It goes without saying that TODAY YOU DIE is Steven Seagal’s greatest movie title since at least OUT FOR A KILL. So I won’t bother to say it. Isn’t it awesome though? The movie itself is worth the time of any Seagalogist, but at least on my first viewing here it’s not one of the more crucial ones. It’s more competent than most straight to video movies (especially Seagal’s, lately) but not legitimately great. So, without anything really special or truly ludicrous, it ends up kind of forgettable. But it has its moments.
SUBMERGED flirted with being Seagal’s first monster movie (they cut out the CGI mutants before finishing the movie) and this one threatens to be a rare supernatural storyline. I won’t say his first because he did have some voodoo and shaolin magic in BELLY OF THE BEAST. There were also voodoo curses used by the villains in MARKED FOR DEATH, but it came off more like some cold mafia threat type shit than actual working magic. Anyway the opening scene here is a tarot card reading. I expected the card reader to say “Today you die,” but no dice. In fact, she had a surprisingly honest explanation of the DEATH card, which she said can mean different things. You gotta admire a straight shooting tarot card reader.
Then we get some nightmares. Seagal’s young, beautiful girlfriend and/or wife Jada is some kind of psychic who’s having dreams of him holding a gun and having some kind of vague trouble. He consoles her and offers to do some dream interpretation later. (Unfortunately we never get to see this.)
It turns out Jada’s worries aren’t that farfetched because Seagal is a professional Robin Hood. He rapels into a drug dealer’s mansion and cracks the safe. When some hoods try to interfere, he explains that he gives the money to the poor. Of course this is followed by some broken wrists, some broken furniture, etc. And it will surprise nobody that this is one of those drug dealer mansions decorated with many antique Japanese swords, which end up being used. That’s why you’re supposed to lock up your swords, dope dealers. Come on.
Seagal promises Jada that he’s gonna stop doing this shit, go straight. It’s tough though, because he likes to help people. You can see how much it pains him when he passes a children’s hospital with “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS” plastered onto the sign.
No problem though. A guy named Max (Kevin Tigue) gives him a job driving an armored car in Vegas – not telling him he’s actually the getaway driver for a very ridiculous robbery. I mean these fucks really blow it. Apparently the armored car service is a fake, but somehow they are credentialed and manage to pick up $20 million from some marks. For that they deserve nothing but kudos, because it takes skill and balls to pull off something like that. Now all they have left to do is drive away. But right when they’re about to pull out, Seagal’s partner Bruno whips out a piece and blows away the guards, giving himself away! It’s not played like a Mr. Blonde style psycho move either, but as the actual plan. I mean I could quibble about the idea of hiring an unwitting getaway driver. That just doesn’t seem like good planning. But shooting people for no reason just as you are leaving undetected – I mean, somebody should’ve realized this particular part of the plan was counterproductive.
Anyway, like RESERVOIR DOGS the cops are right there. Seagal goes ahead and makes a drive for it, ditching the pigs just long enough to leave his partner Bruno unconscious, hide the money somewhere and pass out.
At this point the movie takes a HALF PAST DEAD detour and becomes a prison movie for a little while. It’s not a futuristic prison though, a little more standard, with rapper-turned-actor Treach as his buddy instead of rapper-turned actor Ja Rule. Playing the character “Ice Kool,” I would have to rate Treach as Seagal’s second best rapper sidekick to date, above Ja Rule but below DMX. Treach is the star of one of the better straight to video movies I’ve seen, LOVE AND A BULLET. He’s charismatic and his line readings are probaly smoother than DMX’s in EXIT WOUNDS but I still think DMX has some powerful movie star presence that has not been fully taken advantage of and that other rapper-turned-actors shouldn’t bother to compete with. Still, good job Treach. I would say “kudos” but I already used that word earlier and I have to wonder what in hell I was thinking using the word “kudos” in the first place. What the fuck is a kudo anyway?
While in the joint, the police are trying to find out where the money is, but he pretends not to remember. For some reason, everyone including the police think that Max is dead. We didn’t see this, but supposedly he got shot by someone for not having the money Seagal stole. In the one really beautifully dumb moment of the movie, one of the cops describes Max as a “low life freak who dabbles in black magic.” This is the only indication in the whole movie that Max is anything other than a standard Vegas kingpin type. The black magic is never mentioned again*. My only theory is that maybe Max was originally going to be resurrected from the dead in some Dracula type ritual. That would’ve been cool, but they end up just saying he wasn’t really dead. I guess that’s more economical storytelling.
Anyway Bruno shows up in prison and they fight. Seagal comes out of that one better than Bruno does. Meanwhile, Ice Kool is the leader of a small black gang in this joint and when Seagal tips him off about the Hispanic gang’s plans, he earns a place in the Ice Kool escape plan (some guy picks them up in a fake police helicopter). It’s not just a favor for a favor though, Seagal promises to “remember” where the money is because he’d “be happy to share.”
I liked this aspect – Seagal really is a Robin Hood type, he’s not greedy at all. He genuinely does not have any hesitation about splitting his score with somebody who had no part in it. You don’t usually see that kind of charity in movies. Also there’s a dose of Seagal loyalty. They need to split up but Ice worries he’s just gonna ditch him and not give him the money. Seagal tells him sincerely, “Listen man, you did me right, I’ma do you right.”
Another thing that’s unique about this movie, he has a better relationship with his wife (?) than usual. He’s constantly calling her to let her know what he’s up to. Even while escaping from the cops. Maybe he’s starting to realize how lucky he is to always have a beautiful woman half his age, and he wants to show his gratitude.
Treach gets most of the good lines, such as “Same shit, different toilet.” He also gets the title line: “Oh, you ran out of gas? Ah, hell no, today you die motherfucker! Little bitch.” At the end he funds the children’s hospital’s “GRAND RE-OPENING” and has a conversation with a nun** where he keeps saying things like “Feel me?,” “Ya heard?,” and “belie’ dat.”
Seagal has some funny moments though. He knocks on the front door at Max’s place and the security guy asks “Who are you?” He says, “Uh… Girl Scouts of America.” Okay, doesn’t sound good, but I liked his delivery. I wouldn’t say the same for his attempts at ebonics, though. Ice tells him he’s a cold motherfucker and he says, “Ice cool, ya’all.”
With a title like TODAY YOU DIE, I wish it was a little more ridiculous. But you gotta commend Seagal for expending some elbow grease. Although he’s being sued by the producers for allegedly fucking up this movie (not showing up, rewriting the script without permission, etc.) it definitely seems like his heart is more in it than his last couple, uh, efforts. There is a reasonable level of action (several fights, a car chase, some fairly spectacular flaming police car flips). The movie strays a little bit from the usual formula (not even one mention of the CIA!). Also I didn’t notice any parts dubbed by other actors. Maybe that Lightning Bolt energy drink really does work!
I do have to scold the DVD producers though for not close captioning the sucker. I like to hear every line, and the way Seagal slurs some of his words that’s just not a possibility. So thanks alot, assholes. Today you suck.
*That would’ve been funny but I have to correct this. I must’ve fallen asleep the first time I watched this because in the final showdown with Max, he makes a vague speech that makes it clear he has some kind of deal with magic, even though it doesn’t amount to anything. It was funnier the first time I watched it, too bad I paid more attention the second time.
**actually he says that to a woman at a Swiss bank, not to a nun. Man, I need some Lightning Bolt.
My apologies to Steven Seagal and all readers for these errors
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.