Director: Keoni Waxman
Writer: Keoni Waxman
Cast: Steven Seagal, Russell Wong, Jemma Dallender, Mircea Drambareanu, Sergiu Costache, Ghassan Bouz, Toma Danila, Andrei Stanciu, Camillo Aviles
Running Time: 90 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Steven Seagal. What can you say? In 1990 he was Hard to Kill, in 2003 he was Out for a Kill, in 2008 he flipped the Kill Switch, a year later he was Driven to Kill, he started off 2016 by Killing Salazar, and to round off the year, he received a Contract to Kill. Both of the 2016 movies mentioned were collaborations with who appears to have become Seagal’s go-to director in recent years, Keoni Waxman. Quite how the pair came to form such a partnership is a mystery. With Seagal’s reputation for being difficult to work with, Waxman has made more movies with Seagal than any other director he’s worked with. Kicking off with 2009’s The Keeper, up to and including Contract to Kill, Waxman has been the man in the director’s chair for 9 of Seagal’s features, as well as handling 8 episodes of the short lived TV series True Justice (many of which were paired up and further passed off as movies).
It’s incredible then, that out of the close to 20 productions they’ve worked on together, not one of them manages to be even slightly entertaining. For those that have done the math, you’ll probably realise that during some years they must have cranked out more than one title. This is never truer than in the case of 2016, when apart from Contract to Kill and Killing Salazar, they also made End of a Gun together. But Seagal didn’t stop there, in fact these productions represent less than half of his output for the year, with his hefty presence also gracing such titles as Sniper: Special Ops, Code of Honor, The Asian Connection, and The Perfect Weapon. You’d think that must make Seagal one of the hardest working actors out there today, until you actually see one of the productions, and realise just how little effort he seems to be putting into each one.
Despite the above criticism, I confess to being a Seagal fan. I can’t help it. It’s rare that a studio would have that much faith in a martial artist, with zero acting experience, that they’d make him the star of a movie without bothering to test the waters with supporting or bit roles first. But that’s exactly what happened with Seagal, when at 36 years old he appeared on the big screen out of nowhere as the main character in 1988’s Above the Law (or indeed the title character for its UK release, re-titled Nico). What made him even more unique was that his selling point was his proficiency in Aikido, a defensive martial arts style from Japan, that many considered to be a fools task to try and make appear exciting onscreen. In fact the only notable movie to feature the style before Seagal’s arrival was the 1975 Japanese movie, The Defensive Power of Aikido, which saw Sonny Chiba’s younger brother Jirô Chiba in the title role.
However Seagal was no fool, and throughout the 90’s he proceeded to throw, break, and snap a countless number of thugs in a string of classic action movies. The 00’s weren’t so kind. Apart from a brief theatrical resurgence with the movies Exit Wounds and Half Past Dead (and an odd role in the Korean movie Clementine), the decade was mostly defined by his bloated weight, and omnipresent leather trench coat. His movies became bizarre, often being doubled by someone half his size, and even stranger was the frequent voice doubling, usually performed by someone ‘trying’ to sound like Seagal. If the 00’s were all about the trench coats, then the post-2010 era will most likely become known as the era of the orange-tinted glasses. It’s hard to tell exactly when the trench coats finished and the orange-tinted glasses started, however what I can say with confidence is that in Contract to Kill he isn’t seen without them. Bear in mind he even has a sex scene, in which the girl gets naked and he remains fully clothed, which includes the glasses staying in place.
Contract to Kill is truly bottom of the barrel filmmaking in every way. The plot, for what it’s worth, has Seagal as a ‘re-activated’ agent out to stop a group of Islamic terrorists from entering the U.S., which he does by putting together a kind of Z-grade version of Ethan Hunt’s team from Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Russell Wong, who’ll be familiar to action fans as Jet Li’s adversary in Romeo Must Die (and to a lesser extent, Tony Jaa-clone Mike B’s 2009 movie The Sanctuary), plays a drone expert who joins Seagal’s team, along with British actress Jemma Dallender. Apparently Dallender and Seagal’s characters used to be in a relationship, hinted at by Seagal mumbling that he still wears the Rolex that she gave him, but what exactly her area of expertise is we never know. Seagal is just bringing her back into his team to “do what she does best.” I imagine that’s being the only actress available that agreed to get naked and felt up by Seagal.
Speaking of his mumbling, it’s a real problem here. In one scene he’s interrogating a suspect, and switches from English to Spanish to Arabic. The problem is his tone is so incomprehensible it sometimes took me a few seconds to realize he’d switched back to English again. Other times the end of his sentences seem to trail off, almost out of boredom, and sometimes the dialogue in the script runs for so long with no punctuation, that you can hear him running out of breath mid-sentence. For those who like to hear Seagal talk, they’ve certainly come to the right place, as the whole movie is ridiculously exposition heavy, with Seagal sometimes talking for what felt like minutes at a time, explaining everything that’s going on to the most minute detail.
When he isn’t talking, an awful lot of time is spent on Wong and his drone. Well, let me rephrase that to just his drone. Waxman must have spent a significant portion of the budget on buying a drone, as a disproportionate amount of time is spent on shots of it. We watch it taking off, when it’s in the air we’re subjected to constant cut-away shots of it and its annoying whirring, and we always get to see it land as well. If the movie is ever re-titled, Steven Seagal and the Drones would be a suitable candidate, if he doesn’t relaunch his music career first. Some of the drone scenes also contribute to Contract to Kill’s complete lack of coherence, for example in one night scene Wong sets up the drone to spy into a meeting the terrorists are holding in a hotel. The drone is of course supposed to be an inconspicuous way of doing this, however as soon as it takes off it lights up like a Catherine wheel. Maybe the lights come as standard for night flying.
My other favorite scene that makes no sense belongs to Dallender, who gets dressed up in an elegant and sexy cocktail dress to get up close to the terrorists in the hotel. The scene is set up just like Paula Patton’s scene from Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, complete with Seagal talking to her through an ear piece. However she then proceeds to enter the hotel reception, dressed to the nines, and just stands there watching the terrorists talk outside the elevator. That’s it. I mean if she wanted to blend in, surely it would have been easier to wear a t-shirt and jeans. Contract to Kill is full of nonsensical plot points and scenarios such as these, and that’s not even mentioning the exploding plane, a previous act of terror that the extremists carried out, which is shown so many times in flashback I lost count. It’s even inserted into the final scene, were it has no context whatsoever, other than to remind us that we’ve seen it several times before.
When it comes to action Contact to Kill also sadly falls flat, almost as if Seagal is determined to undo all of his hard work at making Aikido look like a legitimate screen-fighting technique. We’re subjected to the usual hand locks and wrist throws, and at the 85 minute mark, with just a few minutes left to go, we’re given a brief dose of Seagal brutality, but it’s all too little too late. I’ll give credit for at least one moment of unintentional hilarity, which took place when Seagal offs the final bad guy, at which point Dallender laughs, hops over the corpse, and gives Seagal a hug. Seriously. With movies like A Good Man, Sniper: Special Ops, and Code of Honor, playing Special Ops agents seems to be Seagal’s current flavour of the month. However even more so than his never-ending stream of former CIA agents, his characters in these movies are completely bland and interchangeable, which also perfectly sums up the movies themselves. Contract to Kill is no different.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 1/10