Thursday, December 22, 2011

12 REVIEWS OF XMAS: He's Not Jesus! He's Just a F#@king Gypsy!

Welcome to Day 10 of our 12 REVIEWS OF XMAS holiday blog series. I'm not sure what the other reviews – courtesy of some of our favorite contributors – had to do with the holidays, but today's entry is steeped in holiday traditions. How? Well, it's a turkey and there's a big, fat guy we're supposed to believe can do remarkable things. Sounds like Christmas to me! For me, Steven Seagal's career truly is the gift that keeps on giving. He's like the uncle who comes for the holidays and brings you a kinda crappy present, but you remember the great presents he brought you back in the 80s and 90s so you hold your breath in anticipation – only to be disappointed by the half-assed bag of junk he dumps under the tree. But you can't wait till he shows up again next year!

There's a nugget of a good action flick lurking at the core of BORN TO RAISE HELL, the latest in a seemingly never-ending line of generic Steven Seagal actioners filmed in Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, saddled with leaden, cliché-riddled plotting from the star's own screenplay we're once again left wondering what might have been were his ego not just as bloated as the rest of him.

Seagal stars as Robert "Bobby" Samuels, an American who heads up an international drug task force located in Eastern Europe. When Costel (Darren Shahlavi) and his crew pull off a home invasion - complete with rape and murder - in order to fund their gun and drug operation it draws the attention of Samuels and his crew.

Will Samuels' task force nab Costel and his cronies? Is Costel planning to double-cross Dmitiri (Dan Badarau), the local drug kingpin, loving family man and former Spetsnaz member? Will the cop who announced that he's going to be a dad in a month make it to the end of the film?

I suppose we're supposed to care about all of these questions but Seagal's muddled script, coupled with directionless, er, direction from stuntman/stunt coordinator Lauro Chartrand, results in a lazy, but never unwatchable, mess. What should be the flick's core – renegade drug agent/American soldier teams up with family man/drug czar/Spetsnaz dude to take down an even worse Gypsy necrophiliac killer – never gels until the 75 minute mark of the film and even then it's dismissed within what seems like a matter of minutes. My only guess is that Seagal knew his acting chops were no match for Badaru – who comes off like the Romanian Brando – and wanted to limit the pair's mutual screentime.

On top of a forgettable screenplay and distracting direction (complete with lots of icy blue and sepia tints, freeze frames and slow-mo), HELL has all the usual problems that sink most of Seagal's recent work: the film opens with a voiceover that's supposed to be Seagal but is clearly somebody doing a Seagal impression; Costel is shown to be a kick-ass fighter during a confrontation with Dmitri's men but resorts to playground-style bitch slapping when Seagal lumbers in for their final confrontation; Seagal's fight scenes are cut too fast and then sped up leading to inevitable Keystone Cops and Benny Hill jokes; Seagal's "love interest" appears to be young enough to be his granddaughter, making their "sex scene" both oogie and laughable as the clothed and corpulent star wheezes sex talk at the trim and topless Romanian beauty; the flick's "action" relies too heavily on boring gun play; and, so on.

If you're a Seagal completist like me you won't be able to resist checking this one out on Netflix or rescuing it from the dollar bin at your local Walgreen's. For more casual fans I'd recommend URBAN JUSTICE or DRIVEN TO KILL as better examples of his recent work or just sticking with his Golden Era (1988-1997) and pretending these flicks never happened.

BORN TO RAISE HELL is available at Amazon. If you liked this review you can read hundreds more like it at the Exploitation Retrospect website

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