Sniper: Special Ops

tn_sniperspecialopsRemember the opening/teaser trailer scene of AMERICAN SNIPER, where Bradley Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) and his partner are on a rooftop somewhere in Generic Dusty Middle East, watching a woman through a sniper scope, not sure if she has a bomb or is just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they’re agonizing over whether or not to shoot her? Steven Seagal’s latest as of last Tuesday (but since surpassed by a new VOD one on Friday) opens the same way, except there’s no agonizing, they just know he’s a bad guy and they shoot him.

Seagal plays Jake Chandler, the eye in the sky for a group of special ops soldiers on a mission to save a Congressman abducted by an evil Taliban leader. They get attacked, leaving Seagal and an injured soldier behind, but then they help a local woman who turns out to be the Taliban guy’s daughter-in-law. Also there’s a whole thing with an embedded reporter (Charlene Amoia, AMERICAN REUNION) who they kind of condescend to because she’s a civilian and a woman, but she steps up and impresses them. They have some shootouts and a tense hostage exchange and what not. All very small scale, maybe one CGI explosion, but at least the gun flashes are real.

Despite the title, this is not related to the SNIPER series, nor is it very much about snipers, and despite Seagal being the only person Photoshopped onto the cover he’s not the main character at all. That would be Sergeant Mosby (Tim Abell, MERCENARIES, SPECIAL FORCES), a likably gruff lug who reminded me of Kevin Nash mixed with Ron Eldard on Justified. The story mostly centers on him, and he’s the one that makes the decisions and talks with the lady and stuff.

Then, every once in a while, they cut back to Seagal. I regret to report that this may be his laziest movie to date. He spends the opening on the roof, the middle sitting down in a room talking quietly to the injured guy in his southern-ish accent. At one point he announces that he’s leaving to get water, and gives the guy a gun to protect himself. He goes down the stairs… cut to a truck driving. Finally, he’s on a mission! He’s gonna– oh, wait. This is the other guys. It sticks with them for about ten minutes, then goes back to Seagal, coming back up the stairs with the water. This is not like in FURY ROAD when Max comes back covered in blood and carrying a bag of guns. The implication is that his trip was uneventful, and not worth showing.

At least he does walk up some stairs in that part, though. In some of the scenes he doesn’t even stand up. Or take off his sunglasses.

"I hate sunglasses in movies, but we talked about letting Steven wear them and, uh, we did. And it's not something that I normally would do, but, um, it was part of the character that he was really into, so we kinda went along with it."
“I hate sunglasses in movies, but we talked about letting Steven wear them and, uh, we did. And it’s not something that I normally would do, but, um, it was part of the character that he was really into, so we kinda went along with it.” –director Fred Olen Ray

Another false alarm is when he tells the guy, “Yeah, I’m gonna go downstairs and commandeer us a truck.”

“When are you gonna do that?”

“Right now.”

Again it seems like the setup for a big action scene. But all that happens is in between longer scenes of the other characters he walks around pointing different sizes of guns in different directions, makes a call on the radio, and then is back in the room again. He doesn’t commandeer a truck, but the other guys show up in one, and he signals them with a mirror. (Or somebody does. We don’t see him do it.)

He never fights anybody in the movie. His action contribution is just firing an assault rifle down from the roof, and it rarely even cuts to who he’s shooting at. It just looks like he’s at a gun range, and they might even be reusing the same shot some of the time.

At the very end, the female lead meets the Seagal character for the first time.

“Sergeant Chandler!”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Are you really as good as they all say you are?”

(takes sunglasses off)

“Every once in a while.”

(Music swells.) She smiles, charmed by his cockiness, and takes a photo of him, not smiling. It’s like in real life when Seagal gets his picture taken with fans, he takes off his reading glasses and gets a real serious, grim look on his face.

It seems like a pretty cool ending if he had saved the day in an awesome movie, or really done much of anything in the movie, and if the other characters had seemed to remember that he was in the movie and talked to her about him. But none of that happened. SNIPER: SPECIAL OPS kinda made me appreciate one of Seagal’s previous worst movies, AGAINST THE DARK, because at least in that one he had a sword and a couple goofy lines and there were vampires. A generic vampire movie is depressing, but not quite as depressing as a generic War On Terror movie.

