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Monday, February 28, 2005

What The Hell Was I Thinking?

Get ready for action. Get ready for adventure. Get ready to be profoundly disappointed. Yes, it’s Steven Seagal’s latest opus, The Foreigner, and it manages to undershoot even our most undemanding expectations.

Steven Seagal plays puffy, bloated ex-secret agent 'John Cold', honestly, now for hire to criminals across Europe, as long as they’re in Poland, which displays tremendous versatility in standing in for Paris, Germany and Norway. When we first meet him he is sweaty, post-coital, and gets steadily less appealing as time goes by. He also never - I mean never - takes off his heavy, roomy leather overcoat, which he tugs at compulsively, in order to make it hang over his paunch in a more flattering manner.

This time the villain is a man with prominent eyebrows called something like Japhet or Jardel who is trying to intercept a mysterious package coming in from Russia. He hires a pair of fey Frenchmen: Marquet and Dunois. Both these fellows are played by tremendously available English actors with English and Scottish accents respectively; Dunois in particular comes on like a Z-list Robert Carlisle impersonator circa Trainspotting. He’s a shifty hitman who wears sunglasses on his forehead and smokes a lot. It’s a performance of only a little less dignity and competence than the gibbering monkey-boy from Versus. Marquet sends Dunois and Cold to get the package from a pair of Russians in a deserted French farmhouse (in Poland); the farmhouse is ambushed by various commandoes; Seagal shoots them all from his position hiding to one side of the fireplace. Suddenly we see a flashback of Seagal in a club, or it may be a fashion show (it’s a bit confusing; I thought I was tripping), spotting Dunois with one of the mystery assailants. On returning to Marquet ‘s chateau in Versailles (Poland) he tips him off to his colleague’s possible treachery, and leaves for Poland (Poland), where he is to take the package. Luckily he has an excuse to go there: it the funeral of his father, whom we are to assume was some sort of ambassador-cum-intelligence agent. Seagal’s brother has also joined the family business; he’s about 20, so judging by Seagal’s looks Dad must have still been pretty frisky at 70-odd. Dead Dad’s right hand man is also revealed to be - gasp! - the villainous Jehoshaphat. By this point - only about forty minutes in - we are simply pinned to our seats.

Cold decides to deliver the package, but he needs to be sneaky about it, because Jehangir is after it; and unbeknownst to him Dunois has decided to shoot Marquet, two cockney Frenchmen, and a French (Polish) maid, in order to join the hunt. I wasn’t quite sure who was working for who by this point but we know that whoever’s currently pointing a handgun at Seagal’s ample jowls is probably a bad guy. Seagal contacts the wife of Van Aiken, the man the package is addressed to, and sends a passer-by to a rendezvous with a fake package for no good reason. This fools nobody, and on returning to his apartment he is smashed on the head by a man who looks exactly like Ainsley Harriot, and is only ten or fifteen times more unbearable. Ainsley threatens Seagal until he takes him to the left-luggage locker where the real package is, although it turns out not to be the real package, but rather a bomb, which duly explodes killing Ainsley to the great relief of all concerned. Although the train station is flattened, Seagal, who was jumping in the air at the time, is unharmed by the blast. He takes umbrage at being kidnapped, however, shoots his way into Van Aiken’s wife’s bathroom, and stands there in his leather coat, hectoring her as she lies in the tub. After some pointless chat they go their separate ways.

Meanwhile Jamal, tiring of the admittedly very tiresome Dunois, has hired a new assassin to follow Seagal unobtrusively around Poland, and naturally selects a man who looks like Ray Charles wearing a leather coat. Ray Charles then books in to the Hotel Terminus, Warsaw (Poland), in the name of John Cold, perhaps reasoning that this will draw Seagal out of hiding, although I can’t see it myself. Dunois turns up looking for Cold, shoots the receptionist (he tends to shoot any character with less than three lines), goes upstairs, and is blasted out of the second-story window by a shotgun-wielding Charles, who is a bit miffed himself: he’s just spent ten minutes following a big fat mullety leather-overcoat-wearing man in a silver Merc; he has turned out to be a lookalike paid by Seagal; and this has obliged him to shoot the blameless Pole. Still, the violent undignified death of Dunois has proved a fillip for the audience, especially coming so soon after Ainsley’s fiery demise, and we’re all set up for the third act.

