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.
Michael Mann’s Luck was a painfully short lived HBO original series with reach-for-the-stars potential, a mind blowing cast and a terse, eccentric script from David Milch, all fuelling a brilliant ensemble storyline set in a pristine Los Angeles horse racing track. I’ll get the elephant out of the room right away: the series was cancelled due to a few of the horses dying on set, for whatever reasons. Had it been allowed to continue though, I imagine it would have gone on to become one of the network’s, and Mann’s, most hallowed and heralded works. Dustin Hoffman is the centrepiece of the cast as Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein, a sharp witted Jewish mobster who’s recent stretch in the joint has somewhat dulled his edge. Nevertheless, he slyly takes a stab at playing his hand with horse ownership, joined by his charismatic driver Gus (Dennis Farina, reliably wonderful). There’s all kinds of other hoopla going on, and it’s cool to see the story focus on both the upper crust elite doing their shady deals as well as everyday joes tossing their money into these worshipped games. Kevin Dunn is terrific as a disabled firebrand of a gambler, joined by his two scrappy pals (Ritchie Koster and Jason Gedrick) as they try out their own brand of luck. Jill Hennessy is a determined horse trainer who clashes with a belligerent owner (Yul Vasquez), and there’s two ominous crime kingpins played by Michael Gambon and Ted Levine who hover in the shadows as well. Further still is a heartbreaking turn from Richard ‘Bing Bong’ Kind as a stressed out jockey manager, Nick Nolte as a crusty, broken-down horse trainer, Joan Allen, Alan Rosenberg, Spencer Garrett, Don Harvey, Ian Hart, W. Earl Brown, Shaun Toub, Bruce Davison, Frank Collison, Mercedes Rhuel, Tony Curran and a cameo from Jurgen Pröchnow as the stern owner of the whole track. How’s that for a cast. I must say that the dense, peculiar dialogue from Milch takes some time getting used to, but once you tune in to it’s jive, it’s pure poetry being rattled off by every character, and a gorgeously structured, meticulously layered script at that. The actors are all on a plane of pure excellence as well, many of them turning in career best efforts and bringing their roles vividly to life. The cinematography from various artists is pure spun gold too, every sparkling irrigation sprinkler, glistening horse coat, careful closeup and crop of dirt kicked up by hooves captured succinctly and smoothly. This seriously is as near to a perfect season of television as one can get, and it kills me that it got cut down before it had a chance to really get going, because just think of the places it could have gone. At least we still have this first glorious season to admire, and I recommend every minute of it.