Steven Seagal: The bloated step-father I never had
It all started with Out For Justice, a story of a Brooklyn cop named Gino Felino on a quest to avenge the murder of his partner, the ubiquitously name-checked Bobby Lupo. Released in 1991, Justice holds a special place in my heart for reasons beyond Seagal's adopted Brooklyn dialect for the role -- an unforgettable and uproarious achievement to say the least. Justice also happened to be the first R-rated movie I can remember my Dad letting me watch with him -- a seminal moment for any 11-year-old boy.
The movie had recently made its cable debut and it featured enough gratuitous violence, nudity and foul language to make even Larry Flynt squirm. Obviously, this was incredibly fantastic and I remember praying that my Mom wasn't going to walk in and ruin one of the greatest things that had ever happened to me. When Seagal uttered the immortal salvo, "I'm going to cut off your head and piss down your throat" to some random crony, I mean, I was practically beaming. The transition to manhood had officially begun.
As I headed through my early teenage years, Seagal's star continued to rise in a series of memorable films. There was Above The Law (Chicago cop unravels a political conspiracy, kills many), Hard To Kill (L.A. cop emerges from seven-year coma to avenge murder of wife and partner, kills many), Marked For Death (Chicago cop avenges death of partner and takes down Jamaican voodoo drug ring, kills many) Under Siege (Ex-Navy Seal and chef on battleship has chance encounter with terrorist hijackers, kills many) and Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (Ex-Navy Seal on vacation with niece has chance encounter with different set of terrorist hijackers, kills many).
There's never been much of a gray area with Seagal. Like Aqua Teen Hunger Force ,Phish or Renée Zellweger, you either get it or you don't. I always got Seagal -- a talented physical specimen who masked his limiting acting abilities by attaching himself to an endearing and productively recyclable persona. His shtick garnered a loyal cult following -- the handsome, smooth-talking and morally-sound protagonist who bent the rules but never broke them, who took out the bad guys and got the girl. Pulling this off isn't as easy as it seems. Stallone never managed to make his cop characters likeable (Cobra, anyone?), I could never take Chuck Norris seriously for some reason (Jonathan Brandis may have played a prominent role in this) and Van Damme never managed to recover from that movie where he thwarted a terrorist scheme by playing goalie for the Pittsburgh Penguins. When it came to action stars of his era, there was Seagal and there was everyone else.
Unfortunately, all great things come to end and for Seagal, his career was no exception. Under Siege was his commercial high water mark, grossing more than $150 million worldwide. But in the years following the film, a noticeably, um, thicker version of the now incredibly wealthy star began to emerge. His ego had grown with his waistline and he earned a reputation in the industry as a nightmare to work with. He married and divorced Kelly LeBrock, his co-star in "Hard To Kill" (bad move) and began to use his box office clout to spin his films towards personal crusades, namely the protection of the environment (even worse). The recipe for disaster was in place. Before long, he had become a sad parody of himself, relegated to straight-to-video releases.
The current version of Seagal isn't the one I remember, however. My Seagal will forever have his fastball. The same Seagal who once said "I'll take you to the bank Senator, THE BLOOD BANK," the same Seagal who cleaned out an entire bar with a cue ball and sock, the same Seagal who made it possible to put "pony tail" and "bad ass" in the same sentence. That Seagal will always be one DVD click away.
Hard to kill? More like impossible...and I wouldn't have it any other way.