March 30, 2001

Mortal Wound

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The posters advertising Exit Wounds prominently feature the catchphrase, “This is gonna hurt.” Truer words have never been spoken.

Maverick Detroit detective Orin Boyd (Steven Seagal) crosses the line one time too many and is reassigned to the city’s toughest precinct as punishment. Meanwhile, mysterious crime lord Latrell Walker (DMX) conducts shady maneuverings backed by seemingly unlimited money. Linking the two is a corruption conspiracy at the heart of Boyd’s precinct that threatens to consume both men.

Sound interesting? It certainly doesn’t play out that way on the screen. With copious bad acting and dialogue so painful to listen to that it makes your ears bleed, Exit Wounds makes all those lowest-bidder, poorly dubbed Hong Kong martial arts movie imports look like Best Picture contenders. Seagal is so wooden in his delivery that DMX actually comes across as the better actor of the two. Granted, that’s not much of a compliment. It’s sort of like comparing two piles of fresh dog crap and saying one smells nicer than the other.

Not that any of the actors have much to work with. The plot, if one could really call it a plot, leaps mindlessly from one scene to the next without regard for coherence or substance. Boyd asks at one point, “Who is Latrell Walker?” That’s a very good question, one that the audience probably shares since there is no introductory scene that really explains what role Walker plays in the film. And this doesn’t come across as clever ambiguity or misdirection. Rather, it seems like director Andrzej Bartkowiak is too lazy or too careless to spend time developing or even introducing his characters.

At one point the head villain spews out a line that anybody who’s seen the classic 1995 drama The Usual Suspects will immediately recognize: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” As he says this, you can almost imagine Bartkowiak standing on a chair waving his arms screaming, “Look at me! Look at how clever I am! My movie has all these plot twists! It’s just like The Usual Suspects, with a giant surprise revelation! Clever!” The problem, however, is that Exit Wounds‘ plot twists and shocking revelations aren’t all that shocking, since the characters have zero development. DMX turns out to be a good guy. Not too surprising since we don’t know that much about him to begin with. Some cops turn out to be crooked. Maybe if they got more than a minute of screen time earlier, that revelation might have some significance.

But this is an action film. Lack of a coherent plot or character development or good acting is forgivable as long as the fights are furious, fast-paced, and cool. Unfortunately, while Exit Wounds‘ action-sequences are occasionally entertaining, they aren’t quite exciting or innovative enough to distract the viewer from the brain-melting stupidity of the rest of the film. The cinematic style of the fights is often ripped off from other films. All the Hong Kong trademark shootout standards (superfluous slow motion, drawing two pistols from behind your back, and diving through the air with both guns blazing) are aped shamelessly, but here lack even a fraction of the intensity or coolness that’s seen in even the cheesiest Hong Kong action flick.

Worse yet, the action scenes are often hard to follow and haphazard in execution: there’s little build-up and even less significance to the fights and car-chases. Seagal will just walk up to people and begin punching them in the face or breaking their arms without explanation. Things will start exploding for no apparent reason — the action-hero equivalent of Tourette’s syndrome. The opening scene where Seagal rescues the Vice President from a kidnapping attempt is a prime example of this bizarre randomness. You’d think such a significant event would have something to do with the plot as a whole, but instead all it serves to do is show that Seagal is a loose cannon. The fact that it was the Vice President who was almost kidnapped was apparently just thrown in for the hell of it.

This random, thrown together feeling is ultimately Exit Wounds’ pervading theme. Even the title makes little sense, as it has absolutely nothing to do with the movie’s plot or characters. But, in afterthought, it turns out to be more fitting than the producers probably intended. Being shot repeatedly probably feels a lot like the feeling you get while watching this movie: your life slowly and painfully draining from your body as you struggle to remain conscious.

Archived article by Matt Chock