Monday, March 5, 2012

Heavy Action: Under Siege / Sudden Death

The greatest action movie ever made is unquestionably Die Hard, a movie so iconic and successful that it became its own kind of brand name. Action movies were ripping it off for years following its release, and their screenplays just used Die Hard as a kind of plot shorthand: "It's Die Hard in a _______." It's how we ended up with Passenger 57 (it's Die Hard on an airplane!), Speed (it's Die Hard on a bus!), Cliffhanger (it's Die Hard on a mountain!), No Contest (it's Die Hard at a beauty pageant!) and, of course, the movies we're talking about today.

Seagal. Van Damme. Who will die hardest?

Under Siege (1992)

Under Siege is Steven Seagal's "classiest" movie -- the most commercial, with the highest production value and then-A-list talent in front of and behind the camera, including Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones and Academy Award-nominated director Andrew Davis (who directed Seagal's first movie, Above the Law). It's not my favorite of his movies (that would probably be Out for Justice), but it's probably the "best" thing he ever did, and certainly one of the very best of the Die Hard knock offs.

Seagal plays Casey Ryback, a cook aboard the soon-to-be decommissioned U.S.S. Missouri. Actually, he's some sort of super-secret former Navy SEAL who once punched out a superior officer (trouble with AUTHORITY) and is being kept on as the personal cook of the ship's captain. That makes him pretty useful when the Missouri is taken over by disgruntled former CIA agent Strannix (Tommy Lee Jones) and Commander Krill (Gary Busey), who are looking to steal the nuclear warheads aboard the ship and sell them on the black market. With nearly the Missouri's entire crew locked away, it's up to Ryback and Jordan "Miss July '89" Tate (Erika Eleniak), a Playboy centerfold brought aboard as entertainment for a fake birthday party (the distraction created so this could all go down), to stop the bad guys and break a bunch of arm bones.
So, yes, Under Siege is basically a Die Hard rip-off, because it pits a whole group of terrorists against one guy and all the action is confined to a single space. But there are some pretty big differences, too, like the fact that John McClane was never saddled with a Playboy centerfold as a sidekick (the closest he came where those naked pictures taped up that he would talk to as he passed them). Ryback isn't even alone for most of the movie; besides Eleniak, who joins him almost as soon as he escapes from the fridge (and she escapes from a giant cake, topless, in the only scene that justifies her participation in the movie), he teams up with a bunch of sailors who previously evaded capture. Even though he's still the guy in charge and the one who does everything important (except dispatch one Talking Killer, because Miss July has to prove that she learned how to fire a weapon and is also capable of murder), he does have a team of guys helping him out. All McClane had was Sergeant Al on the walkie talkie.

The movie's strengths as a Die Hard imitation are in its setting -- these guys really are cut off from everything -- and in its villains. Gary Busey was the go-to bad guy for much of the late '80s and early '90s (Lethal Weapon, Predator 2, Drop Zone, Surviving the Game), so he's a no-brainer. The casting of Tommy Lee Jones was pretty inspired, though, and he gets the balance of menace-to-over-the-top just right (for an example of when he does NOT get it right, see Batman Forever). He's clearly having a lot of fun in the movie, and his performance helps pick up some of the slack from Seagal, who's about as good here as he is in anything else -- all squint and cockiness. He does get a few good jokes in the early going when he's just hanging out in the kitchen and being a smartass, but, for the most part, Ryback is the kind of character that's too much tell and not enough show. Every other character in the movie keeps dropping all of these hints about how he's "more than a cook" and implying that he's this super highly-trained weapons expert and killing machine, but not enough time is spent seeing that in practice. Seagal gets to bust out the goods a few times, including a climactic knife fight that's lightning fast and FUCKING AWESOME (also super depressing when you see just how quick and agile he once was compared to the Brillo-headed, leather-skinned oaf he's become in his DTV years), but there's almost nothing that could live up to the way the character has been built up. It also sucks that after the kick-ass knife fight (complete with a head stabbing, which should have been the name of Seagal's next movie: "Steven Seagal IS Headstabber..."), the movie's big climax involves Seagal sitting in front of a computer and talking over a radio. Not exactly what we paid for.

