ATTACK FORCE is Steven Seagal’s latest, where he takes on a bunch of sexy people given super powers by an experimental military drug. But until recently it was listed on IMDb as HARVESTER, where he takes on a bunch of aliens. After I savaged the last one, SHADOW MAN, I got a nice email from Seagal’s co-writer Joe Halpin, who I found very humble and down to earth. Having his ear for a minute I didn’t want to be rude and bury him in an avalanche of questions, but I couldn’t resist asking if this HARVESTER movie would really end up being about aliens, or if they would chicken out like they did with the “biological mutants” that ended up not being in SUBMERGED.
His answer: “Who knows.” He explained that they had shot it both ways. It could be about aliens, it could be about European mobsters, the studio and Seagal would have to come to an agreement in post-production. This of course brings up alot more questions (the main one being “Shouldn’t you decide on the premise before shooting the movie?”) but it also gives a huge amount of insight into how Seagal’s DTV movies end up the way they do. I mean, if they don’t even know who he’s fighting until after they’re done, no wonder they end up with these weird overdubbed lines, randomly dropped story threads, etc.
To no one’s surprise, they went with European mobsters. But actually I don’t think they hacked up the movie as much as I had figured before hand. These mobsters are treated pretty much as aliens (or actually vampires) – their eyes do a weird CGI effect, they have super strength for throwing people through walls, they use weird high tech weapons. It seems like they mostly left them as is, but changed the explanation for their powers. (And probaly cut out some bad CGI space ship shots here or there.)
In order to take on alien-like drug addicts, Seagal tries something he’s never done before: his former student/love interest gives him state-of-the-art “Nanographite” wrist blades designed to even the score with his opponents’ heightened strength and reflexes. So when he comes face to face with the lead villain he hands his rifle to his buddy Duane and takes out the wrist blades. The fights unfortunately are mostly short and unimpressive, but I do like that they are constantly throwing people through walls. Seagal’s gal Tia even goes through two walls in one toss – a great throw. This guy Duane is pretty tough, he gets thrown through a brick wall and you think he’s out of the picture, but a little bit later he crawls back through the hole in the wall. It’s mostly the drug aliens that do the wallthrowing, but near the end Seagal shows them he is their equal by pushing their drug queen through a wall. With one hand. And it’s his left hand.
There’s a funny line where a trainee says that Seagal “walks with an air of confidence rarely seen in this day and age.” I think this might’ve been meant as a parody of what I call the “Just How Badass Is This Guy?” lines of Seagal’s best movies, because his buddies immediately make fun of him for saying it. The other biggest laugh is when there’s an establishing shot of the Eiffel Tower and then the screen tells as we are in “France, Europe.” This might be a new record for insulting the intelligence of the audience.
My favorite part of the movie is the way it ends, which I’m guessing is not the way poor Seagal or Halpin expected it to end when they shot it. Seagal and his “attack force” track the drug addicts to a cathedral, where they have a series of battles. Eventually eveyone on both sides is dead except for Seagal and one of his teammates. Seagal helps his buddy up and carries him out of the cathedral. There’s a shot of a car driving away. Then it goes to the credits.
There’s no dialogue at all. No discussion of what’s happened, no resolution to any of the plot threads, no acknowledgement that earlier in the movie they said that the water supply had been poisoned and 15,000 people would turn into these alien druggies within 12 hours. And by the way, the shot of the car driving off had already been used earlier in the movie.
I mean, it breaks every rule of common sense and good storytelling, but for some reason I like the brutal simplicity of it. Fight, survive, leave. No need to comment. It’s kind of like that minimalism I liked so much in MIAMI VICE, but I don’t think these guys were doing it as deliberately as Michael Mann was.
That’s the thing, I can’t really complain about the seat-of-the-pants moviemaking methods they use for these, because without that approach we wouldn’t have alot of the weird touches that I like so much about the movies. But this resolution-less ending is an example of the “ah, shit, just throw something together so we can release it” mentality that alot of the fans are getting sick of. In fact the very first thing you will notice about this movie is that alot of Seagal’s lines are dubbed by a different actor, probaly even more than in SUBMERGED. You will notice because his first couple scenes you never hear his real voice at all. There are some scenes just showing the exterior of a car, with this other actor’s voice over a radio, and we’re supposed to pretend we are watching Seagal.
And that makes me wonder something. For some reason I had always assumed it was Seagal who was resisting doing movies about mutants and aliens. He has a strong idea of what a Seagal movie is about, and that’s part of what I like about him. That’s Seagalogy. Some people see it as repetitive, I see it as badass auteurism. Putting his stamp on the movies. But after SUBMERGED and ATTACK FORCE I’m beginning to wonder if actually it is the producers or the studios who are preventing Seagal from stretching his legs out a little. Because both movies have their original sci-fi elements removed, and both have many scenes overdubbed by a different actor. Couldn’t this mean that Seagal wanted to leave the mutants and the aliens, and didn’t want any part in redubbing scenes to change the storyline around? It makes you wonder.
Before I was able to rent this one I got two emails telling me it was the worst movie Seagal had ever made, a real piece of shit. Both specified that they even enjoyed SHADOW MAN. Well, I think I see where they’re coming from. There’s just not enough Seagal in this movie. He does a bare minimum, the lowest amount he can get away with and still seem like the star. Not much fighting, not always appearing (or speaking) in his own scenes, no speeches. They don’t even bother to give any background to his character – not that I’m against that, but he just becomes such a small presence in the movie.
And that’s why the movie doesn’t work, but I don’t agree that it’s his worst. It’s the same director as SHADOW MAN but it’s better directed – more atmosphere, more restrained editing, better music, nice lighting. And somehow more cohesive than some recent ones such as SUBMERGED. But most of all, the weirdness of the not-aliens, the wallthrowing, the wrist blades and the abrupt ending give it a little bit of novelty. Still, it’s for serious Seagalogists only. Not for amateurs.