Cold decides that, notwithstanding his many pronouncements on the inadvisability of opening the package, he wants to know what’s in there, and it probably comes as a surprise to him to find that, after having spent the whole film tossing it from hand to hand like a box of Kleenex, it contains an aircraft black box and several reams of documents. These materials implicate Jermaine and Van Aiken in the ‘terrorist’ bombing of a Jumbo Jet, and Mrs Van Aiken confirms that it was bombed to kill her lover, who was making biological weapons for them and was going to Greece to blow the whistle, although it’s such a poor weak thin excuse for a motive I don’t know why I bother relating it. The incriminating papers are hidden in a farmhouse in Norway (Poland). Cold decides to see Van Aiken, but before he can get there he is waylaid by Ray Charles at his hotel. Seagal lures him to a deserted warehouse with the promise of a CD worth lots of money, disarms him, and, heaving his great bulk into action with the aid of what appears to be Harryhausen-style stop-motion photography, kicks his ass in a flabby, jaded manner. Naturally, he has booby-trapped the CD with plastique, but it is only when Ray cravenly pulls a derringer from his sock that Seagal gets around to throwing it at the poor man, exploding his bowels over a wide area.

Get ready for a sigh of exasperation, because here comes Dunois again, having survived his apparent death, and sneaking up on Seagal he gets him at gunpoint. But he is then distracted by Mrs Van Aiken who somehow knows where they are, and as he turns towards the doorway he is clonked on the head with a big metal pole, so you wonder why they bothered having him turn up at all. Everyone escapes, the warehouse is blown up by the CIA, and Seagal goes to beard Van Aiken in his lair. Loitering around by the gates he is again accosted by the eternally annoying Dunois, who tells him they don’t stand a chance of getting in unless they team up because there are six or seven guards. So Seagal wheezes over to a grassy knoll and shoots them one by one with a sniper rifle, and each one falls over a railing into a swimming pool. Then they go inside, and - no! - Dunois tries to double-cross our hero; but Seagal has been too clever: he’s unloaded Dunois’ gun. So he shoots Dunois and we exult once more.

Now John Cold comes face to puffy face with the dastardly Van Aiken, who turns out to be a camp, reedy Dane in a smoking jacket. A pointless chat ensues in which the director has had an excellent idea for framing the dialogue: the camera zooms in on Seagal’s great meaty expanse of face, and Van Aiken is visible as a tiny head reflected in the mirror over his shoulder. We focus alternately on each man so that as Van Aiken speaks Seagal is naught but a mottled blur covering half the screen. Seagal leaves, and it is with strange relief that we see Dunois reappear, having cheated death again, to riddle Van Aiken’s knees with machine-gun fire. (I had thought he was working for him, but there you go.)

Seagal and Mrs Van Aiken now travel to the more Polish parts of Norway to recover the documents; some bad guys turn up but Seagal disarms them, shoots them, and saves the Van Aiken child from a burning house and although said moppet is wearing a wide grin the whole time the director clearly just doesn’t care. In a shocking twist, Seagal has relinquished his huge black leather coat in favour of a huge suedy leather coat in a nasty shade of used-nappy tan. The three then flee to Paris (Poland with a two second archive clip of the Eiffel Tower) where they run into the incomparably tedious Dunois, and a battle royale ensues. I say a battle royale, it’s actually more like a battle Royale with Cheese: Seagal disarms his hapless enemy AGAIN, lurches out of the way of three or four haymakers, and fells him with an Aikido chop, not, you feel, the only kind of chop with which our hero is intimately acquainted. Then, sensibly, Mrs Van Aiken ditches Seagal in a café. Fade to black. Fade up on Seagal sitting on the prow of a motor launch in a dismal swamp somewhere, reading a letter. It says she is going away and will never see him again. Roll credits.

Now, you may be beset by questions. What happened to J. Jonah Jamieson? Is Dunois really dead? Why were there so many long scenes of cars parking, people getting out of cars, walking from cars to doors, walking out of doors to cars, getting into cars, and then driving away? “John Cold”’s kind of a loser, isn’t he? What the hell kind of ending was that, they run out of money? But it is the essential genius of The Foreigner - the title itself a reference to Camus’ classic, L’Etranger - that these questions, existential by their very nature, must be answered for each person in their own way. Think about it, won’t you? I thank you.

2 Comments:

Blogger Clotje said...

Hiya Torgo,
This had me in stitches! I haven't laughed so hard in ages. Thank you for that.

12:37 pm  
Blogger Barbara said...

A fit companion to Jabootu's classic take on On Deadly Ground, which can be read here: http://jabootu.com/ondeadlyground.htm
Truly, the scholarly apparatus surrounding the oeuvre of Seagal grows to mirror the man himself!

6:29 am  

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