The man behind Under Siege is Andrew Davis, who not only directed one of the best Chuck Norris movies (Code of Silence), but who's also the guy responsible for making Above the Law and basically breaking Seagal as a movie star. From here, Davis would direct his biggest success and score Oscar nominations with The Fugitive, which, incidentally, also won Tommy Lee Jones an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor -- more than likely one of those "retroactive" Oscars for his work in Under Siege, like when Russell Crowe won for Gladiator when what they really meant to say was The Insider. Unfortunately, the mainstream success of The Fugitive pretty much ruined Andrew Davis, inspiring him to do more than "just" action movies and thrillers and finally pursue his PASSION PROJECT: the Andy-Garcia-as-twins comedy Steal Big, Steal Little. When that movie was the train wreck everyone not named Andrew Davis knew it would be, he retreated back to action, only this time it was the Keanu Reeves physicist movie Chain Reaction. Davis was never the same. Even directing Arnold Schwarzenegger in his final pre-Gov(ernor) performance in Collateral Damage couldn't bring back the magic of the guy who made Above the Law and Under Siege.

Incidentally, the movie was written by J.F. Lawton, who also wrote Pretty Woman, which explains why the Missouri corners like it's on rails.

Under Siege represents what was essentially the peak of Seagal's mainstream stardom, as though his four previous movies had been laying the groundwork and everything that came after could never measure up. Maybe it was the clout he earned here that allowed him to not just star in but direct his next movie, 1994's On Deadly Ground. Between its heavy-handed environmental messages and its near-messianic lionizing of its star, ODG was the beginning of the end for Seagal as a major movie star, making Under Siege arguably his last best hour. It's also significant for being one of the few pony tail-less movies for Seagal, which I still think was the result of some misguided studio conversation deciding it would make him more mainstream and marketable. He grew it back for his next movie, because fuck that noise.

Sudden Death (1995)

In so many ways, society can be split into two camps. There are Beatles people and there are Rolling Stones people. Coke people and Pepsi people. Jurassic Park III people and Lost World people. There aren't right answers necessarily, because the world is a rainbow and Allah loves wonderous variety. It's just a way of organizing the world in terms we can all understand -- of making order out of chaos. Oh, except the first one. There's a right answer for that.

To apply it more directly to what we're talking about here, there are Stallone people and there are Schwarzenegger people; likewise, there are Seagal people and there are Van Damme people. And even though I think Seagal's first couple of movies are probably stronger than just about anything Van Damme ever did, I've always been more of a Van Damme guy. The differences between Under Siege and Sudden Death illustrate why that is.
Van Damme plays Darren McCord, a Chicago fireman who, as the movie opens, is trying to save a kid from a fire. The kid dies (SPOILER), and we immediately jump to two years later. McCord has been removed from duty and is working as the fire marshal at Pittsburgh's Civic Arena, where he brings his estranged kids to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks. Unfortunately, also attending the game is a group of criminals led by Joshua Foss (Powers Boothe, who appears in half of the action movies ever made, including Rapid Fire), disgruntled former government employee who has taken the Vice-President hostage (because the Vice-President is also at the game) and threatens to blow up the whole arena once the game ends unless he's wired millions of dollars. It's up to Van Damme to foil the criminal plot, delay the game, rescue his kids and even get on the ice and play hockey at one point. Otherwise, SUDDEN DEATH. Because it's a hockey term, but also everyone will die suddenly. From exploding.

