Exit Wounds

on March 16, 2001 by Paul M. Clinton
   Warner Bros. is billing "Exit Wounds" as a comeback for Steven Seagal, who is trying to recover from a handful of flops. Without the familiar ponytail and black beret, Seagal has shed the irritating props that distract from the action, right? Unfortunately, the "true" Seagal hasn't changed much. The bland actor is still stuck in his automaton martial-arts persona.

   The pleasant twist, this time around, comes from the supporting players who surround Seagal. Tongue-in-cheek performances from Tom Arnold, Michael Jai White and others give the movie some much-needed levity.

   Seagal plays another rogue cop, obviously modeled on Dirty Harry, who is demoted after he throws the vice president into a river as a protective measure. Nothing like being misunderstood.

   Finding himself assigned to the toughest precinct of an unnamed city, Seagal's Orin Boyd stumbles into a vice investigation of a suspected drug dealer (rapper DMX).

   The movie, based on John Westermann's true-crime novel, doesn't have much of a story. So to keep things moving, director Andrezej Bartkowiak (a well-traveled cinematographer who also directed "Romeo is Bleeding") fills in the gaps with action. Instead of the kind of dancing, poetic violence popularized by John Woo, Bartkowiak opts for a more hand-edged, realistic style. Many of the fights and car wrecks--including a grisly finale in which a police commander's head is seen smashing into her car windshield--are all too real.

   Surprisingly, the movie isn't overly grim. Writers Richard D'Ovidio and Ed Horowitz, who worked on an earlier project with the star, put Seagal's renegade cop through a series of embarrassingly funny humiliations--an anger management class, another demotion that puts him on traffic duty and hazing by fellow officers.

   Giving the movie its biggest goosing is Tom Arnold, a wildly underappreciated comedian. Arnold's manic weirdness can be off-putting. But here, he strikes a near perfect pitch. Michael Jai White, as a luckless club owner, is also fairly sharp. The final scene, a candid conversation between the two, may be the best scene in the movie.    Starring Steven Seagal, DMX, Isaiah Washington, Michael Jai White and Tom Arnold. Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak. Written by Ed Horowitz and Richard D'Ovidio. Produced by Joel Silver and Dan Cracchiolo. A Warner Bros. release. Action. Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. Running time: 100 min.

Tags: Steven Seagal, DMX, Isaiah Washington, Michael Jai White, Tom Arnold, Andrzej Bartkowiak, Ed Horowitz, Richard D'Ovidio, Joel Silver, Dan Cracchiolo, Warner Bros, Action, violence, sexuality, misunderstood, protective, rogue, cop, drug

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