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Out for a Kill (2003)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

OUT FOR A KILL (2003)

Starring: Steven Seagal, Michelle Goh, Corey Johnson, Hon Ping Tang, Kata Dobo

Written By: Dennis Dimster, Danny Lerner (story) Directed By: Michael Oblowitz

The Short Version

Steven Seagal languishes in Direct To Video Hell; oh, how the mighty have fallen.

The alleged plot is just as inane as the movie’s title.

One might think $14,000,000 could have paid for better CGI and a few lightbulbs, but no.

Fights?  Action?  Um…

Out for a Kill isn’t just bad; it’s the worst Steven Seagal movie out there.  Spare yourself.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

E-Z CHEEZ.

The poorest of imitations.


Pairs Well With...

MAD DOG 20/20.

Out for a swill.

“Stay out of my life.  Stay out of my way.”


Once upon a time, Steven Seagal was the most bankable action star in Hollywood.  For his first five movies, he could do no wrong, exciting audiences with bone-breaking aikido and moves that were almost too slick to keep up with.  But then the world turned and his star began to slip, until, a couple of ill-received silver screen comebacks notwithstanding, he found himself spending the new millennium in the depths of Direct To Video Hell.

 It is there that we find Out for a Kill, just past the sign that says “abandon hope all ye who enter.”

It’s tempting to call Out for a Kill a train wreck, but traditionally, train wrecks are compelling in their awfulness, and there is absolutely nothing compelling about Out for a Kill.  There is so much wrong with this dreadful movie that it’s difficult to know where to start describing it… a problem that the film’s creative team also had, apparently.

Out for a Kill opens with a couple of cops – one from Hong Kong (Michelle Goh, Alien Lockdown) and one from America (Corey Johnson, Universal Soldier: Regeneration) – surveying the aftermath of a shootout at a high class strip joint in Eastern Europe.  (There’s a bunch of broken sugar glass on the floor, a few dead bodies that were kind enough to not bleed onto anything but themselves, and no apparent bullet holes in any of the walls or furniture.  In other words, it’s an easily swept up set, which doesn’t bode well for the laziness factor.  But anyway.)  Then the movie jumps back in time so that the audience can actually watch the shootout happen, courtesy of a cadre of Asian gents who stroll in, form up in a line not unlike one might imagine from a bunch of English redcoats, and blast away.  If you’re wondering why they do this, you’re thinking too much; you’re just supposed to admire how it all happens in slow motion and how tufts of white cotton shirts start flying when squibs go off.   Eventually, someone decides that the scene has run its course, and the shooters leave.

In a normal movie, that double opening sequence would serve as a jumping off point or perhaps even a centerpiece for the major story arc.  But Out for a Kill is not an ordinary movie.  Instead, this opening sequence means… absolutely nothing important to the story.  Considering that the exact same high class strip joint appears again (and in pristine condition) much later in the movie, it might or might not actually be a double flashback.  (I’m pretty sure that it is, but given the overall laziness of this production, it’s hard to say.)  Either way, it doesn’t matter, because the strip joint shootout is still superfluous and could easily be excised altogether without causing any distress at all to the plot.  Haha.  Plot.  Sure.  Whatever.

Oh, all right, if you insist.

What passes for the movie’s plot goes something like this.  (I say “something” because after a certain number of convolutions, I don’t think that even the screenwriters were sure anymore.)  Steven Seagal stars as Dr. Robert Burns, archaeologist extraordinaire, whose brilliant work with Chinese antiquities has so dazzled his peers that he is called “the foremost academic” at his university, which, according to the sign on the podium, is called “Yale.”  (Why are you snickering?  Stop snickering.  If Denise Richards can be a nuclear physicist, surely Steven Seagal can be a respected archaeologist with a professorship at Yale.) 

Some Chinese gangsters think that the artifacts he’s digging up and transporting for study provide a wonderful opportunity for smuggling a drug shipment –

Wait, are these gangsters idiots, or what?  They honestly think that a shipment of fresh-from-the-ground ancient Chinese artifacts isn’t going to cross the border (in this case, the Kazakh border) without the kind of scrutiny one normally reserves for armed nuclear weapons?  Are they nuts?  All right, fine; I know I’m not supposed to ask.  Back to the movie, then.

Tell you what, though; let’s just watch it on fast forward for a while.

As soon as Burns sees guys in suits at his dig site, he senses trouble, so without bothering to introduce himself to them, he grabs his assistant and hops in the SUV for a race to the Kazakh border.  The guys in suits follow –

And the special effects start to suck, and suck hard.  You know how in movies from the 1950s, it was always really obvious when people allegedly driving a moving car were actually in a stationary vehicle while the film screen behind them depicted scenery whizzing by?  Same deal here, on the film screen backdrop has been replaced by really bad CGI.   Speaking of, remember “bullet time” in The Matrix?  Well, so do the folks behind Out for a Kill, and they decide that it’d be really cool to do some “bullet time” stuff during this car chase.  They are wrong; it kills the pace, and it looks stupid.