First things first: I'm not positive the movie was always called Sudden Death. Within the first couple of minutes, a few different title cards come up that make you wonder how many different possible names they came with for the movie. One just says "Game Day," and you think, "Yeah, someone probably wanted to call the movie Game Day at one point." And then a second later another card comes up that says "Four hours until face-off," and then you know that someone wanted to call the movie Face Off. Good thing they didn't, though, because then it was still available for John Woo to use two years later -- John Woo who, incidentally, was brought to the United States by Van Damme to make Hard Target. So, really, we have Van Damme to thank twice for the movie Face/Off. I know, I know. We're welcome. Besides, I don't think this movie could have ever been called anything except Sudden Death, what with it being the best of all possible titles and everything.

Right off the bat,  it's clear that Darren McCord is very different from Casey Ryback. He's much, much more an action hero in the John McClane mode, from his name (they didn't try very hard to conceal the similarities) to the fact that he's first seen as a firefighter and then working at a hockey arena -- a real blue collar guy, just like Bruce Willis in Die Hard. He's got trouble in his personal life, is divorced from his wife and is trying to find ways to spend time with his two kids. He's got something to lose. He spends time thinking and planning and trying to figure out what he's going to do to save the day, because, unlike Ryback, he's not necessarily confident that he can do it. Whereas Seagal's greatest asset as an action hero is a sense of mystery, Van Damme does his best to be relatable. Seagal will snap your arm in three different places for looking at him sideways. Van Damme usually tries to avoid fighting, and only roundhouse kicks/does the splits as a last resort. Seagal fights for revenge, or because bad people fucked with the wrong guy. He fights because he's out for justice, or because he's been marked for death (it's ok; he's hard to kill). Van Damme typically fights for some much nobler cause -- whether it's to protect a nice widow and her kids (Nowhere to Run) or to help a lady cyborg gain safe passage (Cyborg) or to win some money to support his brother's family (Lionheart) or to prevent the death of Sloane Peterson (Timecop). In Sudden Death, he fights to save his kids and because, in the best Die Hard tradition, no one else can or will.

There's a scene in the original Universal Soldier that gets right to the heart of Van Damme's charm as an action hero. He's sitting and eating in a diner, and some asshole starts picking on him, not realizing he's really an undead super soldier. A universal soldier. Van Damme simply looks up at him and says "I just want to eat." In that moment, he's not a universal soldier. He's not looking for a fight. He's just a guy who wants to eat.

That's Darren McCord, too: a guy who just wants to eat. And by "eat," I mean "rebuild a relationship with his kids by regaining their respect and putting a tragedy behind him in the hopes of finding some peace and normalcy in his everyday life." He has a vulnerability and determination that's totally appealing. Seagal's characters live their lives like that Cedric the Entertainer routine: they wish a motherfucker WOULD start some shit. Not Van Damme, and not Darren McCord. He just wants to eat.
Whereas Seagal's role in Under Siege seems tailor made for him -- the quick fighting style, the arrogance, the allusions to the past in which he was some sort of awesome killing machine for the U.S. government -- there's not much about Sudden Death that requires the talents of Van Damme. It's the kind of part that could be played by almost anyone, and, in fact, might have even benefited from the casting of an unconventional action hero in the lead (part of what made Die Hard work so brilliantly is that no one had seen Bruce Willis in that kind of role). But what Van Damme does bring to the movie is earnestness, and that shouldn't be undervalued. We love Ryback because he's superhuman and we can't wait for him to call down the thunder, but there's no emotional investment in the character. No so with Van Damme. He's a guy doing his best for the right reasons. Maybe they should have called the movie Try Hard. Just kidding! Sudden Death is the best of all possible titles.

But there's another major difference between Sudden Death and Under Siege, too, and that's where the movies fall within the careers of their respective stars. Under Siege finds Seagal at his peak, having established his stardom in a series of smaller, leaner action movies. With Sudden Death, Van Damme had already peaked, and the kind of movies which made him famous were already falling out of fashion. There's only three years difference between the two movies, but it's a big three years; the '80s action spillover had dried up by '95, and just about every previously established action star was already floundering. Van Damme was no exception, attempting to redefine himself by chasing the Die Hard model, a movie that had come out seven years prior.