I think there may be some kind of an anti-anti-war message in here. The Congressman is kind of a sleazebag and they say that “He had an agenda. The whole idea was to prove that all our efforts were just a big waste of time and money.” But although I purchased this DVD with good American money I really can’t bring myself to watch it again to try to decode the politics. I’ll save that as a delightful treat if I ever get to update Seagalogy again.

It’s one of the few Seagal movies from a writer/director, and this time it’s Fred Olen Ray, the famous auteur of cheesy grade Z movies. He has 95 directing credits on IMDb, 19 of which have the word “BIKINI” in the title. There are no boobs in this one, other than when the reporter has a cut on her side and pulls up her shirt, exposing her bra. I think Ray is kinda changing his ways now; since 2007 he’s done seven movies with the word “CHRISTMAS” in the title. On the commentary track he talks about this being a throwback to the kind of movies he used to do, and “it was very exciting after having a career more recently of doing Christmas movies and sort of women’s thrillers, which I do enjoy making. It’s a completely different type of film.”

His only movies I’ve reviewed before are the wrestling documentary SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT and the Boz vehicle MACH 2, both of which I enjoyed, so that actually gave me a little bit of hope for this one. Unfortunately it’s not as inspired as MACH 2 and not inept in any sort of humorous or entertaining way. It’s obviously cheap and takes many budget shortcuts, but it’s generally competent. In fact, the acting is pretty good, or at least they’re good at selling the lingo and sounding professional when they’re telling each other they’re going to be all right. It turns out this is because most of the cast (and also crew) were military veterans. The medic sounds like a real medic because he is a real medic. Just like the end of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.

I wish it had something more ridiculous in it, though, to make up for the lack of originality. There is for sure not a single thing in it that we haven’t seen in ten thousand other Iraq/Afghanistan war movies over the last decade plus. But they obviously did their research on what are the different types of scraggly beards that a soldier could rock.

mp_sniperspecialopsI suspect if this one ends up being remembered at all it will be as the one where the cover says “SEAGAL” and then “VAN DAM” above the title. Of course we all know that it means the wrestler Rob Van Dam. But I don’t know… for some reason I can’t quite shake this feeling that just maybe they were hoping we would think it was… somebody else? I can’t quite put my finger on who it would be specifically, but I feel like the name kinda reminds me of somebody else that would be in an action movie. Ah, forget it, it’s probly nothing.

Despite the high billing, Van Dam isn’t given any kind of a showcase at all, he’s just one of the dudes. The one with the ponytail and the tired looking eyes like Dog the Bounty Hunter when he takes off his sunglasses. If I didn’t know what he looked like from David DeFalco’s WRONG SIDE OF TOWN I probly would’ve guessed the famous wrestler was the tall guy with the sleeveless shirt and the ink.

Ray’s commentary track is way more interesting than the actual movie. He says he always wanted to work with Seagal, and claims that “he’s been in many war zones and has activity or experience as a sniper.” He tells us that Seagal is using a $20,000 custom gun for which each blank costs $5, that the town was originally built for CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER and modified for AMERICAN SNIPER, that he wrote it under the title HOUR OF VALOR. He obviously does care about the movie and especially the depiction of the military, but maybe that’s part of the problem. He says that there’s nothing funny about war and nothing to laugh about, so he didn’t want to do one-liners and stuff. So it might’ve been an intentional choice to leave out the charming goofiness of MACH 2. I disagree with that choice. This is kind of a chore.

What a let down. It’s a bummer, because now we have to wait literally days for another new Seagal movie to hopefully make up for this one.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 9th, 2016 at 9:16 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Seagal, War. 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.

31 Responses to “Sniper: Special Ops”

  1. david j. moore

    May 9th, 2016 at 9:58 am

    I went to see CODE OF HONOR in a theater the other day, but it’s 100% worse than this one. This Friday, Seagal has ANOTHER theatrical release here in LA … THE ASIAN CONNECTION. You better believe I’ll be there, but I’m fairly confident that he’s past the point of no return. These are his post-post middle years where he’s entering a descent of of roles where he sits in chairs, shows up twice or thrice and that’s all he’s got left. The only way he’ll make any semblance of a comeback at this point is to get himself into Ex4 if that ever happens. Not sure how he’s gonna pull off another URBAN JUSTICE at this stage.

