Today You Die (Don E. Fauntleroy, 2005)

Discussion in 'Reviews' started by gavcrimson, Oct 2, 2014.

  1. gavcrimson

    gavcrimson Registered User

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    I used to be quite sniffy about Steven Seagal movies, as if someone who watches films like Wrong Way has the right to look down on any form of cinema, but of late I’ve begun to slightly warm to the big lug. The DTV titles can make for very funny viewing, even if that intension is often furthest from their mind. There looks to have been a period around the early-2000s when after a messy divorce from mainstream Hollywood he began courting an Afro-American audience resulting in Seagal vehicles that have hip hop on their soundtracks, require him to act and talk ‘black’ and inevitably find him partnered up with rappers turned actors. His Today You Die co-star being Anthony ‘Treach’ Criss, whose own magnum opus in the DTV action genre might well be The Art of War 3: Retribution (2009), another film blissfully unaware of its own laughability and highly recommended for that reason (it currently haunts those movies4men channels).

    Here Seagal plays an ex-con attempting to go straight, only to get suckered into being the driver at a delivery truck hold-up in Las Vegas. A chase between cops and the Seagal manned truck through the streets of Vegas leaves three of the cops and the hold-up man apparently dead, and Seagal just enough time to hide the truck and the money before he is arrested. Once behind bars his knowledge of where the loot is hidden makes him a person of interest to both the FBI and the crime boss who organised the robbery, forcing him to team up with gangsta and fellow inmate Ice Kool (our man Treach of course). Today You Die gets off to a far from promising start, bland afternoon TV movie type production values, way too dark fight scenes no doubt envisioned that way to mask Seagal’s use of a stunt double. A couple of exciting set pieces, the Las Vegas chase, Seagal rappelling between buildings in order to pull off a jewellery robbery, are standout moments from the earlier part of the film. Or at least they would have been had a bit of internet detective work not revealed that the best footage in these scenes came from earlier non-Seagal action films, immediately explaining their superiority to the rest of the material. The recycling of stunt footage from a Van Damme actioner for the rappelling scene is especially awkward, even if you’re unaware of the copy and paste nature of the production, given the glaringly obvious physical differences between Van Damme’s stunt double and Seagal.

    After one of the easiest prison escapes ever seen on film, no Great Escape or Prison Break type complex plotting here, Seagal and Treach pretty much just walk out of the place to a waiting helicopter with minimal interference, Today You Die’s entertainment value cranks up a great deal as the two men bond over a mutual love of shooting people, homophobic banter and tough guy posturing. Practically every line to emerge from the mouths of the two stars is priceless, macho bullshit: “popo on our asses real hard”, “he walks kind of funny, you think he did some prison time”, “same shit, different toilet”, “bad shit happening here, ain’t it”, “and I thought I was ignorant, this is one crazy motherfucker”. I could quote this stuff all day. The film’s idea of intentional comedy is to have Seagal keep comparing the two of them to the lead characters in Driving Miss Daisy, with Treach oddly allocated the old white woman role. “You drive like a motherfucking old lady” complains Seagal.

    Just to prove that he is playing a fundamentally decent guy though, we get to see Seagal driving past a cash strapped children’s hospital, where he exchanges meaningful, slow motion glances with a wheelchair bound orphan (a very young, pre-fame Chloe Grace Moretz) as she is wheeled past a sign saying ‘going out of business’- boo, hoo. No prizes for guessing what the big hearted Mr. S intends on doing with the stolen cash.

    A subplot involving Seagal’s girlfriend suffering from black magic themed nightmares gives the impression the film is leading up to the revelation that the crime boss (Kevin Tighe) on Seagal’s tail is some kind of Anti-Christ figure. Hints of which continue over into a confrontation scene at the boss’ lair which is adorned with gargoyles and occult paraphernalia and where he confesses to Seagal “I was born with the devil inside me”. The potential for a horror/action crossover quickly gets nixed though, forgotten about over another subplot concerning rival White and Chinese gangs (a good excuse for racial slurs and bullets to fly), plus the emergence of a more conventional bad guy in the form of a corrupt FBI boss (Nick Mancuso).

    The best line in the film comes from one of Treach’s homies when he pays Seagal the bizarre complement that he “walks like a black man, breaths like a killer”, as I say these things can often be very funny without realising it. Nice to see Sunset Beach’s Sarah Buxton is still getting work too.
    At its best Today You Die comes close to being a modern day Blaxploitation film, echoing the 1970s blueprint by having Treach and his gangsta pals as the heroes and their white and Chinese counterparts as the bad guys, but diverting from it by having a white dude as the lead- albeit a white dude who walks like a black man and of course breathes like a killer.

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