While I think Under Siege is probably the better movie, Sudden Death is the better Die Hard imitation. Don't get me wrong -- it's still a long ways off from Die Hard, because it's sillier and stupider and not as well made. Some of the violence is kind of mean-spirited. Characters are killed that you don't think will actually be killed. Mostly women. And the movie gets way ridiculous the longer it goes on; by the time Van Damme skates out onto the ice to fill in as goalie for the Penguins, the movie has basically become science fiction. It is, like so many '90s action movies, gloriously stupid. There's a whole fight scene between Van Damme and a bad guy dressed as Iceburgh, the Penguins mascot, that, while never explicitly played for laughs, is very funny and well aware of its own absurdity. You've got to give it up to the Penguins organization for letting a character dressed as their mascot, Iceburgh, threaten a kid and spend so much time trying to kill Van Damme. That would never happen in a movie today.

Director Peter Hyams has made his share of terrible movies (Stay Tuned, A Sound of Thunder), but he's also responsible for several really cool, under-the-radar classics like Busting, Running Scared and The Relic. This was his second time directing Van Damme, after making Timecop (which, in many ways, is Van Damme's Under Siege) one year prior. Like Andrew Davis, he wins points with me because he shoots a lot of his stuff in Chicago. Also like Andrew Davis, he made a late-era Schwarzenegger movie (End of Days) which wasn't very good. He was never nominated for an Oscar, but I'd take him over Davis any day. So that settles it.

Sudden Death represents one of the last good Van Damme movies for almost a decade -- the theatrical ones, at least. After Maximum Risk, which is kind of dull if I remember correctly, he would transition into his absurd, cocaine frenzy period before segueing into the same DTV purgatory as Seagal. It's not my favorite Van Damme movie, but it is one of his most commercial, and it's a better Die Hard movie than Die Hard with a Vengeance or Live Free or Die Hard. He may not get to do any head stabbing, but I like Darren McCord, and I want to root for him. Let him eat.

Got a movie you'd like to see included in a future installment of Heavy Action? Let us know in the comments below.


  1. I LOVE "Under Siege" for all the points you've made plus many more. Unlike earlier and future Segal movies you can tell the studio (Warner) put a lot of dough into making it, translating into above-average production values. Even if the studio rented a decommissioned naval ship (I'm guessing), stuff blows up real good (helicopters, both on deck and in the air) and there's a couple of extremely gory shots (like the guy Segal pushes into the saw) to go along with the gunfights and explosions. The rag-tag bunch of ship crew members assembled (along with the sexy playmate) is a nice change of pace from Segal's typical 'one man army' movie scenario even when it's always clear that Segal is boss (I'm guessing the latter was his idea). The one-liners aren't thrown with every other line of dialogue (one of my pet peeves with most of Bruce Willi's dialogue in the original "Die Hard") and they're usually dead-on funny ('you can Court Marshall me if I live sir') although I'd cut a couple of the 'I'm/He's just a cook' jokes. The casting of Jones and Busey as villains (including the guys at the Pentagon willing the let Ryback take the fall... or is that from "Under Siege 2," I forget? :-P) is inspired since they, along with Segal, all get plenty of room to show-off and entertain. Hitchcock said audiences love seeing someone on-screen being good at their job, and Tommy Lee Jones is clearly either having fun pretending to be a terrorist or he's playing a terrorist who really loves his job... win-win.

    The only flaw in "US" is that still has 10 tense-free minutes to go after the fake Jones head gets stabbed, and the last moments in which the crew and military hail Ryback as a hero feel like total Segal masturbatory moments. The movie still rocks though, and its way more rewatchable than Segal's previous and post "US" movies (except for the sequel which is endlessly rewatchable if you're in the mood to laugh at bad movies). Yes, it's an imitation of "Die Hard" but sometimes being good at somebody else's game is all it takes. "US" also came out as the "Die Hard" action wave was peaking and both Segal and Davis were at their prime. 1994's "Speed" would be the last 'Die Hard on a ___' imitator that cleaned at the box office since the following year both "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory" (which also deserves mention here but more for its over-the-top comedic value and shockingly shitty production values than for being good) and "Sudden Death" did meager business.

