I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Force of Execution

tn_foe“I think the streets are clean for a while. I’m a dinosau’. Ain’t nobody around like me no more, so…”

Steven Seagal’s new one FORCE OF EXECUTION isn’t really a movie I would recommend to most people, mainly because they would ask what “force of execution” means and I would have no idea what to say. I guess it means the same thing as “reservoir dogs,” but just doesn’t sound as cool or poetic.

However, as a dedicated Seagalogist (in fact, one of the West Coast’s most respected, if I do say so myself) I found plenty of things interesting about this one. In fact, I watched it without reading anything about it and it kept confounding my expectations for a Seagal picture. In the opening scene Seagal’s character Mr. Alexander has a guy tied to a chair and he’s threatening him, saying “You broke the code, Sasha,” and stuff like that. He gives him a knife and tells him to slit his own throat as punishment for being “a rat.” When the guy tries to defend himself Mr. Alexander beats him to death and complains about getting blood on his suit. I mean, Seagal characters are always kinda over the line, but they don’t usually capture a traitor, torture and kill him.

Holy shit, is he playing the villain? That would be a first outside of MACHETE, which is kinda in a different category in my opinion because it’s more comedy than serious action movie and not sold as a Seagal vehicle. In this one he sports a rare goatee, like when we see him doing law enforcement or attending UFC events. It’s kind of an evil twin look if you think about it. I’m not saying I can prove this publicly, but consider the possibility that it’s actually Seagal’s evil twin that hangs out with Joe Arpaio and Vladimir Putin and stars in this movie. We would know for sure if he was wearing an eyepatch or walking with a cane, but Seagal’s evil twin would obviously be too ex-CIA for a stupid giveaway like that.

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Anyway, he seems like a bad dude, a F.O.E. if you will. That’s FORCE OF EXECUTION surprise #1. Surprise #2 is when the movie starts to follow a younger star named Bren Foster as Roman Hurst, Mr. Alexander’s henchman of 15 years who stands watch motionlessly during the opening beating and who is only shown reflected in one lens of Seagal’s sunglasses on the cover. This guy’s such a badass assassin that when they need a prisoner killed they don’t pay mp_foeoff some other prisoner to stick him, they send Roman storming in dressed as a prison guard. He does his job but the contact on the inside, Iceman (Ving Rhames, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be Iceman Chambers from UNDISPUTED) points out the wrong guy to kill, setting Roman up for a fall and kicking off a power struggle for the Iceman to exploit when he gets out of the joint soon.

Out of a sense of honor, Roman accepts responsibility for the mistake, and Mr. Alexander allows his client to hammer the poor guy’s hands until they’re uselesss. You don’t get a gold watch when you retire from this business.

So Roman becomes this homeless cripple. You can tell he’s a street person ’cause of his black knit cap and fingerless gloves. He lives on the stairs by a little diner run by Danny Trejo. I’m not clear if Roman knows this place is owned by Mr. Alexander and waitressed by his daughter (Jenny Gabrielle). But he endears himself to them by rescuing them from thugs using all kicks, no hands.

Around this time, out of the blue, Mr. Alexander shows up and gives Roman a bunch of money. “You’re family. It’s like that.” He wants Roman to disappear, but luckily the kid doesn’t listen because later he gets called in to help fight off Iceman. At this point the movie takes its most outlandish turn as Trejo reveals himself to be a “Mexican witch doctor,” re-hammers his hands and stings him with rare scorpions that are supposed to reset and quick-heal the bones. Sometimes this kinda plays like the not-joking version of MACHETE, and I appreciate that. Trejo does play it for laughs, though, admitting that he’s not 100% sure it will work and saying his technique “goes way back to Mayans, or Incans. Some shit. I don’t know, old.”

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It’s nice too see Trejo in a Seagal vehicle where he’s not just in one little part of the movie, as in MARKED FOR DEATH and URBAN JUSTICE. This time he’s a legitimate supporting character, doing his streetwise but kind old man persona like in BADASS. It’s kinda cool that after so many years exclusively playing bad guys now he’s the guy everybody loves. Let’s get Al Leong and Tiny Lister doing that too.