  2. How was Seagal in a talky role in that one Las Vegas movie with that guy from CSI?

  3. The Original Paul

    May 9th, 2016 at 10:13 am

    The moment I read “This may be his laziest movie to date”, I knew a comparison to AGAINST THE DARK was coming. Didn’t quite expect you to call AtD “one of his previous worst movies” though Vern. Oucha.

    Here’s a question. I’m the proud owner of a second-edition copy of SEAGALOGY, which was an upgrade from the previous edition (that I also owned). Is there enough interesting stuff to talk about in Seagal’s current efforts to make a third edition possible?

  4. I cannot possibly believe CODE OF HONOR could be worse than a Fred Olen Ray movie. NOTHING is worse than a Fred Olen Ray movie.

    But yeah, Seagal is turning into Boris Karloff circa late-60s, showing up in 0-budget movies for a few scenes, all sitting down or in a wheelchair so he doesn’t have to even make the effort to stand up. Pretty depressing.

  5. Very disappointed to find out it wasn’t an entry in the SNIPER series. Now I don’t think I’m gonna bother renting it out anymore.

  6. Ancient Romans

    May 9th, 2016 at 11:25 am

    ‘…[H]e wrote it under the title HOUR OF VALOR.’

    Of course he did. Part of why I can’t really hate Fred Olen Ray despite him being just the worst director. (The other part: bikinis.)

  7. Yeah, this is not a good one, and from what I’ve seen, THE ASIAN CONNECTION looks like more of the same, too (Even MJW looks pisspot bored in the trailer I saw).

    I still love the guy and I think that he can surprise us, I really do. He can make something interesting again, but he’s going down a dark path right now towards a weird kinda Orson Welles-ian late career of check-cashing and it’s not right.

    Come back to us, Steve.


  8. karlos— Methinks that particular ship has sailed. As I’ve written previously, I truly believe the sorta recent appearance of his goatee was a signal, albeit an obscure one. Either it was tantamount to waving a white flag (surrendering any hope of a late career renaissance) or throwing in the towel or some Casey Rybackian gesture of futility (no one’s gonna be there to get his pies outta the oven).

    Whatever the case, I think his time has passed. I did some poking around on his IMDb page, and was surprised to discover he has a son from his first marriage to a Japanese woman:

    Kentaro Seagal, age 40. Tall like Pops (6 feet, 2 inches) and he has a 4th degree black belt in aikido. From his bio came this interesting bit of trivia:

    “In February 1998, the Los Angeles Tomes reported that he had signed a seven-figure, five-picture deal with Miracle Entertainment (then known as First Miracle Films). These movies never came to fruition”.

    Hmmm… he perhaps could’ve gone the Brandon Lee route. I wonder if Steven Seagal would’ve stepped aside if his son had succeeded, or just kept going.

  9. You may well be right, Larry. Maybe I just can’t let go.

    Kentaro only did a few films, I think? Yes, in some alternate universe he could’ve been the Brandon to his pop’s Bruce.

  10. Vern, has there been a increase in sales of Seagology?
    On the meme board 4chan the movie section has discovered the greatness of Segal movies. With some in total awe of your book.

  11. At least we have his actor / author daughter, Ayako Fujitani:

    Ayako Fujitani

    Ayako Fujitani, Actress: Tokyo!. Ayako Fujitani was born on December 7, 1979 in Osaka, Japan as Ayako Faith Fujitani. She is an actress and writer, known for Tokyo! (2008), Man from Reno (2014) and Shiki-Jitsu (2000). She has been married to Javier Gullón since 2016.

    Not only was she in the Gamera trilogy, she is also one of the only actors besides Howard Stern that I can think of who starred in the film adaptation of their own book (in this case Hideaki Anno’s second live action feature Ritual).

  12. Dino – not that I know of, but that would be nice!

    This sniper obsession and smaller roles do have me worried. A couple before this were more interesting though. He still has potential for weirdness if not athleticism.