    I'm not a Van Damme fan, so usually I enjoy only the flicks where a director (Roland Emmerich for "Universal Soldier," John Woo for "Hard Target," etc.) knows how to bring the best out of his limited range. Director Peter Hyams has a reputation for lighting stuff way too dark (see "Star Chamber" or "The Relic" for proof) but, because it's set in an ice hockey arena, even Hyams can't light a rink to be anything more that blindingly white. This means that the stunts can't be hidden by shadows (only editing) and "Sudden Death" has some pretty cool action stuff happening both on and off the ice. I don't mind the bad guys being sadistic is it pays off in the end with a spectacular boss death, and this movie has an imbalance between goons inflicting pain on innocents and baddies going down without suffering (some do, most just get shot or beat up some). And, except for Powers Boothe, I couldn't single out a henchman or bad guy that stood out from the crowd (even the McGuffin Vice-President that sets the ball rolling for terrorist's demands is pretty bland).

    All and all, despite not being Van Damme's best, "Sudden Death" = winnah. Great column.

    1. Agreed on Hyams under-lighting his movies. I really like The Relic, but there are long stretches where it's almost impossible to make out what's happening on screen.

  2. Another great article, I’m really enjoying these columns. I watched Under Siege for the first time in years a few months back and was struck by how little time Ryback spends on his own. As you say he has a sidekick from quite early on and them meets up with the other people that were hiding not long after that. Also, I was surprised at how quickly Erika Eleniak goes from being practically useless to blowing away bad guys like a pro. I also watched Under Siege 2 a few days later and found it way more enjoyable than I had remembered. While far from perfect I don’t think it deserves the flack I’ve often seen it get.

    Sudden Death is a guilty pleasure of mine, I love it. I think the only JCVD films I’d put ahead of it are Hard Target and possibly Time Cop. It’s one of those films I always end up watching every time it pops up on the TV.

    On the subject of peter Hyams, I’ve always had a soft spot for The Presidio, even though it does drag in places and I enjoyed Outland a lot; it’s a great sci-fi Western.

    1. Thanks, Stuart. I'm having such a good time going back and watching all of these. It's nice to hear that people are digging them.

      I'm curious to see what I think of Hard Target when I rewatch it, because I wasn't a big fan of it in the past. Somewhere around here I've got the more violent "uncut" version, but the quality is pretty bad and I don't know if I can get through it.

      I like Peter Hyams -- but, as J.M. says above, his movies tend to be very dark. Never seen The Presidio, though I really wanted to when it came out because I think I had a crush on Meg Ryan. Never seen Outland either! I have to track these both down.

  3. Still kills me that NO ONE seems to notice that JVD is not even the same size as the goalie he replaces. Goalies communicate with their defensemen all the time and would have noticed the accent... maybe a little?

  4. Review "Action Jackson" with Carl Weathers & "Stone Cold" with Brian Bosworth because they're both from the same director (Craig R. Baxley).

  5. I went on what the kids would now call a "girl date" (like Patrick and Doug's man-dates/bro-dates/bff-bonding times) I think my senior year in high school/frosh year in college to see Sudden Death, so it holds a special place for me. And I had only ever seen Under Siege on cable for so many years that it shocked the hell out of me when I finally saw a legit copy and Erika jumped out of that cake.

    But at least the movie made a little more sense after she did. And by sense I mean I could imagine the people making it saying "so for the rest of the film we've got them. They'll all be waiting to see when she'll flash her boobs again."

    As far as suggestions go I'm a sucker for cheesy scifi/fantasy action so maybe Krull versus Kull the Conqueror?

    Great column as always.

    1. Thanks, Dawn! I think I'm going to try and get something together for Kull the Conqueror for next week, but I don't think I can handle watching Krull again (I saw it again for the first time in years about 10 months ago and couldn't believe how slooooow it is), so I may try and pair it with something else. Maybe The Scorpion King. Thanks for the suggestion!

