Saturday, 23 February 2013



It's always the way. You wait years for a strictly average, by the numbers action DVD in which a faded 1990s martial arts superstar smashes an Eastern European sex trafficking ring, and then LoveFilm send you two of the damned things in the same envelope. Neither Steven Seagal nor Jean-Claude Van Damme have been in regular cinema releases for years outside of villain roles in knowingly nostalgic throwbacks (Machete, The Expendables 2); the likes of Sudden Death and Out For Justice are but a fond memory of a time when this sort of thing played the national circuits rather than materialising unheralded on the bottom shelves of larger branches of Blockbusters and undiscriminating off-licences.

Of the two films, Jean-Claude's is probably the better film but Seagal's is indisputably the funnier (and crucially shorter by half an hour). In Six Bullets, sleazy Moldovan gangsters abduct the teenage daughter of a visiting American couple; getting nowhere with the local cops, the distraught parents are put in touch with Jean-Claude Van Damme, an alcoholic butcher and ex-military badass haunted by the ghosts of the girls he failed to save in the opening sequence. Why have they taken Becky and how far does the chain of corruption lead, and once they find out Van Damme is after them how long before they cut their losses and just kill her? It helps that her dad is a top-level MMA fighter in town for a lucrative smackdown and her mum has a worrying ease with firearms and shooting people, but it's really about Jean-Claude facing down his demons and beating the shit out of a bunch of grunting foreign thugs.

As a film it's perfectly well put together, though 110 minutes is excessive for a B-movie beat-em-up, and at the age of 52 Jean-Claude Camille Francois Van Varenberg (yup, that's his real name) is able to do the ageing, world-weary veteran roles while still moving a hell of a lot better than I ever will. Steven Seagal, on the other hand, was always pretty awful but took himself so seriously that he ended up looking faintly silly, and Out Of Reach pushes the mythologising to absurd levels. When the film starts he's no less than Saint Francis Of Assisi, tending injured birds on his private wildlife reserve and posting nuggets of wisdom and Buddhist philosophy to his sponsored 13-year-old penpal in a Warsaw orphanage - but then his former Agency colleagues show up and he hotfoots it for Poland to protect the girl. (Er, why exactly?) As it turns out, he's too late: the orphanage is supplying girls for the international paedo trade and Seagal teams up with a cute Polish detective to bring the organisation down by slapping it, throwing it out of windows, blowing it up and ultimately slashing at it with a sword.

Whereas Jean-Claude at least has the decency to still kick people spectacularly in the head, Seagal's combat technique still appears to be repeatedly slapping them to death, and his fight scenes have been shot and cut together in such a way that he doesn't actually appear to be in them, merely showing up for a few subliminal closeups when the doubles have gone home. If it is actually him doing the fighting, it really doesn't look it. But then there are moments when it doesn't sound like him doing the talking either, suggesting it's been re-edited and re-dubbed by whoever happened to be in the building that day and who could do a very rough approximation of Seagal's tones. It felt like those TV edits of blockbuster movies where people who didn't sound anything like the main actors dubbed out their profanities in mid-sentence. Director trivia: Po-Chih Leong was born in Northampton and once made a useless British art/horror movie with Jude Law called The Wisdom Of Crocodiles.

Despite them being a bit rubbish most of the time and with their prime years long faded, I have a soft spot for Van Damme, Seagal and Dolph Lundgren, the "if wet" alternatives to Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger. Neither Six Bullets nor Out Of Reach is particularly impressive or even memorable, but they're both more or less watchable, and their respective stars are doing little if anything out of the usual routine (though Seagal forsakes his usual all-black costume and wears a suit for most of the film). For diehard fans that's probably enough.



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