If you asked around “What 1980s action star deserves a comprehensive guide to his films?” you’d probably hear Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and possibly even Dolph Lundgren before someone got around to Steven Seagal. We’ll ignore the smart ass who said Michael Dudikoff too.
The world, being as unpredictable as it is, had a different view of things and blessed (cursed?) one writer with an unnatural fascination of Steven Seagal. That man is Vern and his study of the ass-kicking films of Steven Seagal, “Seagalogy” has been updated, expanded, and is now fit for your consumption.
In addition to telling you about this book, I’m also going to use it to help break down the career path of Steven Seagal in just twelve short films.
“Seagalogy” is one of those books that you must display proudly. There would be nothing more embarrassing than a loved one or a one-night stand finding 485 pages of intellectual musings on Steven Seagal hidden amongst your things like pornography. No, you must bare your love and admiration for all things Glimmer Man, blues, mysticism, and Aikido openly, like a literary Cyrano de Bergerac.
It’s not that owning the book is embarrassing, it’s just that few people will understand why anyone would want such a complete and insightful guide into the career of Steven Seagal.
Vern, most well known for his work with Ain’t It Cool News, is also the author of “Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer! Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema, and other Important Topics.” His ode to Steven Seagal contains both admiration of the better films and acknowledgement that Seagal should have quit while he was ahead – which would have shortened his lengthy career considerably.
The book takes an in-depth examination into all of Seagal’s films, even diving into Executive Decision, which only featured the Aikido ass-kicker briefly. Divided into eras roughly based on both quality and time (it’s a linear path, as time goes on quality goes down), the book also features a Hard to Film section on the Steven Seagal films that (thankfully) never were. Vern even bravely witnessed the Steven Seagal Blues Band and reviews it in the final pages of the tome. You won’t find a more complete, or humorous, look into the world of Steven Seagal anywhere. Or ever again. This is the definitive book on Steven Seagal, I don’t care what happens in the future.
To end each review, Vern provides a crib sheet of information, from writers and directors to categories such as Just How Bad Ass Is This Guy, Adopted Culture, Cover Accuracy, as well as tallies on best and worst one-liners, poor timing, improvised weapons, bar fights, and the amount of broken glass – if you’ve ever seen two Seagal films, you know why these categories exist.
While “Seagalogy” is the best Steven Seagal reference of all time by merit of being perhaps the only Steven Seagal reference of all time, that shouldn’t take away the books notability – it’s a hilarious and insightful read. Those insights just happen to be into the absurdity of the cinema and life surrounding Steven Seagal. This book is more than worth your time if you have a fascination with the man, his pony tail, or 80s action movies.
Using “Seagology” as a guide, we will now walk briefly through the career of Steven Seagal via twelve films I’ve selected from various areas.
1. Above the Law (1988)
Steven Seagal is unlike many action stars of the 80s (and 90s) in that he didn’t have a long slog through nameless roles, but rather his first appearance comes in one of his best movies. To fully understand Seagal, you must start here, at the beginning.
2. Hard to Kill (1990)
Steven Seagal plays Mason Storm, a man who is by all accounts, hard to kill. This film is an important milestone in Seagal’s career for two reasons: first, it establishes a pattern of lots of broken glass and more importantly, it introduces the pony tail.
3. Out for Justice (1991)
As Vern notes in his introduction to the film, “even among the classic films of Seagal’s Golden Era, Out for Justice is a standout. It’s a serious, gritty crime drama with better production values and classier direction than the previous three [films].” Watching Seagal these days and the circus that surrounds him, it can be hard to understand why anyone ever respected him. Out for Justice is your answer.
4. Under Siege (1992)
Ask anyone to name a “good” Steven Seagal movie and you’ll likely hear Under Siege, a very palatable Seagal film that combines many of the tropes of his movies – he’s an ex-Navy SEAL (he is almost always an ex-something) turned cook that finds himself in the right place at the wrong time, ready to repel bad guys off of the USS Missouri.
