Steven Seagal is a bad, bad man in Pistol Whipped. This 2008 direct-to-video actioner is directed by Roel Reiné and continues the slight uptick the star’s career that began with 2007’s Urban Justice. This is good news for those few Seagal fans left, as it’s been a bit of a long slog. Nearly everything from Exit Wounds onward has been iffy, with the exception of Belly of the Beast, so it’s nice to see another decent outing.
There are a number of reasons Pistol Whipped works so well. For one, screenwriter J.D. Zeik handles the elements well and doesn’t overcrowd the plot. Much like Urban Justice was a one-track story of revenge, Pistol Whipped has a similarly singular focus that helps keep Seagal and the action on track. That there’s not too many cooks in the kitchen keeps the script lean and mean.
Seagal is Matt Conlin, a former cop. He was once married to Liz (Blanchard Ryan), but that fell apart. He has a daughter (Lydia Jordan), but his drinking and gambling habits keep him from putting in much time as a dad. Matt lost his job as a cop after he was suspected of stealing money from the police impound to pay his gambling debts. His partner Steve (Mark Elliot Wilson) gave him an alibi, but it didn’t take.
With a trial of IOUs or markers from his gambling debts adding up, Matt is approached by Blue (Paul Calderón) to do some work for a man who doesn’t want his name revealed (Lance Henriksen). It turns out that Matt has to become a hitman and it also turns out he’s good at it due to his natural aptitude for kicking ass. But when he’s ordered to kill Steve, things get complicated.
There’s a woman of interest involved named Drea and she’s played by the lovely Renee Elise Goldsberry. One of her earliest scenes involves quite literally stroking Seagal’s ego. After stating that life would be easier if she had a dick, Seagal’s character says he wouldn’t like her as much that way – especially if said dick was bigger than hers. Her response? “I don’t think that’s possible.” Boom.
This is the sort of magic that one comes to expect from a cocksure Seagal and one has to imagine that he probably put the line in the script himself. It’s hard to imagine any other actor getting away with such ego, but that’s become part of his charm. Seagal is an intensely polarizing figure, on and off the screen, and it’s kind of fun to see him earn it every so often.
What it symbolizes is that he’s on-point. The plot is craftier and he’s fitting his age well. He’s not afraid to hide his extra padding and he’s not afraid to get down and dirty with the ladies, something he had his nightshirt-wearing characters avoid in the films of the last five or so years. With Pistol Whipped, there’s no need for it. He’s in his fifties and he’s feeling frisky.
This also means that there’s no reliance on dumb dubbing or camera angles that pull wide and do little to showcase his action chops. While saying such a thing reveals how low the bar has been set for Seagal, it also reveals progress. He’s finally in his own movies again and that’s a great sign for those who’ve been waiting for him to show up.
Pistol Whipped gives him the opportunity to slap, punch and kick his way to the top. He gets to crack off some seriously badass lines, especially the closing line when the bad guy requests burial and Seagal “cremates” him instead. This moment is only slightly undermined by the fact that his daughter comes looking for him.
The direction isn’t bad, although Reiné goes for the slow-motion with a little too much regularity. It does little to help sell the gunfights, especially when the audience isn’t given much of a chance to set things up mentally. Two groups typically exchange shots and Seagal runs around somewhere, firing off randomly and holding his gun at all sorts of different angles. It’s not very effective.
But the martial arts stuff is quick and impactful, like when he takes down two bad guys that try to take him when he’s in his car. He’s not as slick as he used to be, of course, but there’s always been something distinctive about a fellow who’s not above kicking his opponent in the croutons. Pistol Whipped may not find him beating anyone with the butt end of his gun, but it does feature a few kicks to the sweet spot.
So yes, Pistol Whipped works. It’s an improvement on past efforts, which isn’t saying much. It’s not as compelling as Urban Justice, but it’s close and well within the top drawer of his direct-to-video harvest. If Seagal continues along this course, things are damn sure looking up.