  6. So I watched "Under Siege" last night on HD-DVD (same transfer as the Blu-ray). Talk about a movie begging for cool extras: a Jones/Davis commentary, 20th anniversary documentary/retrospective (and yes, I'm old!), etc. We only get a freaking trailer, but one with the distinct and suave tones of Don 'in a world' LaFontaine: :-)

    A detail that is so smooth it's easy to overlook (I didn't until last night) is that, even though Segal is a martial arts expert and most of his movies devolve into a kick/punch fights, in "US" (which has its fair share) Casey Ryback's fights are confined to moments when they make sense (like ambushing the bad guys building the rail system). Ryback doesn't drop his guns or knives so he can kick terrorist butt and the bad guys aren't dumb-enough to drop their weapons so they can fight him (which happens a lot in movies with martial arts stars just to have everybody show-off their skills). Most of the movie is Ryback shooting, throwing knives, setting bombs... what a smart navy seal would do to inflict damage to the enemy (keeping them at a distance) and only engaging in mano-a-mano combat when Ryback has the upper-hand (which in a Segal movie means always). Even when there is some gratuitous fighting (after a terrorist is disarmed or caught distracted) you buy that it's happening to avoid gunfights that would alert others of where Ryback and his friends are on the ship.

    Even the final fight with William Stranix (for which clearly Tommy Lee Jones boned up on his jujitsu skills enough to fake it on camera) is with knives instead of punches. I cannot think of another Segal movie that has such a perfect balance between gunfights and ass-kicking fights (excluding direct-to-video stuff in which a stunt double is clearly doing the heavy lifting for Segal) that also lets Steven's co-stars kill plenty of terrorists along the way. A large number of the lead terrorists get nailed not by Ryback but by the rag-tag crew that he leads.

    And holy shit, I'd never noticed Colm Meaney was in the flick (he's awesome). I mean, I did notice his character before but didn't put it together that Colm was playing him. I love it when character actors get to play bad guys.

  7. Of these two camps, I'm definitely a Van Damme fan. I think Under Siege is the only Seagal movie I've ever even seen. It was filmed here in Alabama (I know, who cares) on the big battleship that's been parked in our muddy, brown bay for many years. Fun fact, the ship that is featured in the movie is the same ship that my friend peed off the bow of when we were about 10 years old as I watched in horror and wondered if I should fetch an adult. Ah, Alabama. Next time you watch it, just imagine a redneck little boy arcing a stream of pee 50 feet off the side of the ship. Makes you want proud to be an American, doesn't it?

    I actually really enjoyed both of these movies when I saw them. Should I investigate more Seagal? I was never all that interested, but if I was missing something by not seeing his 80s and early 90s output, I could check his stuff out.

    For the (vinyl) record, I'm a huge Beatles AND Rolling Stones fan. I honestly don't think I could say I love one more than the other. I loved the Beatles first, but as a guitar player, Stones are pure rock and roll. To me, they're so different! I'm wondering which camp you fall into.

    Alright, after the last columm I bought both Showdown in Little Tokyo AND Rapid Fire (and The Crow, for good measure) but I've only had time to watch Showdown in Little Tokyo as of yet. I thought it was a whole lot of fun, and I'm really glad I saw it. Time will how often I want to go back to it in the end, but right now I'm really happy with it. The best part of the movie? It's only 78 minutes long. Any action movie that is 78 minutes automatically gets bonus points. But also...that movie is CRAZY! He picks up a freaking car! Then he shoots it and makes it explode! I mean...yes please! Also, I love how it falls for the trope of not just killing the main bad guy at the end, but doing it in the most elaborate and creative way possible (just like this week's entries). Then the heroes turn, start walking down the street into the distance, CREDITS. I actually cannot wait to watch Rapid Fire. I'll be checking that one out tomorrow (Friday) when my work week is behind me. How do you have time to watch so many movies AND Star Trek, and things like Doctor Who, while still being a dad and husband? I think there's some Multiplicity shenanigans going on at the Bromley house.