Anyway, the assistant is killed, Chinese guards surround the SUV at the border, and Burns is charged with not only attempting to smuggle drugs (guess the guys in suits got to the boxes before he noticed… not that I recall seeing any boxes in the SUV, mind), but also with the murder of his assistant, since he obviously got out of the vehicle and let it drive itself while he shot her dead through the back window.

Hey, if the plot can’t be logical, you certainly can’t expect the border cops to be, can you?

Needless to say, no one buys the good professor’s protests of innocence – including the cops from America and Hong Kong we saw before (or perhaps the ones we’d see later, if that was a flashback, but anyway) – so he gets locked up in a Chinese prison just long enough to meet the film’s Token Black Guy, who has no bearing on the story whatsoever.  Then the cops (the Chinese, the DEA, Keystone, etc.) get a brilliant idea: if they release the professor from jail and send him back to America, maybe he’ll flush out the ring of drug dealers they’ve been chasing!  And so they do.

You’d think that this wouldn’t work, since the professor really is innocent and has no clue who these dealers are nor any desire to tangle with them, and that he could therefore just consider himself lucky and move on to living happily ever after as the most awesome academic at Yale.  But no; we’re barely twenty minutes into this turkey, and the writers aren’t letting us off that easy.

Instead, the bad guys – a consortium of internationally operating Chinese Tongs based out of Paris (don’t ask; just drink) – take Burns’ release as a sign that he must know something about their organization, and so, despite the fact that he does absolutely nothing to threaten them in any way, they start sending people out to kill him.  Not just any people, mind; no, the consortium’s chief lieutenants themselves go out one at a time to do the job personally.

Yes, I know that this is like sending, saying, each member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to try and personally take out Osama bin Laden, but we’ve already discussed that whole “logic” thing, haven’t we?

At twenty-seven minutes – roughly a full third of the way – into Out for a Kill, the audience finally gets its first martial arts sequence.  It turns out to be the movie’s best… and for fans of old school Steven Seagal – back in his Hollywood heyday during the era of tucking shirts in – that is not an encouraging thing to hear.  Seagal shows just enough of the old fighting chops to prove he’s still got the real goods, but the fact is that he barely moves more than a few steps while the faux-monks attacking him do most of the sweating on their way to being skewered by his katana.  No bones break during the fight.

One might think that after being ambushed at the end of a quiet Buddhist memorial service dedicated to the memory of his dead assistant, Burns would be angry, but no; he just wants to be left alone – really, he means it – and that’s what he tells the next group of Tong bigshots he meets when they intercept him leaving the washroom at a restaurant.  Needless to say, they choose to threaten his wife anyway, so it’s time to shoot up the restaurant.  And yet, even after this, he still doesn’t care about the bad guys.  They could just cut their losses and ignore him, and the movie’d be over.  But no, the script has another hour to fill up, so, with a flourish of suboptimal special effects, they blow up Burns’ house – and his wife – while he’s outside with a flashlight checking for prowlers.

Okay; now he’s pissed.  At least as pissed as one can get while half phoning it in.

Unfortunately, Out for a Kill doesn’t get any better as a result, and the stuff that follows makes even less sense than the parade of illogic that’s already gone by.  Perhaps it could have worked if there was some decent action to serve as a distraction – you know, like there’s supposed to be in a so-called action flick – but no; the action proves to be anything but decent.  (Oh, look!  Seagal is damn near standing still again while some dude attached to a zillion wires crab walks around the walls of a barber shop like a refugee from a bad Exorcist sequel!   But then again, at least that room’s well lit; a lot of these fights happen in suspiciously poor lighting.)  And what’s with all of these badly rendered CGI skyscapes?  Would it really have been so hard to film the actors standing outside?  And is Out for a Kill supposed to be somehow more exciting for all of the random changes in camera speed and the constant subtitles telling the audience that we’re globetrotting from city to city every sixty-odd seconds?  (Oops; failed again.)

And did the already dubious Professor Burns really need to be revealed as a former art thief called “The Ghost” who reinvented himself by getting a doctorate in prison?  Is there any point to that at all?

Just thinking about this movie gives me a headache.  I don’t recommend doing that, even if you do decide to sit through the thing for some reason.

Having now wasted three hours of my life by watching Out for a Kill not just once but twice – hey, I suffer for my art sometimes – there’s one scene that stands out to me as most symbolic of what this whole film’s about.  It happens shortly after Professor Burns is released from prison and comes back to America.  Mrs. Burns (Kata Dobo, Rollerball) walks into their bedroom to, shall we say, welcome him back.  The heavily shadowed scene plays out reflected in a small mirror.  Seagal sits on the edge of the bed, unmoving, while Dobo steps into the darkest shadow that she can find to start sliding off her negligee, looking very embarrassed and giving off a strong vibe of just wanting the scene to end, quickly… which it does, and without the audience having really seen anything for more than the second it takes to get a movie rating.  Badly filmed, pretentiously set up, action-free, awkward, and pointless… yeah, that’s Out for a Kill in a nutshell.

Worst Steven Seagal movie ever?  I do believe it is.

Bottom line, I watched Out for a Kill so you don’t have to.  That goes double for established Steven Seagal fans; seeing him sink to the lows of this flick will just make you sad. 

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, March, 2014


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