At the beginning it seems like they pulled a fast one and this is actually gonna be a Bren Foster vehicle with an appearance by Seagal as a villain. But then it keeps going back to Seagal and not giving Foster enough to do, like they couldn’t decide which one the story was about. Foster does get one big emotional scene, though, where he tries to commit suicide but misses the shot (SPOILER) because his hands are so fucked up. So that kinda seems like the main character and not the sidekick.

I guess Foster was in MAXIMUM CONVICTION, but I didn’t pay attention to him. He was also on Days of Our Lives, and looks like a guy who would be on Days of Our Lives, but he’s apparently a legitimate martial artist because he appears on National Geographic’s Fight Science. And he’s clearly doing most of his own fighting here. The prison break-in is a good scene with a well-shot hallway fight and some flying spin kicks that were never part of the Seagal repertoire, a nice addition. But when he’s talking instead of kicking ass he lacks the charisma to be captivating. Maybe it’s partly because he fakes an American accent. Shoulda gone full Van Damme and not worried about it.

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It turns out Seagal’s not playing the villain after all, he’s more like an anti-hero, really indulging his obsession with honorable gangsters (also seen in OUT FOR JUSTICE and DRIVEN TO KILL). It’s possible that he started out playing the villain and then kept convincing them to give him more code of honor scenes until he ended up just being another protagonist. But more likely he just wanted to act like the villain at the beginning as an excuse to roll like this:

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Obviously Seagal always has the younger ladies, but he only really got to have a harem like this in MACHETE and in Lightning Bolt commercials. And maybe you could count KILL SWITCH, where he’s a bigamist.

It seems like his part is almost entirely improvised, so he gets to make little speeches and have mumbly conversations about such topics as honor, respect, face, etc. He has a scene where he’s pulling out his different handguns and talking about their “guncraft” and their various strengths and weaknesses. He also gives Roman the gift of matching pistols with eagle heads on their white handles, and uses a machine gun that he boasts on a behind-the-scenes featurette “we tried to model after what I’m really using.”

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In another scene he huddles a team around a table to discuss the strategy of their raid, just like he would do on Steven Seagal: Lawman. And he has a bunch of that dialogue I talk about in Seagalogy where he seems to be riffing and throwing in some of his “you and I, we’re puppets in the same sick play” type political ideas. For example, the part where he tries to make peace with Iceman:

“The people who run countries, war’s the greatest business. But we street people, man, we ain’t gonna make no money warrin. So, I was thinkin, I’ll go up in the mountains of Thailand, where I learned my original bad habits, and leave all this to you. But you know what? I’d like to leave with my face, you know? So, give me a little bit, just enough to wet my beak. It’s about respect, it’s about face, and I’ll be gone.”

Of course, Iceman pretends to accept the offer, but Mr. Alexander knows he’s full of shit, so he’s immediately giving one of his henchmen a motivational speech:

“You know how it is, Eric. Tactics of gunfightin. If you don’t maneuver you will be outmaneuvered, if you’re outmaneuvered you will be killed. So – let’s go home, get our gear in order, and prepare for war. Do what we do best.”

Probly my favorite “had to be Seagal’s idea” moment is when he muses that Sasha the Rat can’t commit seppuku because he doesn’t have any honor.

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This is a sloppy story that seems as made-up-as-it-goes-along as Seagal’s dialogue, and doesn’t flow as well. But to his credit Seagal seems to be into it, and never had to be dubbed by another actor as far as I could tell. He even provided narration for the beginning and end, telling a story about how he “used to work for the guvmint,” because obviously if Seagal plays a crime boss it’s gonna be an ex-military crime boss. They sent 12 or 13 guys to kill him and Roman helped him chop off their heads and get “creative and stuff.”

“And that was the last time I questioned this young man’s integrity,” he says.

Action-wise it at least makes an effort. Foster gets to kick a bunch of guys with the camera steady and pulled back far enough to show the whole thing. Seagal is shot mostly from the waist up when he fights, but I still enjoy the way he crushes people with his big meaty hands flying around so fast. It does look like he would slap the shit out of these guys and toss them around. He provides them an opportunity to observe the world from unique perspectives such as this one:

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That’s from one of the best scenes, where Roman is defending the diner from thugs and suddenly Mr. Alexander just walks in the door. He really is pretty menacing. You almost feel bad for those guys.

