It’s been a long time since we’ve had the opportunity to savage one of Steven Seagal’s lumbering slugfests–one might have begun to think that even his muscularity couldn’t survive the double debacles of “On Deadly Ground” (1994) and “Fire Down Below” (1997)–but this new entry proves that anybody’s career can be resurrected. You have to give the makers of “Exit Wounds” credit for their truthfulness in advertising. The title is wonderfully apt, since viewers devoted to mindless action junk (the people who keep professional wrestling at the top of the cable ratings, for instance) will emerge from it battered and bruised from the experience, but probably satisfied, too. The movie’s a brainless but slick amalgam of violence and crude humor, almost perfectly fashioned for its target audience. By no stretch of the imagination could it be called a good film, but it’s much less awful than Seagal’s earlier disasters might lead you to expect.
The no-surprises script by Ed Horowitz (who also penned “On Deadly Ground”) casts Seagal as an incorruptible Detroit cop who’s being punished by superiors for having gone “too far” in the pursuit of justice (he saves the US Vice President from assassination in a big James Bondish set piece to open the flick). Eventually he teams up with rapper and would-be actor DMX, playing a drug dealer whom he initially targets but who turns out to be “not what he seems.” The duo ultimately work together to locate a heroin stash which has disappeared from a Detroit police vault and track down the parties responsible for its removal (needless to say, a bunch of corrupt cops). Of course the investigation involves lots of fisticuffs, hilariously overwrought martial arts sequences, car chases, and periodic explosions–this is, after all, a Joel Silver production. As for the heroes and villains, there’s lots of would-be misdirection to conceal who’s who, but only the most undiscriminating viewer will be shocked by the revelations.
If the story is pat and the action all too predictable, it’s at least shot through with plenty of crass but crowd-pleasing laugh-lines and directed with considerable assurance by Andrzej Bartkowiak. The acting’s about par for this sort of thing–it could most charitably be described as workmanlike. Though Seagal remains a scowling lump of smug machismo, minus his previously trademark ponytail (perhaps it’s against Detroit police regulations), he seems to be taking himself much less seriously than he used to–a real improvement. DMX has some on-screen presence, but he’s still pretty stilted as an actor. (That doesn’t mean that he won’t enjoy success in movies or TV, of course–if Ice Cube can keep getting feature roles and Ice-T can secure a part on the latest “Law and Order” series, despite their meagre skills, limited ability shouldn’t stand in his way–especially since he’s a lot better-looking that either of them.) These guys both pose more than they act, of course, and at times they’re like two thespian sticks of wood–when they stare at one another as impassively as blocks of stone, you can only wonder how many hours might go by before one of them blinks–but you have to admit that Bartkowiak uses them about as well as one could hope. He’s also surrounded them with comic relief players to lighten the mood: Tom Arnold shows up as a high-strung TV talk-show host, and Anthony Anderson puts on what amounts to a stand-up routine as DMX’s chubby pal (they engage in a conversation over the closing credits–perhaps improvised–that’s incredibly raunchy). The remainder of the supporting cast goes through their paces professionally enough (including Jill Hennessy, who was Sam Waterston’s assistant on the original “Law and Order” until her character, Claire Kincaid, bit the bullet in much the same way as she does here), but the villains are an awfully pallid group. There’s also a horrendously loud rap-based score to contend with, which–when combined with the sounds of punching and bashing, not to mention the explosive bangs and crashes–makes for an ear-splitting time.
If you’re looking for a film that contains even a scintilla of intelligence or good taste, therefore, the best advice about this “Exit” is not to enter in the first place. If, on the other hand, you want nothing more than a dose of senseless, slam-bang action, punctuated by some gross, obvious laughs, you could do worse.