A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films
of Steven Seagal
Written by Vern
Cover Price: $14.95; On-sale June 10, 2008
I’m gonna go on record right now in saying that I am not the biggest fan of Ain’t It Cool News. I appreciate what it means and what it’s done and how it’s provided a direct line for filmmakers to communicate with their audience. But as for actual skill in the area of writing? And having to read ALL of a given review or story? It’s pretty difficult to sit through. On the one hand you have Harry Knowles, who only writes a movie review if he likes it, which makes it come off as though he likes everything. And on the other, you have this guy Moriarty, who at least writes well, but is so fucking boring that I don’t think he even has a pulse anymore. No I don’t care where you went to eat before you hit the screening, and no, I don’t want to know what toys your kid is playing with.
When it comes to news and reviews, I either come here, or go to the AV Club over at The Onion. I only go to AICN about once a week.
It was on these once-weekly trips that I came upon a guy named Vern. To be more specific, I came across his review of Transformers. It was, for lack of a better word, fucking amazing. Six pages of withering contempt for the movie, the people who made it, and the people who liked it. I eyed it with the same kind of dreamy envy that Dexter Morgan eyed the bloodless and diced victims of the Ice-Truck Killer. I will never forget this quote…
“And ever since I heard Michael Bay was hired for this job I thought it was tailor made for him. The dude is obsessed with sports cars and has never felt a human emotion…”
I say all this to provide a reason as to why I jumped at the chance to review a book about Steven Seagal movies.
For it was Vern who wrote Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal. He has reviewed both early Seagal films and the later, dinkier DTV stuff for AICN in the face of mainstream indifference, and has compiled his opinions into an exhaustively researched 400-page tome.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I signed on for this review; either a long, ironic put-on about how Seagal movies are AWESOME, or an actual, genuine attempt to convince us how Seagal movies are… y’know… awesome.
But I guess it’s a testament to the complete transparency of Vern’s writing, his gift for both the profane and the rhapsodic, that you can both laugh at his jokes and also laugh at one man’s sad, pathetic obsession. Whatever the hell you’re looking for in a book called “Seagalogy,” you’re gonna find it here.
Vern opens with the “badass auteur theory,” where he postulates that with a particular breed of action star, that star’s beliefs, ideals, and intellectual fetishes will come to the forefront moreso than those of the writer’s or the director’s. That most definitely can be said of one Steven Seagal, he of the girly-run and the pony-tail. He whose understanding of Asian culture could make many an Asperger’s suffering anime fan weep, and who could give Trey Parker and Matt Stone a run for vanishing up his own ass with limp-wristed messages about tolerance and the environment and shit.
The earlier parts of Seagalogy keep you turning the pages not only because of Vern’s writing, but because the early part of Seagal’s filmography (from Above The Law to Under Siege) is actually really fucking good. Out For Justice in particular is effective and underrated. But let’s face it. We want to get to the out-of-control shitbombs that he started making after On Deadly Ground.
But by the time we get to The Patriot (Seagal’s first direct-to-video feature), we see that Vern’s straight face in his reverence to Seagal shows no signs of wavering at all. And it becomes all too apparent that we, the readers, have been caught knee-deep in his raging man-crush on Steven Seagal. Not only is every film by Seagal covered, but every cameo, every appearance, that one Mountain Dew commercial, and even his albums and his goddamned energy drink have not escaped scrutiny.
But Vern’s formidable writing skills, combined with his puppy-dog love for crappy action films and his wicked sense of humor (he actually keeps count of how many people are thrown through windows in every film of Seagal’s) keeps Seagalogy readable, if not entirely comfortable. You can only read the phrase “former black-ops agent” so many times before we feel the frustration with Seagal’s collection of films that Vern so clearly doesn’t.
I think that if you clicked on this review, you’ve figured out whether or not you’re interested in reading a book like this. But more than a retrospective of a dubious filmography, here we have an intimate view into what makes one film critic tick. Maybe in specificity, Vern has accomplished universality. Maybe by writing something that would probably appeal to a select few, he has written a book that may apply to everyone.
He convinced me to check out Urban Justice and Pistol Whipped, though. I have to hand that to him.