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The three main F.O.E.s – Foster, Seagal and Trejo – get to fight together in that scene, and afterwards Seagal and Trejo speak Spanish to each other and share a hearty, seemingly genuine it’s-good-to-see-you-again-old-pal type of laugh. I like that. Kinda meta too since the actors first worked together 23 years ago.

I noticed a couple little references to other movies I like. One is when Trejo jokes “I’m just a cook” after doing his mumbo jumbo. It makes sense in the context of the movie but it’s gotta be a hat tip to UNDER SIEGE, right? The other is when they think Roman’s dead and one guy’s gonna chop up the body with a chainsaw. Roman kicks the guy with the saw, he falls down and accidentally saws his own leg, like what happens to Leatherface at the end of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE.

In my opinion this is not as good as THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. But I liked it better than Seagal’s last one, MAXIMUM CONVICTION. This is from that same director, Keoni Waxman, who also did THE KEEPER, A DANGEROUS MAN, 7 episodes of True Justice, and the Steve Austin movie HUNT TO KILL. I haven’t noticed any greatness in him yet, but he’s a little more competent and has a wider color palette than alot of the gloomy DTV era Seagal pictures.

Seagal likes to build these relationships with directors he trusts to do movies the way he likes. What I wish he would be able to do, though, is find a young, hungry director eager to push him and use his talents in a new way, like Van Damme found in John Hyams and Mabrouk El Mechri. Hell, he likes speaking Spanish, maybe he should go to Chile and do one with Marko Zaror and Ernesto Diaz Espinoza. But, you know, that’s just what I’d like to see. Seagal does what he wants to do, and that’s why I keep watching.

I mean, that and societal pressure due to expectations established by my previous actions. But mainly the first one.


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.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 at 1:11 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

36 Responses to “Force of Execution”

  1. Bren Foster really impressed me in this one, Vern. The guy has some real Martial Arts skills. Can’t see him headlining his own film though.

  2. Much as it may be sacrilege to post this in a Seagal-related thread, here goes anyway:

    Anchorman 2— by all means, check it out. Thoroughly farcial, just like the first one. Gotta give the lion’s share of the credit to Ferrell & Adam McKay’s screenplay, which manages to be equal parts arcane and familiar, and keeps things humming along at a brisk pace.

    It starts to flag in the last 1/2 hour, then something happens (you’ll know it when you see it) that kicks it back into high gear. I laughed my ass off through most of it.

    Still, the highlight of the movie is an uncredited John C. McGinley as the retarded manchild (supposedly Brick’s long-lost foster brother), who spouts off a series of bizarro bon mots that would make Ralph Wiggum blush, and constantly blows his nose onto pages torn from a paperback copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

  3. Almost checked this one out last night, but was worried Seagal would only be in it for five minutes. “Against the Dark” fucked me up. I failed.

  4. that’s weird: I just Watched ”Ennemies Closer” where Vandamme plays the villain too (but no code of honor or anything, he’s just a crazy drug dealer, but he’s vegetarian). I’m afraid to say the movie was terrible, made me feel sorry for Peter Hyams.

    Does Steven Seagal keep the poney tail as well in this one?

  5. Excellent review, Vern. I really think it’s about time Seagal lost that ridiculous toupé as well, it’s not fooling anyone. Just imagine if he went full-bald for his next role, but kept the beard, wouldn’t you agree he’d look like Walter White from Breaking Bad? That would be kind of awesome.

  6. I caught a clip from this movie online. Does anyone have a clue as to what accent Seagal is trying on this time. Again, I only saw a clip of the movie, but Seagal’s accent seemed particularly difficult to locate, even for him. Still, it was fun to see Seagal go full on ruthless.

  7. So is Bren Foster like the Wario version of Ben Foster?

  8. Larry,

    I saw Anchorman 2 last night at a local critic screening and that subplot about Brick’s foster brother is not in the film at all. Did you possibly see the alternate cut that Adam McKay has been talking up in various on line outlets?
    Did it have the scene where the news team thinks their gay co-worker is a vampire?.

