Exit Wounds is one action flick in an unofficial yet unmistakable early 2000’s trilogy together with Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 The Grave. What do they have in common, you may ask, that I’ve dubbed them a trilogy? Besides all three being directed by lo-fi action guru Andrej Bartkowiak and sharing many of the same cast members in a sort of recognizable posse, they just have this intangible time capsule vibe backed by hip hop music of the times from folks like Aaliyah and DMX, the presence of standup comedians in supporting roles, ridiculous plots built around endless set pieces and are just so totally ‘of their time’ that I love them on sheer novelty value alone. One day I’ll have to do a longer, more comprehensive piece on all three as a whole but I just rewatched Wounds for the first time in a while and it’s just as goddamn silly yet awesome as I remember it being when I was a teenager. It does feature Steven Seagal in a comeback of sorts, purged of his ponytailed zen phase and ready for some inner city urban destruction. He’s actually really dope as rogue detective Orin Boyd, a tough but reckless cop that no precinct seems to want as he has this uncanny knack for sniffing out and laying the hammer down on department corruption. After being fired by his former sergeant (Bruce McGill turning up the ham) for excessive force he’s assigned to a precinct elsewhere in Detroit under the command of a tough as nails CO played by the lovely Jill Hennessy. It isn’t long before he finds trouble again, tangles with mysterious drug runner DMX and uncovers a cabal of dirty officers doing no good shit headed up by Michael Jai White who is welcome in any film in my book. I can’t say the same for Tom Arnold though, who has to be one of *the most* irritating onscreen presences and I’m not sure why they keep letting him be in stuff but life is full of mysteries I guess. Anthony Anderson shows up as he does in all three in this trilogy and there’s appearances from Isaiah Washington m, Bill Duke and a very young Eva Mendes. This film only really has a plot to service action set pieces, which are all well done and exciting if you can get over the fact that there ain’t much else it has to offer. Seagal is good though and does some impressive stunt work like doing a fucking Olympic long jump thing over a car that’s speeding towards him. Fun stuff, but I’d recommend the other two in the trilogy first.
No one does the breezy, goodnatured crime drama like Steven Soderbergh, and after rewatching his 1998 romantic caper Out Of Sight, I’ve realized it’s my favourite of his films by a mile. The easygoing love story between George Clooney’s hapless career criminal Jack Foley and Jennifer Lopez’s feisty federal Marshall Karen Sisco is a pairing for the ages, and the two not only smoulder up the screen with their obvious presence, but have effortless chemistry in spades and know how to sell the romance until you feel that tug on the ol’ heartstrings when the stakes are raised. It doesn’t hurt that cinematographer Elliott Davis beautifully frames each encounter with them, the best being a gorgeous airport dinner where the two croon out Elmore Leonard’s savoury, measured dialogue against a snow laden Tarmac outside, the perfect romantic ambience. Foley is a trouble magnet, embroiled in scheme after scheme with his older, wiser partner Buddy (Ving Rhames). After their dipshit pal Glen (a stoned Steve Zahn) gets them mixed up in a plot to rob a pompous Wall Street millionaire (Albert Brooks) via some truly nasty jailbird thugs from their collective past (Don Cheadle provides the film’s only true dose of menace amongst the charm), all hell breaks loose and against odds, Jack and Karen find themselves falling in love. Elmore Leonard’s scripts always seem to find their way to great directors (Barry Sonnenfield made magic with Get Shorty), richly varied casts (Jackie Brown is an ensemble for the time capsule) and end up as films that are simply timeless. Dennis Farina mellows out as Karen’s concerned ex-cop father, Luis Guzman does his grimy cholo rat shtick, and watch for Catherine Keener, Nancy Allen, Isiaah Washington, Paul Calderon, Viola Davis, an uncredited Michael Keaton playing none other than his Jackie Brown character (an Elmore Leonard cinematic universe!) and a surprise cameo right at the end that I won’t spoil except to say it sets up any potential sequels nicely. The whole deal rests on Lopez and Clooney’s shoulders though, and they’re nothing short of mesmerizing. It’s a rag tale romance, classy but down to earth, two beautiful souls from very opposite sides of the tracks who generate sparks and circle each other like cosmic magnets. Stuck together in the trunk of a speeding car, they discuss life, love and films, reminding us that no romance is alike to another and the best way to start off something like that is perhaps on the wrong foot and in the least imagined circumstances possible. Like any love story it knows that a pinch of sadness is necessary to balance the bittersweet recipe and tweak our emotions just right. A career best for George, Jennifer and Steven and a film worthy of classic status.
Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Romeo Must Die is not a great flick, but I still somehow enjoy it if only for a few stylish scenes and the presence of Aaliyah before her tragic and fateful plane crash, which tugs at the heartstrings. It’s a pseudo Romeo & Juliet tale involving her and Jet Li caught up in Asian/African American gang warfare, but it’s more just a silly showcase for Li’s impressive martial arts prowess and a playground for several well staged shootouts. Bartkowiak is actually responsible for two very similar films of this ilk, Cradle 2 The Grave and Exit Wounds, which all have the same cast members running about and when viewed in succession create some weird holy trinity of kung fu urban crime lore. This one is probably the best I suppose, or at least the most memorable. Aaliyah is reprimanded by her gangster father (Delroy Lindo) and his incompetent lieutenants (Isiaah Washington and Anthony Anderson), while rambunctious Li is supervised by some vague cousin of his (half-asian Russell Wong, definitely the coolest character), and DMX growls out a few lines as a violent club owner also somehow involved. The romance is fleeting, swallowed up by zippy editing and deafening action sequences that come fast and frequent. Li jumps around while the rest of them empty all kinds of firepower all over Vancouver, and so it goes. It ain’t great, but the opener set in DMX’s club during a raid perpetrated by Wong and his crew is the highlight and seems to have been plucked from a far better action film.