Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Today You Die (2005)

There is a fine truck stop off the highway in Connecticut just before you enter Massachusetts where you can find everything you could ever want, as long as you only want bad action movies and Wolf T-shirts. This magical place is where I came across the DVD "Today You Die" starring the pony tailed prince of action films, Steven Seagal and his newest hip-hop pal Treach of Naughty By Nature. (Seagal has also starred alongside DMX, Ja Rule and Nas.) I had my choice of many Seagal straight to video releases, but what attracted me to this particular film was the tag line "What Seagal Does in Vegas, Nearly Destroys It". Sounds promising, right?

Seagal plays Harlan Banks, who after giving up his life as a cat burglar who robs from scumbags and gives to the helpless, decides to go straight and get himself a real job.  He and his girlfriend Jada go to Las Vegas where Harlan is hired by the over-the-top Max to drive an armored car. Max is played by Kevin Tighe and better known as John Locke's dad on "Lost" (I'm pretty sure he's playing John Locke's dad in this too).  During a routine money pick up, Harlan's partner Bruno shoots some armed guards and then holds a gun to Harlan's head, forcing him to drive through the streets of Vegas while being chased by the police. Three cops are killed in the process. He's able to knock Bruno out with some bad driving, but injures himself in the process and has just enough time to stash the money ($20 million) before he is caught by the police. Even though they never show him taking the money and he is caught almost immediately.

This gets him sent straight to prison, no trial needed. While there, he makes friends with fellow convict, Ice Kool (Anthony 'Treach' Criss) by informing Ice that someone is out to shank him. (shanks are easy to come by in this place as we see at least three of them within ten minutes). Having gained Ice's trust, Harlan agrees to cut him in on a piece of the $20 million. Now all they need to do is get out of jail.

Well, the getting out of jail part is easy. Apparently all you need to do is take footage from the Wesley Snipes movie "Undisputed". Understanding what's going on in the rest of the movie? That's where it gets hard. There are a lot of characters here, most of them could go, including Harlan's girlfriend. The movie actually starts with her having Tarrot cards read and about five poorly timed freeze frames of the cards, usually when a hand is covering most of them. From then on, she has dreams of Harlan dying and a bunch of other crap that is completely meaningless and never comes into play. The relationship between the two is more like a brother and sister. A brother and a sister who have never met each other.

Don't look at me.

However, the relationship between Harlan and his new pal Ice is remarkable. After just one day in prison, Harlan is speaking jive and has not only Ice's trust, but his complete respect. They even kind of look alike...
You know, I almost bought the brown one

The "plot" with Max is never made clear. In fact, for some reason everyone thinks that Max is dead, but the viewer is never lead to believe that. This storyline comes to a conclusion that is maybe the least climactic part of the whole movie. I think that Jada discovering a Mandala on the floor when she wakes up is more exciting than that whole part of the movie. Someone either came into her room and painted that Mandala, or that girl is so psychic that she just makes things happen. Either way, it means NOTHING!

There is another sub plot with DEA agents. This just adds more names and faces to an already overcrowded cast. Agent Rachel Knowles is on Harlan's side and wants to help him find the money. Her shady boss, Agent Saunders (played by Nick Mancuso), may not be. Throw everyone in a warehouse and add in an Asian gang and see what happens.

There is a great deal of stock footage used throughout the movie and plenty of repeated shots. They use the same two close-ups of Seagal about twenty times during all the fight scenes. I don't know where these shots came from, but they are not from this movie. He's not even wearing the right clothes or in the right atmosphere. All stunts are performed by other people, including the very dangerous "walking past a fence at night" stunt. This may be because Seagal is very overweight and they do a poor job of trying to hide his stomach by placing things in front of him, putting him in giant coats, and rarely using  full body shots.

One of the nicer touches to this film is Harlan's devotion to people in need. In the beginning of the film while driving into Vegas, he passes a Children's hospital that is...going out of business? We see a sick little girl in a wheelchair being pushed by a Nun. He never stops at this hospital, but somehow makes a psychic connection with the girl because he comes back at the end of the film just to give her a hug. That's two psychic connections with little girls in two separate movies (see Mark's review for "Out of Reach")

Half off our already low prices!

All that said, is it a good move? Definitely not, but it is somewhat entertaining and I'll probably watch it a few more times in this lifetime. 

Body Count : 29
Freeze Frames: at least 10

Today you live

-By Ben Stumpf

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