    Anyway, back on topic. I’m glad that Sensei is back to giving a shit. I’ll check this one out. Sounds fun in a shaggy dog kinda way.

  9. The Original... Paul

    December 18th, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    “So is Bren Foster like the Wario version of Ben Foster?”

    Just what I was about to ask. (Well not QUITE what I was about to ask.) This could be seriously confusing though.

  10. Matt— I was joking about the foster brother character. Still, in a movie this self-consciously weird, it wouldn’t be out of place.

    Now that you mention it… no, the screening I was at didn’t have that gay/vampire coworker scene either. They lied to us!

    Damn funny movie just the same. If there’s a director’s cut waiting in the wings, I’d love to see it.

  11. I refuse to see ANCHORMAN 2. I tend to slip out of the grasp of most movie advertising, but with ANCHORMAN 2 I’ve been bombarded with the shit. Every goddamn bus stop, bus, billboard and website is plastered with ads for this thing. All of these websites were reporting about how Will Ferrell had filmed like 9 bajillion TV spots, as if that was a good thing. I feel like I’m being subjected to a CLOCKWORK ORANGE style brainwashing experiment and my natural instinct is to fight against it. I didn’t think the first one was all that great anyway.

  12. Please fellas, you can start an Anchorman 2 discussion in the forum or something. I don’t want to delete people’s posts but for fuck’s sake, man. Not on a new Seagal movie. You’re pissing on my flag here.

  13. in other words Vern you are now TRAPPED IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION!?

  14. Loved this film! loads better then the rest by Seagal. Foster was the true stand out. I agree with some of this review but Foster was amazing. I didn’t notice him putting on the accent- Seagal on the other hand sounds weird. I googled Bren Foster after watching this and the guy is crazy! Martial arts champion and Studied actor- Impressed- I’ll be keeping my eye on him

  15. guys, I’m sorry to say this, but I think Seagal dyes his hair

  16. I know KILL SWITCH is pretty unforgivably awful (after being reedited, anyway), but I kinda wish Seagal would give Jeff King another try. For my money RUSLAN (aka DRIVEN TO KILL) is easily Seagal’s best movie since PISTOL WHIPPED; it feels like a real film with a simple and complete narrative and a no-frills style that compliments Seagal’s character and fighting. Waxman’s films all seem unfocused and rambling, too many characters and plot elements which aren’t at all interesting and never come together meaningfully. DANGEROUS MAN is especially egregious in that regard, it’s almost as bad as the FOREIGNER era, but maybe even more cheap and amateurish looking. And with even less ambition and imagination. This one doesn’t sound too much better in that regard, although I’m hopeful that maybe with entertaining actors like Trejo and Rhames, Waxman’s digressive nature will be a little more tolerable.

    On the other hand, giving Seagal his first facial hair since HARD TO KILL is a pretty bold move, so maybe I’m underestimating Waxman’s moxie.

  17. Steven – Foster’s accent was good, I just mean that he might be more charismatic if they just let him use his real accent. It seems like it in the interview on the disc.

  18. Vern, ordered your book last night. Should be getting it before Christmas and looking forward to it. As far as this latest film, I just am sort of ambivalent about it. It was ok I suppose. He does have some good lines in it I’ll give him that.

  19. Griff, and he doesn’t even have to be there when they dye it. Vern, you’re the expert, when did Seagal start using a hair piece? Do you know the excact movie?

  20. pegsman – yeah, looking closer I realized it’s not even his hair at all, lol

  21. I find KILLSWITCH more fascinating than terrible. Although it is indeed a terrible and terribly made movie, I find it an enjoyable trainwreck much like ATTACK FORCE.

  22. Mr Subtlety -Seagal did have facial hair in a flashback scene in TRUE JUSTICE. He looked like a member of ZZ TOP in that one.

  23. He should grow a full beard and do some remakes of Bud Spencer’s old movies.

  24. I almost rented this one the other day, but watched NINJA 2 instead (NIJNA 2 is awesome by the way) I am glad to hear Vern liked it. I am always down for some new Seagal, and this one has a good cast. The trailer for it also made it unclear if Seagal was playing the villan which also peaked my interest.