    Somebody give him another guitar movie.

  13. As the number of films both Seagal and Nic Cage appear in every year increases, the greater chance the the two will share some screen time. So that’s something to look forward to.

  14. Basic competence is the enemy of entertainment. I’ll take ridiculously unsuccessful over by-the-numbers any day.

  15. I actually kind of liked Segal’s early films…not on any intellectual level, but they had a certain devil-may-care charm to them. Heck, ABOVE THE LAW co-starred Pam Grier, Sharon Stone and Henry Silva, which is a pretty great supporting cast for a new talent.

    It’s just kind of a bummer when our action stars get old.

  16. Jebus y Crisco, is that the actual DVD cover for the movie?!? That almost looks worse than the posters for Travolta’s I AM WRATH that just dropped. Almost.

  17. That is a fucking hilariously crappy cover. This effort is the Photoshop equivalent to writing with crayons.

  18. “Seagalogy: Approved by 4Chan”

    Wow, I’m glad that your work catches on, but that’s even worse advertising than if Donald Trump would promote it at a NAMBLA meeting while wearing a KKK hood.

  19. Can we ask what the fuck is going on with his right leg? It looks bent backwards, like a bird. I think they may have photoshopped some camo pants shot from behind onto a torso shot from the front, and then kinda perched his comically oversized head at the top.

  20. If that’s really what Seagal is working with below the belt, I can see why he wants to do all his movies sitting down.

    My condolences for this low point in your chosen field, Vern. I’m going to skip this one and keep holding out hope for a director who can convince him to work for a living again.

  21. Didn’t notice it till you pointed that out Mr. S. His legs kinda look like original Doom’s Cyberdemon’s legs.

  22. Take that back, I clearly meant the Baron Of Hells or Hell Knights.

  23. I mean, would it have been too much work to just find a stock photo of a full body?

  24. Jerome – That I AM WRATH series of posters is some of the funniest shit Travolta’s been involved with in years.

  25. Seagal worked with Albert Pyun a while back on Ticker. Now he worked with Fred Olen Ray on this. All he needs to do is star in a Jim Wynorski flick to make him eligible for the B Movie Director Triple Crown.

  26. Jack — by god, you’re right. I guess he’d probably need to do a Charles Band movie too, if he really wanted a clean sweep.

  27. Oh, and in no way are any of those guys “B Movie Directors.” MISSING IN ACTION is a B movie. Pyun, Wynorski, Ray, and Band are waaaaaay further down the alphabet.

  28. When they are at the top of their game, Pyun (Sword and the Sorcerer), Ray (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) and Wynorski (Chopping Mall) epitomize all that’s right with B Cinema. Most of the time though, they churn out “product”. Of the three, Wynorski is the most consistently entertaining, so I am hopeful for a Seagal collaboration with him.

  29. Actually I think Ray and Seagal’s next movie should be Bikini Sniper in which Seagal sits in a chair and mumbles dialogue while watching college girls in bikinis through his scope before shooting their tops off which leads to Girl on Girl, Girl on Girl on Girl, and Girl on Girl on Girl on Girl soft core Skinamax sex scenes.

  30. I thought it was decent enough. Admittedly saw the “touch chick” thin coming a mile away once the reporter showed up.

    Funny that for a movie that takes place in Afghanistan, the translator speaks Arabic.

    I may be wrong, but is this the first Seagal movie where he does ZERO martial arts/physical fighting?

  31. I hope Segal goes weird. Really weird. Small role, big role…but its time to roll out the weird!!!

    I love 80s era Ray, Wynorski and Pyun. Wynorski really takes the cake with lots of fun movies!!!

    These days they are just not the same. There are still some gems here and there if you stick with them though. In the modern era, Pyun is by far the weirdest, Wynorski is still the most fun with some good one liners and whatnot and Ray is the most…competent. Which, competent in that arena translates to bland.

    I would love to see Segal in a truely bottom barrel flick. Something like a Bill Zebub film. An odd one scene cameo where he has no clue of the rest of the film of course!

    For a true hoot of a movie, see Wynorski’s DEATHSTALKER 2! If you are in the mood for a wacky movie…that fits the bill 10 fold!

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