Monday, February 8, 2010

Steven Seagal is The Keeper!

2010 is really shaping up to be quite a year for fans of Steven Seagal. Things kicked off with his surprisingly good reality show (okay in fairness its goodness came as no surprise to me, but for some maybe . . . ), he has an interesting looking DTV effort called Dangerous Man coming out later this month, and he’ll be back on the big screen in Robert Rodriguez’s Machete in April. Not too shabby. Perhaps the only thing that could make it complete is a new album coming out, or the long fabled Root Beer Rush flavor of his Lightning Bolt energy drink making it to store shelves. In the meantime we’ll have to be satisfied with an equally fine treat in the form of the much anticipated DTV effort The Keeper.

The trailer for The Keeper has been on YouTube for quite some time and, at least in Fantasmo circles, has been something of a curiosity. Unlike most of the DTV trailers for his films, this one featured some rather quirky moments that promised potential greatness. Sure it had the standard chases and explosions one would expect, but it also showcased Seagal wearing a cowboy hat and talking in a Texas-style Western accent. The highlight of the piece was him explaining to the girl he’s protecting in the film how he can find her no matter where she is using what looks like a CGI-souped-up Iphone. The possibilities for craziness made the mind reel. So it was with a fairly significant amount of excitement that I fired up the DVD player early last month and checked out the proceedings.

The box descriptions for just about all of Seagal’s DTV efforts are far more interesting (and imaginative) than I could ever hope to be in describing the plot synopsis. Whereas I am biased by the reality of what actually happens in the film itself, the folks writing these things are not hindered by such considerations. So here is the official description of The Keeper:

Steven Seagal (Driven to Kill) unleashes his wrath – and his fists – in this fast-paced thriller about an ex-cop caught in a web of deceit, racism and murder. Full of high-octane stunts and eye-popping action, The Keeper is a nonstop adrenaline rush!

Double-crossed by his rogue partner and forced to retire, Los Angeles street cop Rolland Sallinger (Seagal) accepts a gig guarding the beautiful daughter of a wealthy businessman. But when mobsters kidnap her, Sallinger’s job turns from protector to hunter as he untangles a dangerous web of lies and murder. Now, in a race against time, Sallinger must use his wits, weapons and brute force to get her back – before it’s too late!”

Just to set the record straight the second paragraph generally gets things correct, but to say Seagal “untangles a dangerous web of lies and murder” is probably a bit of a stretch. Basically he just follows a couple of people around and hears a conversation or two that lay everything out in perfect clarity. The whole “untangling” language makes it sounds like he’s doing some heavy intellectual lifting, when in fact he just goes for a leisurely afternoon drive. He’s also fortunate that the folks he’s following have absolutely zero powers of observation, as he practically tailgates them and then menacingly watches them at a lunch gathering. As for the first paragraph mileage will vary widely depending on what one considers “high-octane,” “eye-popping,” and a “non-stop adrenaline rush.” I guess if this were the only action movie you’d ever seen you might elevate it to the level of something like The French Connection or the like, but honestly if you have even a passing familiarity with action cinema you will recognize this as standard DTV fare. Not that it’s particularly horrible, but neither is it anything to write home about.

The film does indeed open up with Seagal being double-crossed by his “rogue partner.” The two bust in on some sort of illegal deal, and the partner decides they should steal the money lying around. Seagal disagrees and gets shot for his trouble point blank in the chest. If he’d been wearing the LAWMAN vest from television this wouldn’t have been such an issue, but since he isn’t the injury represents a temporary inconvenience. I should mention also that this sequence opens up with Seagal being dubbed which got me worried. Thankfully it’s only that one scene (at least that I could detect), but it was an effective way of unapologetically giving a firm heads up that the viewer is in for a classic Seagalian DTV ride. What is rather memorable about this whole opening betrayal is that it replicates in the span of about 10 minutes a substantial chunk of the plot from Hard to Kill. Seagal is betrayed, hospitalized, escapes an assassination attempt, and the goes through a training montage to recover his skills. The only thing missing is the classic “superior attitude” speech and a corrupt senator, but it functions pretty well as a Cliffs Notes version nonetheless.

Where The Keeper departs from Hard to Kill is that Seagal, despite establishing his innocence and taking out the bad guy, is medically retired from the police force. The injustice of this turn of events is highlighted by a boatload of fake looking certificates on his wall relating to his prowess in S.W.A.T. style skills, a fact repeated by a visiting female cop friend who says he was an inspiration to everyone in the unit (of course). This brief scene between the two functions as the stock moment in the film where Seagal’s character is mythologized for his abilities. It’s not on the level of an On Deadly Ground style tirade, but it does the job . . . and the certificates on the wall are a nice touch. In fact now that I think about it, this could qualify as a new development. I’m not sure that the standard “Seagal is highly skilled” scene has ever taken place in a room filled with awards recognizing his accomplishments. Kudos to the makers of The Keeper on that one!

So Seagal is barely into his newly realized retirement when he gets a phone call from an old police friend from Texas. The fellow has apparently struck it rich in oil, and his daughter was the victim of an attempted kidnapping. Needless to say Seagal is all about helping an old friend and gets on the first plane out to the Lone Star state. A funny thing happens on the way there though, in that Seagal magically adopts a now-you-see-it/now-you-don’t Western drawl. It comes as no surprise to seasoned Seagalogists who are used to his chameleon like abilities of adaptation, but it may jar some viewers. He is inexplicably harassed right off the plane by a local detective, who is apparently wary of any former law officers who decide to visit his state. He must have a sixth sense about these things, and it doesn’t help matters that Seagal is trucking in a small arsenal of weapons and surveillance equipment. Seagal tries to smooth things over with his newly adopted Texas accent and laid back manner, but the local cop isn’t buying it and promises to keep an eye on him.

