[30 March 2010]
Steven Seagal is responsible for some of the best action movies of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I watch Out for Justice three or four times a year. Sure, he has a weird little ponytail, and he runs funny, but he’ll totally break your arm and knock your teeth out with a cue ball.
Even decades removed from his prime Seagal is still busy cranking out movies for the Direct to Video market. Roughly every fourth DTV movie he makes is actually pretty good, or at least holds up in comparison to other action movies of that bygone era. In a world of special effects driven Michael Bay movies, there simply isn’t a major market for his brand of action, anymore. Gone are the days when movies like Commando and Missing in Action were viable at the box office, where Wesley Snipes and Jean-Claude Van Damme were legitimate stars.
However, Steven Seagal is not just a one-dimensional, fading action star from a simpler time, content to rest on his laurels. Oh no, he is a true renaissance man. Not only is he a cinematic ass-kicking machine, and the first westerner to open an Aikido dojo in Japan, but he also tours with his blues band, has his own energy drink with his picture on the can (Steven Seagal’s Lighting Bolt—though I can’t find it anymore), and is a well-known environmental and animal rights activist.
The man has a full plate, and as of 2009 he can add one more job to his resume: reality TV star.
Apparently for the last 20 years Seagal has been a reserve deputy sheriff in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Why not? Steven Seagal Lawman follows Seagal and his fellow deputies on patrol through the city as they attempt to protect and serve. The result feels like an episode of COPS, and not a very compelling episode.
Lawman is an exercise in ego stroking. As the duly sworn cruise the streets, Seagal squints into the shadows, and his disembodied voiceover reminds you, constantly, that as a lifelong practitioner of the martial arts, he sees the world differently than everyone else, and is therefore better than you. He says things that he thinks are insightful, like “intelligence is golden”, and spews pseudo-Zen, encouraging his partners to “become one” with their weapons at the shooting range.
Of course everything that he does, he has been doing for years. In addition to martial arts, he has apparently been training German Shepherds for protection since his teens, working with children in need for decades, and it seems he was born with a guitar in his hand. Just in case you forgot, he has done more stuff than you, and done it better. While addressing a group of new recruits, he actually tells them, “You can look at me like a movie star, or you can look at me like, Steven Seagal can save my life.”
On the streets people recognize him, a lot. Though it is usually people in handcuffs or drunks driving with open containers. People often claim that, while they are not particular fans of his work, some family member has all his movies. One guy, busted for selling pot, calls him “Mr. Stallone.” In reality Seagal looks bloated, and when he wears his bulletproof vest, he resembles a turtle with poorly dyed hair.
I’m not entirely sure of hierarchy of the standard police force, but I’m fairly certain that a Colonel outranks a reserve deputy, though I could be wrong. Regardless, this doesn’t stop Seagal from acting like he is in charge all the time. During pursuits he barks out directions to the driver, and in one episode, before they take down a suspected drug house, he stands next to the officer in charge, who is briefing the troops, and repeats everything he says as if dropping pure Seagalian nuggets of wisdom.
Each of the 13 episodes of the first season has a theme. There is the kids episode, the rehab episode, and of course, the Hurricane Katrina episode. The titles all sound like names of aborted DTV movie projects. “The Deadly Hand”, “Too Young to Die”, “Narc Force”, and “Firearms of Fury”, are a few of the highlights. Hell, “The Way of the Gun” is the title of a movie, just not one of Seagal’s, but to be honest, if he made a movie called Crack War, I would watch it.
Each episode follows the same formula. They start out on a nighttime patrol, bust a few bad guys for various reasons, and then in the daylight, Seagal does something charitable. He visits the cancer ward at a children’s hospital, plays a benefit concert with his band, paints the living room of a family rebuilding after Katrina, or visits a rehab center. Then they go on patrol one more time, and conclude the episode with a moment of levity. In “Crack War”, not only does an 80-year-old woman flip him off, but one of his fellow deputies enters a “Mr. Legs” contest.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that reality shows are even remotely real, that everything happens organically, or that the purported “reality” is anything close to objective. They are just as constructed and created as any fictions. Life is never so tidy as to provide a theme and story arc all in one neat little bundle. Still, even by the low standards by which I judge the genre, Steven Seagal Lawman feels staged. He falls in and out of the Cajun accent he has affected over the past few years, and his attempts at depth and wisdom are misplaced and overly rehearsed.
With Lawman I was hoping for some insights into Seagal as a man, and perhaps a glimpse into his intentionally shadowy past. Insteadm all I got was some fast-food Zen, and an egocentric fading action hero trying to reclaim some of his past fame by delving into a mediocre reality show. Hardcore fans will probably want to watch this, but beyond that, the show holds little interest. As a longtime fan, I was disappointed.
The only extras on the DVD of the Steven Segal Lawman: The Complete First Season are brief clips of additional footage from the episodes. Watched together they form a sort of condensed clip show of the entire season. If you are strapped for time, watch the bonus clips and you will get a pretty good idea of the series. For the most part, any information here is stuff you already know from the show, and there is a lot of Seagal talking out of his a** so to speak, but there are a few interesting kernels, like the fact that he designs and makes his own guns.
There is one intriguing moment that makes the extras worth watching. In the bit where Seagal plays with his dog, a German Shepherd named Kar, you get the one note of the entire show that doesn’t ring overtly false, where he isn’t worried about being “on”, and where he seems authentically happy and real. It is over quick, but it is there.