    PS: Vern you are not just the west coasts leading Seagologist, you are The world wide leader in Seagology. Have you been contacted by Putin yet about publishing Seagology in Russian so he can make it mandatory reading in Russian schools.

  25. Charles – I reckon modesty is part of the badass code of ethics; Vern couldn’t acknowledge being the world’s foremost expert without breaking that code.

    (Of course that part of the code does not apply in the immediate few moments before engaging a villain in unarmed combat – films have taught us you can talk up your skills as much as you want then)

    Anyway yeah this looks interesting if only for Seagal appearing to play it against type (sort of).

  26. Tango— I like where your head’s at, but you’re slightly off the mark. A true badass has no need for modesty, because he doesn’t need to acknowledge his badassness AT ALL. Those he encounters, be they friend or foe or someone inbetween… will do that accordingly.

    One need only look as far as Vern’s “Just How Badass Is He?” calibration of Seagal’s many & various movie roles in the tome SEAGALOGY to understand this. It’s always another person/other people who place the Badass Crown upon his noggin.

  27. The frase “Just How Badass Is He?” reminds me of a movie I saw a couple of days ago; DELTA FORCE 2. In the “Just How Badass Is He?” scene for bad guy Billy Drago – dressed in black and sporting a ponytail just like Seagal – he kills a man with a knife, orders his men to bring the wife to his bed and tells them to kill the couple’s child. That’s bad. Even for Drago.

  28. pegsman— I believe a true badass would never go that route. As Michael Caine exclaims to Seagal’s character in the semi-conclusion to On Deadly Ground: “You’re a macho man with a code of honor; you won’t shoot me in the back!”.

    Drago seems like a naughty man without scruples. He is hereby retro-banished from the Hall Of Badasses. But maybe included in a future Seagal joint.

    Not to take away from what Seagal may or may not be attempting with Force Of Execution, but he’s can’t suddenly shift from being the Tom Hanksian martial artist/badass equivalent to a true villain with one movie. A transitional phase across 3-4 other movies is needed to make that believable.

  29. My fault, Drago isn’t badass in DELTA FORCE 2, just bad. Chuck’s the badass, and that’s why he defends a Chinese restaurant owner against three skinheads earlier on.

  30. Wow, I gotta take back what I said earlier, I actually found this one extremely entertaining. It has some of the same lack of narrative focus that all the Waxman Seagal joints have had, but huh, it has a bunch of entertaining people in it and they all seem reasonably awake and focused. Trejo, in particular, actually has a an unusually charming role here and he plays it to the hilt. I didn’t think Bren Foster was especially short on charisma either, although the script kind of shortchanges him in terms of actual hero stuff.

    All around, definitely one of Seagal’s better recent efforts, and one of Waxman’s most enjoyable. Not the best story in the world, but plenty of fun in the telling. The details — Seagal talking about the guns, Trejo discussing his scorpion therapy, Rhames smoking cigars in prison — make it so much richer than the usual disposable gangster story would lead you to expect.

  31. Evidently being part of the cast of Predator isn’t a prerequisite after all:

    http://www.abc15.com/dpp/news/state/steven-seagal-mulls-run-for-arizona-governor

    One might think he’s tired of being a puppet in the same sick play, and now it’s time to open a can of administrative whupass. More power to him.

  32. Jesus H. Christ! Can we please get a buddy cop movie with Seagal and Danny McBride sporting identical facial hair, weed smoking and ass kicking? Kinda like The Glimmer Man, but funny.

  33. I just saw this one and man, I wish I could see Seagal as the terrifying Bigfoot-esque monster you do, Vern, because what I saw was just sad; a puffy, orange Seagal clumsily pawing at a stuntman who does his best to sell it by flipping into a table or stack of empty boxes. It was especially embarrassing during his final fight when it was intercut with the very capable Foster. I guess there’s something vaguely amusing about the gulf between the mythical way his character is treated and his actual on-screen abilities, but mostly it just bummed me out.

  34. Best post 2011 Segal film.

    How do I get out of here?

  35. How do I get out of here?

  36. There are precisely two ways to get home, and one of them is to stay there.

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