    Awesome column, Patrick. You outdo yourself every week. You really do take these things seriously. I look forward to it.

    1. ^^^ Rules of thumb with Segal flicks (YMMV): (a) anything he's done after 1996 is either direct-to-video crap or not as good as his earlier work, (b) his first eight movies (from 1988's "Above The Law" to 1996's "Executive Decision") are good-to-excellent ("On Deadly Ground" tests this theory but the other seven are solid) and (c) his two movies directed by Andrew Davis are his best work. If you set your expectations correctly and see these as just action movies (no lessons learned, no storytelling complexity, no BS... just set-up, ass-kicking, set-up, gunfight, ass-kicking, repeat) you'll have a grand time with Segal, especially his 'golden' period of 88-96.

      Hope this helps Heath (my fellow 'F This Movie' contest winner!) and I'm sure Patrick will probably point out which post-96 Segal movies are actually worth seeing... "Exit Wounds"? "Half Past Dead"? He knows, he's seen them all.

      BTW, when is Chuck Norris going to step into the Octagon of 'Heavy Action' Patrick? Chuck's the man (he's Walker, Texas Ranger, who tells little children they have AIDS! :-P) and his presence is definitely needed in this column. Me thinks Andrew Davis' CODE OF SILENCE (1985) would make a great entry, if for no other reason than to highlight how a good director can make even the most tired and predictable of genres feel fresh and fun again. Davis did it twice for Segal, how about a little sugar for Norris?

    2. @Heath - Thanks! I'm really enjoying writing these things and trying to take an angle that maybe hasn't been taken before. Some weeks I'm probably more successful than others, but it's still early.

      Glad to hear you enjoyed Showdown in Little Tokyo, even though it's completely ridiculous. Rapid Fire is a lot more mainstream and, for lack of a better word, "normal." Let me know what you think once you get a chance to watch it. I think it's pretty terrific.

      Like J.M. said, the DTV-era Seagal is very different from his early movies in terms of production value, talent behind the camera and just Seagal's physical presence. It's jarring to go back and watch his early stuff and see just how svelte and agile he is. He's a real movie star. Nowadays, he's a big fat bear of a human being, mostly just waiting for guys to approach him and then swatting them away. Plus, he uses an obvious stunt double a lot now. But there's still something consistent and pure about even his lousy DTV movies, so I find that if you're a fan of these kinds of movies and can tolerate the D-grade versions (I'm assuming you can, given your predilection for Dolph Lundgren movies), there's still a lot to enjoy. It might still be a little while before I get to writing about any of those (I don't want to alienate the non-diehards just yet), but if you're interested in watching some let me know and I can recommend a few titles.

      I like the Rolling Stones -- mostly their earliest stuff -- but I'm definitely a Beatles fan. It's totally possible to like both, but when push comes to shove, I do think you're either one guy or the other. Which sounds very serious, of course, and I'm mostly kidding.

      @J.M. - I've only written three of these so far. I will get to Chuck Norris eventually. Truth be told, I'm not really a fan, though (as I say in the article) Code of Silence is pretty good.

  8. I honestly think Sudden Death is spectacular. It's in no way original or realistic, but the energy and intensity that movie sustains is insanely incredible. Also, Van Damme plays to his strengths as a slightly sad guy who's thrown into a situation he doesn't want. Your points about him are spot on and the reasons he's my favorite action star.

    Plus, Powers Boothe freaking chews the scenery like a BOSS.

  9. I honestly think Sudden Death is spectacular. It's in no way original or realistic, but the energy and intensity that movie sustains is insanely incredible. Also, Van Damme plays to his strengths as a slightly sad guy who's thrown into a situation he doesn't want. Your points about him are spot on and the reasons he's my favorite action star.

    Plus, Powers Boothe freaking chews the scenery like a BOSS.

  10. Die Hard? Best ever? You're deluded my friend.