Saturday, January 05, 2008

Renegade Justice (aka Urban Justice)

“We want you to give a lecture on the latest Steven Seagal movie.”

AF: “Well I don’t know, I mean, Steven Seagal movies come out every week. Even his most hardcore chroniclers find it hard to keep up.”

“The most recent one you’ve seen will suffice.”

AF: “But surely someone more qualified could be found, an employee of Steven Seagal Enterprises perhaps, or even that guy who goes about Hyde Park quoting lines from Hard Target as if it were a holy book?”

“Cost and time constraints lead us to you.”

AF: “What exactly would you have me do?”

“Talk about the movie.”

AF: “But these movies have one line synopses, and even then the line’s not that great.”

“All we ask is that you keep it under thirty minutes, ya know, to allow time for Q & A.”

AF: “As if concision were the problem!”

“The party members come to these things with their own sense of the world. The new is confusing to them. Hence a question session will give ample opportunity for confusions to be cleared.”

AF: “Very well.”


Enter a man wearing a vest. He strolls up to the counter, orders a latte and sits down to wait on a nearby stool. It’s raining outside, yet he clearly doesn’t care. Water drops tremble down his hairless skull, flowing into one another, merging bigger and bigger until they’re slapped away in a fit of ticklish outrage, one callused hand destroying the image as soon as it forms.

The coffee aroma, the gentle hubbub of spoken words, the passing motorists on the road outside, these sounds suffuse the area, from the girl reading Hegel in the corner, to wet vest man, to the couple discussing Scarlett Johansson just behind me. I can’t help but wonder at this moment what would happen if Steven Seagal were to run in right now and kick our wet friend in the gut. We’ll pretend the latter is a pernicious drug runner who kills children for money, and is a Nazi, and a convicted rapist, and gave Seagal a dirty look in the street one time. Seagal has tracked the fiend to this café, allowing time for his alertness to be dulled by the vapour of freshly crumbled cookies, and then he strikes: boot to the belly!

Seagal would probably proceed to extract information from the hapless deviant, pulping his organs for key words while garnering admiring glances from all in the vicinity. Names and addresses acquired he would leave the man, standing up and motioning to leave. Just then wet vest would miraculously revive, grabbing hold of a tray of gluten-free chocolate brownies and hurling it towards Seagal. A quick duck, negating the offence, and Seagal would push wave upon wave of soaring fists shaking with justice into the soul of wet vest, driving him to his death chauffeured by grave knees to the chops.

Perhaps it’s only my impending address to the denizens of Seagal sparking these ideas. Perhaps the mundane ambience of the corporate coffee shop, capitalising on connotations established elsewhere. Perhaps it’s the first symptom of a growing dementia. Perhaps all.

Regardless, I sit presently trying to conjure thoughts related to Seagal’s Renegade Justice, aka Urban Justice; in truth enough of the bastards to fill a half hour’s sweated standing. Even I, with my tedious habit of prolixity, am having difficulty coming up with something approaching the required length.

I did toy with the idea of opening with a story, a warm-up narrative to loosen the audience, nothing longer than five minutes. It’d be like when an art cinema throws on a short before the main feature, time to adapt one’s eyes and ears, get comfortable and forget the bourgeois hussy speaking loudly about Henri Lefebvre in the back row. I’d enter the auditorium, tell the tale, then begin the Seagal-related disquisition. I’d tell them the story of the man who had a dream about a goat with jowls – they’d love it. Alas my employers might see me go sans fee for such audacity, and one must pay one’s rent somehow in this murky world.

To wrap up the synopsis in a vast array of Latinate adjectives as to guarantee at least ten minutes passed? Not a bad idea, but it could prove tough translating ‘Steven Seagal’s son is murdered, Steven Seagal seeks revenge’ into a sweeping epic of the sort that would scare Tolstoy.

A few words on topographical concerns: the hood provides Seagal a battlefield. A few words on familial concerns: son was a cop, now dead; wife divorced. A few words on lawbreaking: son was on the cusp of removing bad guys and exposing bent cops, the latter both remain alive. Notes to insert intermittently when eyes are caught fluttering into far-off dazes.

Some sort of slideshow hoisted up to my rear exhibiting film stills will be necessary. How else to illustrate the film’s incessant darkness, the shadows through which Seagal must lunge in order to travel from one plot point to another? As if we’re truly ignorant of Seagal’s burgeoning girth! I’m afraid some of us, pedantic fucks, will break the injunction to ignorance on this point. It’s a collective pretence that says ‘we know Seagal has got all chubby around the middle but we’ll act as if we don’t’, with an abundance of dark lighting sanctioning the lie. Let us accept it and move on. It’s people like this who still insist that Seagal survived the first fifteen minutes of Executive Decision, stubbornly holding that Kurt Russell died and Seagal had to save the day. Which was his mission anyway, being a lieutenant-colonel, hence I fail to see how magnificent the achievement actually is, he would merely be doing his job, satisfying the stipulations of his job description.

Some time would have to be dedicated to the reception of Renegade Justice. Hollers of glee and cries of jubilation searing through the firmament, hyperbole and grand speeches about ‘a return to form’, patriarchial philistinism clasping every syllable in a laser regatta of gunfire and cocaine deals. Such is the outpouring of kudos for the film, as garishly excessive as my own paeans to Jean Claude Van Damme. But what narrational nuance do they see that I’m missing? Can it be something as simple as the transposition from a military context to a gritty urban cop context, that is, eschewing the submarine masturbation of Submerged and the tattered fatigues of Flight of Fury in favour of Renegade Justice’s plain clothes and lack of submarines? Perhaps the comfort afforded by squeezing Seagal into the Death Wish matrix stimulates bliss in the heads of the fanboys (although I’m sure not nearly as much bliss as would be stimulated by a viewing of Kevin Bacon’s wonderfully pessimistic tribute to Charlie Bronson in the fun Death Sentence)?

Hard To Kill and such gems were never containers for a great deal of subtext and rarely did ambiguity or intentional ellipses in plot intrude on Seagal’s stylistic slaughter of those persons deemed immoral. They satisfy urges for fictional violence through cinematographically appealing to deep sadomasochistic instincts within the spectator, the latter locked into every Seagal knuckle maleficent in action. Renegade Justice, on the other hand, omits the aesthetic panache of a Nico, opting instead for a trite story spread over gloomy visual banality; at least the older flicks had the visual style accentuated to a level of decency. Even in the domain of character name, a frequent point of excellence for Seagal, we are served up the dull Simon Ballister. If a film ever yearned for a Mason Storm or a Gino Felino it’s Renegade Justice!

I can only hope the audience won’t be turned off by my earnest transition to negative critique. To prevent this I might be forced to solicit the services of wet vest for a re-enactment of the centrepiece fight from Under Siege 2. I’ll play the part of Steven Seagal and he can be Big Ed from Twin Peaks, together we’ll put on a spectacle so majestically enthralling that even the most stoic of observers will be shuddering in ecstasy by the end of it all. Hopefully that’ll fill some time too.