now refer to all my personal acquaintances in the same manner. If there’s a better term of endearment I don’t know what it is!

Speaking of late-DTV era qualities, one thing I’ve noticed is that Seagal almost exclusively has two wardrobe choices in all of his later films: a long, brown leather trench coat or a long, black leather trench coat. This is true regardless of the settings/circumstances of the film. In Submerged he opts for the long, brown trench coat. This my friends is completely absurd. I’m no military tactician or black-ops special forces type fellow, but I would not lead a team into jungle warfare, submarine theft, etc., in that kind of gear. The rest of his team are all wearing camouflage fatigues, but here strides Seagal in long, brown trench coat, blue jeans, and a collared dress shirt buttoned to the top. He knows what he likes, I’ll give him that.

One thing that Submerged does have going for it is a fairly interesting genre cast including the likes of William Hope (Aliens), Nick Brimble (Frankenstein Unbound), and Vinnie Jones (X-Men 3). Vinnie Jones in particular does a great job as “Alligata,” actually putting in a fun performance as the wise-cracking sidekick. In truth, most of the cast do a fairly decent job (better than most of Seagal’s DTV ensembles), but the all-over-the-place story and uninteresting action sequences undermine any dividends their efforts produce. If they had simply been fighting mutant creatures, all would have been smooth sailing!

For the hardcore fan, of course you have to check this out. There are plenty of wacko moments and lines you won’t want to miss. But I suspect it won’t be one you revisit often. There just isn’t enough of interest here to warrant repeat viewings, as with a title like Belly of the Beast or Urban Justice. And it’s a real shame given the original premise, and the talent involved with folks like Hickox and the various cast members. It could be that this is one of the greatest missed opportunities in Seagalogy. In its original incarnation, you would have had a cross between Under Siege (Seagal’s biggest box office success) and Aliens (one of the greatest sci-fi/horror/action pics ever). How could you lose with that combo? Answer: you couldn’t. Instead we end up with a mish mash of ideas, executed poorly. As such, this one earns my first non-recommendation . . . for non-fans and casual viewers. Again, you aspiring Seagalogists (like yours truly) must consider this required viewing : )

Now on to the final stretch with Shadow Man and Flight of Fury . . .

1 comment:

fantasmo all star craig said...

Wasn't sure where else to put this, but I knew you needed to see it!!!