Seagal finally gets to the ranch and meets up with his old friend. Although flown out to the locale at great expense, Seagal informs him that he will only take the job if he can do it his way. Seems like he could have mentioned that on the phone before the expensive charter flight, but the friend has no problems with accepting. Clearly Seagal is the only man for the job! Seagal is then introduced to the daughter, who apparently remembers him from her childhood. She has grown up into a bit of a spoiled brat, and is dating a fighter who also happens to be the one betraying her to an evil businessman out to swindle the father out of a uranium find on his land. After this introduction we finally get to the wonderful sequence where Seagal gives the girl a necklace/tracking device that he can follow using his Iphone. Yes there’s an app for that!

What follows, as previously mentioned, is a rather lazy cat and mouse game where Seagal drives around a bit and hears some conversations . . . untangling the dangerous web of lies and murder. This is interrupted briefly for moments where the film suggests there will be a romance between Seagal and the daughter. Thankfully someone must have realized how creepy this would be, and that plot thread is wisely abandoned . . . although not before a ridiculous sequence about an umbrella Seagal brought back from the Far East for the daughter when she was a child.

For the most part up until the grand finale where Seagal and company attempt a rescue of the daughter from the bad guys, The Keeper is a reasonably entertaining piece of DTV fun. It’s not as memorable as something like Urban Justice, but it’s no turkey either. The biggest gripe I have is that it never reaches the level of insanity of the best Seagal DTV entries, and the finale is particularly disappointing on this front. There’s a shootout and then the film just abruptly ends. The only thing of note during the shootout at the end is that a fuel dump pops up out of nowhere just so there can be an explosion. That would be fine except that the explosion doesn’t even serve a purpose. No bad guys or good guys are hindered by the situation. It’s as if the makers of The Keeper felt that people watching these things just like to see things blow up for no rhyme or reason. Maybe they’re right, but this one really stands out as unnecessary. On a side note it reminds me of a theory I perpetuated for years among friends that every good action movie requires a helicopter. Just watch any random action movie from the 80’s and you’ll see that a helicopter figures in at some point. I didn’t watch this as closely in later decades, but I’ll bet it still holds true. The Keeper doesn’t have a helicopter, so draw your own conclusions there.

Perhaps the most interesting thing for me in viewing The Keeper was that it represents the first Seagal film I’ve watched since taking in season one of LAWMAN. That just wrapped up this past week, and for the most part I have to say it’s made me look at Seagal in a much different light. Yes the show features much of the trademark absurdity we’ve come to expect with things like “Seagal Vision” and endless talk of how martial arts has prepared him for police work, however that is just a small part of it. More time is spent showing how Seagal reaches out to the community to assist the police in fostering a positive relationship. Let’s be honest Seagal doesn’t have to do any of this, and you can tell he is absolutely sincere in what he’s trying to accomplish. Think what you will of his acting chops, but it’s hard not to admire the guy for giving of himself in this way. So in watching The Keeper I kept thinking about the other Seagal, and no matter how silly things got I still was able to enjoy knowing that the guy’s heart always seems to be in the right place (even if the final product doesn’t pass muster). After all as the opening credits to LAWMAN state, he's Steven Seagal . . . “that’s right, Steven Seagal.” And really isn’t that enough?

6 comments:

Daniel said...

Jim,

Your love for all things Seagal is somewhat infectious! I checked out the trailer for The Keeper and this looks like a ton o fun! I will have to keep my eyes peeled for this one.

Jim Blanton said...

Hey Daniel,
It is a lot of fun (as are all things Seagal pretty much : ) I'm really looking forward to A Dangerous Man which comes out today. By all accounts thus far it is the kind of outrageous Seagal outing that I've come to know and love!

On a related note, I just watched Universal Soldier: Regeneration yesterday and it was absolutely fantastic! I'll be doing a full review shortly.

Best, Jim

Chris Johnson said...

J Blan, I loved the umbrella conversation in The Keeper! I'm glad you liked UniSol3! I am watching A Dangerous Man tonight. Vern thought it was average but I am starting to depart from his take on things since Lawman started.

Jim Blanton said...

Universal Soldier 3 is like the promise of DTV finally fulfilled. A truly awesome action movie, that delivers an experience equal to that of a "real movie." The bad part is now that I know how good DTV can be, it's difficult to see DTV movies that are lazy and don't live up to that potential : )

I saw A Dangerous Man last night and enjoyed it pretty well - especially liked that opening credits sequence!! It's not the greatest (although it hits some pretty good high points), but it is definitely an above average entry.

From what I can tell it seems Vern has been applying a higher standard to Seagal as of late . . . either that or I've become more blindly loyal. Maybe it's a combination of both. Either way I think The Keeper and Dangerous Man are both pretty good. My gold standards are Today You Die and Urban Justice - at least on the Seagal front. Unisol3 is now the DTV masterpiece to beat!

Daniel said...

Great and now I have 2 to look for! Dare I go to Blockbuster? *Sigh* I should just take the Netflix plunge!!

Jim Blanton said...

You should definitely take the Netflix plunge : ) However you could probably find both of these in Redbox right now - pretty amazing to consider you could get 2 new Seagal movies at the same time in Redbox (have to love that)!