5. On Deadly Ground (1994)
Up until this point, Steven Seagal is just another action star, making movies that people enjoy. It is here however, that Vern notes Seagal becomes Steven Fucking Seagal, the switch gets thrown and there is no turning back – unfortunately. It is here that Steven Seagal as a person truly starts coming through into his movies, with adopted culture references and heavy handed environmentalism. Still, it provides ass kicking action.
6. The Glimmer Man (1996)
In an effort to capture some of that Lethal Weapon glory, The Glimmer Man pairs Steven Seagal with Keenen Ivory Wayans, and the result is just as bad as you expect. Seagal’s spiritual eccentricities come more into focus to silly effect, his wardrobe is called out, his ponytail mocked, but on the plus side, he cuts someone’s throat with a credit card.
7. Ticker (2001)
Regarded as one of the worst Steven Seagal movies in existence, the pony-tailed hero plays Frank Glass, an explosives expert who must help Detective Ray Nettles (Tom Sizemore) save San Francisco from maniacal bomber Alex Swan (Dennis Hopper).
8. Half Past Dead (2002)
Understanding the career path of Steven Seagal is like understanding the career path of anyone trying to stay relevant. You buy new clothes, change your haircut, or, if you’re Steven Seagal, you don’t do any of that shit and you just start working with Rappers. This isn’t his first foray into a film with musical artists, but he’s partnered up with Ja Rule. Remember that guy? Half Past Dead is notable in Seagal’s path as it was the last time he would have a starring role in a film released theatrically in the United States.
9. Into the Sun (2005)
Steven Seagal takes on a writing role here and, expectedly, the film is heavy on the Japanese – it takes place in Tokyo where he plays Travis Hunter, a sword salesman who gets tangled up with the Yakuza. Alongside Belly of the Beast, this is regarded as one of the better DTV releases – it’s a pretty fun film with good action and some awesome sword play, despite Seagal being larger and slower than before.
10. Submerged (2005)
In case you thought Into the Sun was going to be a resurgence, I apologize, but as the title suggests, Seagal’s career was not on the rise and here it hits one of the lowest lows. Originally supposed to venture into the horror realm and fight mutated spiders, Seagal exercised his powers and had this changed into an action film without much action.
11. Against the Dark (2009)
While he dodged the horror train (submarine?) in Submerged, Seagal takes on a horror flick here in a move that I liken to his first working with rap artists – horror sells. Just not when it’s this bad. Here are my thoughts on the film from when I first saw it: “this was pretty fucking terrible. This felt like the longest 14 hours of my life. Decent attempts at gore, an entertaining kill or two. Tanoai Reed is pretty cool, he probably has a future as The Rock Light, considering they’re cousins or some shit. Seagal was hardly in it, agreed, and he was boring, just swinging his sword around. Ultimately a failure. fuuuuuck. “I’m the mother fucker that’s goin’ do to you what you been doin’ to them.” “We are the monsters now.” – I am Legend fucking ripoff (the book, not the bad Will Smith movie). ”
12. Dark Vengeance (2011)
In the present, the once might Steven Seagal is near the bottom of the barrel. But let’s be honest, he’s been down here awhile. He’s got a reality show that focuses on his Deputy Sheriff duties and he’s ridiculed for his blues music. His movie career has stalled to the point where he now appears on foreign television and those episodes are edited together to create “movies” with Dark Vengeance being the third movie released of the show and the last entry in Vern’s book.
The “movie” is still a little sloppy, but Vern insists it’s better than other episodes of the show True Justice. You can find the DVDs now or if you subscribe to the Reelz Channel, they should be available for viewing now.
If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen me say “I wrote 1500 words on Seagal and it was too much. How Vern wrote 480 pages on him, I can’t imagine” and it’s true. Here we are, at the end of our journey and I’m already exhausted just remembering all these films. Vern deserves credit for not only watching every film in the Seagal catalog, but for coherently talking about the fine points and the shitty moments.
Regardless of where he is now, Seagal was once a respected martial artist and a legitimate screen presence. “Seagalogy: The Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal” let’s us relive this moments briefly and then it pounds our funny bone by reminding us of the long fall from grace.