Thursday, 19 May 2016

RAMBLIN' RANT: Why Steven Seagal is more interesting than his movies

In the desire to keep this blog going, occasionally there will be a post which will make no sense. This is probably one of those times.

I was never a fan of Seagal growing up. I was a bit too young when he was at his peak, and by the time I was checking out action movies, he was well past his peak. My dad was more of a Schwarzenegger and Willis fan, so I caught these two first.

By any estimation, I was frankly spoiled. By the time I caught my first Seagal, Under Siege, it just came off as underwhelming when compared to The Terminator, Predator, True Lies and Die Hard. The movie had a few good points, but the action was never that original or intense, and Seagal just did not jibe as an action hero.

Over the years, I kept hearing from people who were Seagal fans, which made me more interested in seeing more of his movies. I eventually caught a couple of his other flicks, Marked for Death and Hard to Kill, but they only reinforced my general apathy toward him.

The big problem I had with Seagal was that he was never at a loss. The bad guys are always dumber than he is. He's always the best fighter. He never gets hurt. He's never under pressure. He. Uses. The. Same. Speech. Cadence. For. Everything.

And then there is the random ethnic stuff. For years, I honestly thought Seagal was part-Asian or Amerindian. But no. He's just a white guy engaged in some really dubious appropriation of other ethnicities. It's really hard to grasp what the underlying reason for this is, but it just comes off as wrong.

In real life, Seagal is a pretty strange dude. And that's not even taking into account the reality TV show, the sexual harassment/slavery scandals he was embroiled in a few years back, the DTV movies or his friendship with Putin. Seagal's been selling his brand of crazy since the beginning.

We'll just skip over this...
Seagal got his break thanks to Mike Ovitz, the mega-agent who basically ran Hollywood in the 80s. Seagal was his akido trainer, and for whatever reason Ovitz made it his mission to turn him into an action star.

When he was starting out, Seagal had something his contemporaries didn't: a badass backstory involving CIA black ops, Vietnam and security for world leaders (including the Shah of Iran).

Sadly for action fans, it turned out to be BS.

And then there was the backstage behaviour, where Seagal blended diva-like excess with the moral compass of a pimp.

There was his disastrous stint on SNL, in which he tried to force the writers to accept his own skits. He is regarded as one of the worst hosts ever. There was his extremely skeevy behaviour toward co-star Elena Elaniak on Under Siege (apparently he was so lecherous, she had to hide behind friggin' Gary Busey -- you know something's out of whack when Busey is you body guard). There was his extremely unfunny interview with Arsenio Hall (captured for posterity in Paul Scheer's re-enactment).

And there is the famous choke incident. Apparently, Seagal was on the set of one of his movies and, as usual, was bragging about his martial arts abilities. He claimed that he was immune to getting chocked out. One veteran stuntman, a judo expert, decided to give it a shot. According to the story, Seagal was out in about two seconds and, to make it even better, soiled himself.

So Seagal is basically a terrible person, and totally crazy to boot.

But like Chuck Norris, another action star from the eighties, Seagal has become fodder for some terrific send-ups. There is Will Sasso's note-perfect impressions on Mad TV, the Glimmer Man episode of How Did This Get Made? and a raft of great features from Cracked on his superpowers.

Why this rant? Everyone has a crazy celebrity that they like to follow. Admit it, you do.

Seagal is mine. There is something about his brand of un-self awareness that I find extremely engrossing. I caught a few of the fruitier anecdotes about Seagal, and that peaked my interest in a way that none of his films ever did.

So while his movies will never be at the top of my 'gotta see' list, his real-life antics will always have a very guilty place on that list.

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