Thursday, November 13, 2008


The latest Steven Seagal straight-to-DVD actioneer "Pistol Whipped" is fit fare only for hardcore Steven Seagal completists. Loaded with creaky clichés and conventions galore, this predictable crime thriller amounts to assault with a really dull weapon. Little-known Netherlands born director Roel Reiné displays minimal visual and dramatic flair, and "Pistol Whipped" provides two mediocre car stunts and some noisy but nondescript firefights. Reiné doesn't break out the blood squibs until the final daylight massacre in a cemetery, but his pedestrian gunfight choreography generates little excitement or adrenalin. No, the lackluster "Pistol Whipped" isn't a tenth as invigorating as Seagal's above average previous DVD thriller--2007's "Urban Justice" with comedian Eddie Griffin.

What sets "Pistol Whipped" apart from other Seagal sagas is its hero, Matt Connor, is scraping the bottom of the barrel. Essentially, "Pistol Whipped" focuses on Matt's recovery and redemption. However, nobody but a sympathetic Catholic priest, Father Joe (Bernie McInerney of "Dan in Real Life"), believes Matt possesses a shred of decency. At the beginning, Father Joe describes Matt in uncomplimentary terms. "You're not a good guy. You sit around all day, you do nothing with your life, living off God knows what. You had a dark past before I met you, then you're a copy and they kicked you out. I'll bet you don't see your daughter, one day out of twenty." Director Reiné and "Ronin" scenarist J.D. Zeik use Matt's conversations with Father Joe and the dialogue in his confession sessions to flesh out our troubled hero's back story. Father Joe becomes one of Matt's closest friends, a plot convention that puts him on the endangered friends' list.

Since he retired from working as an assassin, Matt has stumbled into a swamp of booze and suffers from a gambling addiction. One night, our resilient protagonist finds himself confronting the Old Man (Lance Henriksen of "Hard Target") in a deserted theatre with an armed and dangerous dude named Blue (Paul Calderon of "Pulp Fiction") pointing a pistol to Matt's skull. The enigmatic Old Man has bought up all of Matt's markers. Those markers tote up to well over a million dollars. The Old Man explains that our hero can erase his gambling debts by participating in an enterprise that he describes as "extracurricular justice" for hoodlums beyond the law. Blue serves as the Old Man's intermediary with Matt and the ever vigilant Blue stays one step behind Matt at all times. Reluctantly, Matt accepts the offer, shadows an ugly, obnoxious mafia hood, Bruno (Arthur J. Nascarella of HBO's "The Sopranos"), and puts a bullet in his head him in a public restaurant.

Later, we learn Matt was once a cop, and his daughter's stepfather, Steve (Mark Elliot Wilson of "World Trade Center"), was one of his closest pals on the force. Matt fell on hard times with his gambling, and he faced dismissal after his partner vanished under questionable circumstances with a fortune in stolen narcotics. Matt should have been with his partner. Instead, he was gambling at the horse races. Steve lied and convinced his superiors that Matt was on a stakeout with him to keep Matt from being busted. Anyway, Matt's bosses later dismissed him. Nonetheless, Matt holds Steve in high esteem until his new employers reveal that Steve is far from immaculate. Initially, Matt refuses to believe his new employers until Father Joe winds up dead with his throat slashed in the confessional box.

Seagal shoots, stabs, and smashes up a steady stream of assailants with his trademark aikido technique throughout "Pistol Whipped," but he might as well have been in a bowling alley knocking down ten-pins for all of the difficulty that his adversaries pose. Of course, our hero never breaks a sweat. Amazingly, as paunchy as Seagal has grown, he still knows how to propel his massive bulk about without looking entirely ridiculous. Naturally, the dastardly bad guys abduct his little girl, but Seagal furnishes them with their just comeuppance. Despite its R-rating for profanity, strong violence, and sexual content, "Pistol Whipped" lacks the high body count, ribald profanity, and the memorable villains of "Urban Justice." The villains lack menace, and the plot twists don't take your breath away. Lance Henriksen appears briefly in three scenes so you barely catch a glimpse of him. "Pulp Fiction" actor Paul Calderon registers strongly as an egotistical hit-man. Naturally, Seagal delivers his typically impassive performance.

Unless you're a Steven Seagal completest, you're going to feel gypped by "Pistol Whipped."

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