AMC’s having a Steven Seagal moment, entertaining viewers this week with some of his classic films. Right now, at 12:56 a.m., I’m watching Out for Justice. Came out in 1991. You probably don’t remember the details but according to the cable guide, “A Brooklyn policeman tries to kill his partner’s killer and anyone else who gets in his way.” The worker bee who writes those descriptions for Time Warner probably has that all templated and just changes certain details depending on the movie. Brooklyn policeman? Could be Chicago policeman. Or an ex-Navy Seal. Tries to kills his partner’s killer? Tries to kills his wife’s killer works for a movie too. The only variety in these movies came in seeing how many ways a man with two fists and two feet could kill his enemies.
Of course I’ve stayed up late watching everything AMC offers. On Wednesday night the network played Under Siege and Under Siege 2. Under Siege is Seagal’s best, right? Do Seagalologists acknowledge that or is there controversy in the community? There can’t be, unless a small, passionate group of people who spend most of their time writing Slate articles possess contrarian views that put Hard to Kill on top, owing to Seagal’s stunning efforts as a man who spends years in a coma.
Under Siege even earned a pair of Academy Awards nominations (for sound). Tommy Lee Jones co-starred. That’s such a strange thing to type considering the resumes of each man, especially the resumes of each man since Seagal saved the Missouri battleship from Jones’ madman, but it actually happened. And it was actually extremely entertaining.
Under Siege and it’s totally unnecessary but still entertaining sequel contain my two favorite words ever spoken by Seagal. He’s a cook, remember. In the original — before Jones and his cronies arrive via helicopter to take over the ship — he explains that he’s making “bouillabaisse.” The tone, inflection and his look when he says it thrill me. Even better, in part 2 he explains that he’s working on his “memoirs,” and putting that in quotes does nothing in conveying the inexplicable way his character says it. He draws it out and the joy is on his face for all to see.
(About those memoirs. What kind of advance did Ryback land and what kind of publicity did the book generate before it came out? Think about the book by the Navy SEAL involved in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The book — memoir — attracted a lot of press and became a best-seller. That was a book that detailed a daring raid on the world’s most wanted man. Incredible stuff. But Ryback’s book? It would include the filler on his early years, when he likely starred on the high school football team. He’d talk about his time in the SEALs. And then he would describe the two events that made him what must have been a household name in America: 1. Saving the USS Missouri from mercenaries and preventing two nuclear-tipped missiles from destroying Hawaii. 2. Preventing a madman from using a secret weapon while aboard a train that would have destroyed the Eastern seaboard. He must have received seven figures as an advance, possibly even 5 million. Surely the Pentagon protested Ryback revealing key details in his memoir, but he wouldn’t even get a deal unless his publishers knew he’d reveal as much as possible. Also, as a “lowly cook” who got demoted because he punched an officer he’s already proven he’s fine with disobeying authority. I feel like the entire country would shutdown and wait for this book’s publication or his interview on 60 Minutes.)
Seagal’s probably my favorite of the action stars from the 1980s and ’90s who killed hundreds — thousands? millions? — of bad guys, all while punctuating the acts with perfectly executed quips. The other guys usually needed weapons to help them, even Chuck Norris in his Missing in Action disasters. Seagal’s characters always got up close to his enemies, owing to his real-life experience as an Aikido expert. In a battle royal, Casey Ryback — or any of the cops Seagal portrayed — would not lose out to Rambo or Schwarzenegger’s Commando or Bruce Willis’ John McClane. If someone wanted to argue Van Damme’s characters, perhaps the Frenchman from Lionheart, I would listen. But I think Ryback simply outsmarts him, even before the hand-to-hand combat.
Tonight AMC continues Seagal week, although you wonder if executives had to hold themselves back from declaring it Seagal month. Above the Law makes an appearance. He’s a Chicago cop in that one. He has a partner. He kills people. It does not have Tommy Lee Jones. It’s no Under Siege. But of course, I’ll be watching.