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Born to Raise Hell
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by Jack Sommersby

"One of the Better Post-1992 Steven Seagal Efforts"
4 stars

More than worthy of a weekend-night rental that delivers the goods.

It's my pleasure to report that the new direct-to-video Steven Seagal action flick Born to Raise Hell (a totally irrelevant title, by the way) is quite the entertainment that's well paced, fairly taut, pretty exciting, and surprisingly well-written by Seagal himself. It's nothing that's going to earn a place in any kind of ten-best list, but it's no slouch, either -- it more than delivers the goods for the undemanding viewer; and it might win back some Seagal fans disappointed in most of his post-Under Siege efforts. He's a bit looser and more personable than usual here as top international drug-enforcement officer Samuel Axel, who's taken on a new American partner after his longtime one has recently been killed in the line of duty. And on Axel's target list are a couple of baddies: silkily-smooth, high-class, family man Russian drug dealer Dimitri (Dan Badarau), who's smart and overly cautious to the nth degree (a thinly-veiled version of Fernando Rey's classic villain from the classic The French Connection); and feral, uncouth young gangster Costel (Darren Shahlavi), who, in addition to drug dealing has, along with his heinous henchman, taken to a side operation of brutal home invasions of upper-class couples where the wife is raped and the whole family, including the children, are systematically executed. (The stark contrast between these two is not lost on the viewer, suffice to say.) In a lucky break, Axel gains knowledge of these two through a just-busted, nickel-and-dime dealer and bargains with him to set up a deal, but Dimitri, instinctively smelling a rat, puts the deal off for a couple of days; shortly thereafter, Dimitri is pulled over in his vehicle by Axel, trying to get a sense of the man and instill some paranoia; but in a neat turn, after Axel finds a pistol in a secret compartment, Dimitri violently rams is own head into the driver's window, leaving quite the noticeable wound allowing him to falsely claim police brutality when he's hauled in. So far the plot may not seem particularly fresh, and it's not, really, but it's executed with a fair amount of flair and gets more interesting in the second half where, Dimitri's character, after learning of Costel's disgusting extracurricular non-drug-related activities and having some unexpected violence knocking on his own home door, undergoes an interesting emotional transformation that adds a good deal of texture and gravitas to the proceedings. But don't worry, Seagal junkies (of which I proudly include myself), for there's plenty of action to follow, culminating in a finely-choreographed mano-to-mano between Axel and Costel that's edited with lightning-fast but stunning precision. As the late Pauline kael once wrote, you don't go away hungering for a movie afterward.

Yes, Seagal starred in more than his share of dogs the last decade (with Kill Switch the most execrable of the lot), but there have been more than a few passable ones (with A Dangerous Man the best of that lot) that played out a lot better than many bigger-budgeted mainstream fare that stink up cineplexes on their way to unctuously-high box-office grosses. Born to Raise Hell doesn't possess the dazzling technique and deft wit of an action classic; and throwing in a new young partner for Seagal who's expecting a baby just so we can count the minutes until he's put in surefire peril doesn't instill a whole lot of confidence in the Originality department; and, gosh knows, a groaner of a poorly-juxtaposed love scene between Seagal and an actress roughly a third of his age is far from the very epitome of good taste. But, unlike some of his gimmicky fare, like Submerged, involving a submarine, and Flight of Fury, involving a stealth jet (which played very little part in the actual plots; they were mere window dressing for the catchy DVD covers), Seagal really seems into his thing here as if re-experiencing what gave him joy in making movies in the first place -- it's like he's taking the best elements from his previous stuff and incorporating it into a familiar storyline but a storyline adorned with a good deal of color that progresses forth with oodles of energy. And the debuting director, Lauro Chartrand, a seasoned stuntman, has an acceptable-enough sense of composition and an adequate sense of pace. I can't say he's shaped every sequence to their full potential, but he knows when not to let a scene play out too long; added to which, he knows how to give each actor their due (you never feel he views thespians as ciphers just to justify the movie's existence) and to keep everything moving with a full head of steam (though without an overly-mechanical style that dissipates the personality of the project). And he shows a remarkable sense of taste during the home-invasion sequences: right before they can turn ugly with the rapes, Chartrand employs jump cuts to break them up into fast-forward fragments, letting the horrific implications to sink in without dwelling on the ugliness. Perfectly complimenting Chartrand's affable efforts are Seagal, who exudes a much more sympathetic presence and projects an openness that's been missing from some of his work where just didn't seem to like himself much anymore, and Badarau, who takes his role and invests it with a three-dimensionality that about turns the movie on its head. Dimitri is no angel, and for a while Badarau seems to be keeping the character too held-in in stock movie-bad-guy fashion, but then we see Badarau's slyly keeping certain things hidden so Dimitri's psychological transformation later on down the line has dramatic believability and weight. And it helps that he and Seagal understatedly play off each other beautifully without strain. They're terrific, and so is a good deal of Born to Raise Hell.

The lack of special features on the DVD is about the only serious negative I can chalk up here.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22448&reviewer=327
originally posted: 05/11/11 19:10:54
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User Comments

4/09/16 matthew thompson dalldorf Average 3 stars
5/11/11 Sugarfoot You can't be serious...Jack 1 stars
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  N/A (R)
  DVD: 19-Apr-2011

  DVD: 18-Oct-2010


Directed by
  Lauro Chartrand

Written by
  Steven Seagal

  Steven Seagal
  Dan Badarau
  Darren Shahlavi
  D. Neil Mark
  George Remes

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