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Guess what? Another few months have passed and you know what that means. Steven Seagal is 'Back for More' with another direct-to-video action flick on Blu-ray! Okay, so that isn't this movie's actual title, but we all know it very well could be... especially if the villain was all-you-can-eat buffet. Not only that, the pleasantly plump Aikido master deserves some credit for continuing to make film after film the way he wants to, no matter what any of his critics say about him. Sure, Steven Seagal has been pretty much coasting in autopilot mode during the past decade or so (cue: Du-Rag Steven Seagal and Hibernation Sickness Steven Seagal), but it does seem that the more fun he has with a movie (i.e. 'Machete') or the more hats he wears (i.e. 'Born to Raise Hell' -- which he also wrote and co-produced), the more effort the mystical enigma puts forth to burn a few more calories, tone that belly of the beast, and show us a glimmer of the man he used to be.
Seagal plays an Interpol agent named Bobby (though the synopsis at the back of the case oddly lists him as "Samuel Axel" for some reason), who is assigned to the International Drug Task Force in Bucharest, Romania. Bobby/Samuel is the seasoned veteran on the force whose unmatched skill and experience upstages the younger lawmen at every turn. He's kind of like a live-action Brave Starr -- with the eyes of a hawk and ears of a wolf, only instead of the strength of a bear and speed of a puma, he has the bulk and agility of a somewhat groggy rhinoceros. Of course, Bobby/Samuel has always been a top cop, but ever since his partner was killed in action he has become an unstoppable--albeit slow-as-molasses--juggernaut, unleashing hell and heavy sighs upon every illegal drug and gun trafficker in his corner of Eastern Europe.
After slapping around a lowlife baddie for intel, followed by a few additional time-out moments to catch his breath, Agent Orange (that isn't his real handle, but it sounds cooler than Bob/Sam and is oh-so-fitting.. you'll see) soon sets his sights on a sophisticated Russian kingpin named Dimitri (Dan Badarau). But when Agent Orange also hears about Costel (Darren Shahlavi) -- a savage drug dealer/rapist/murderer whose despicable acts are starting to even disgust the rest of the underworld -- Bobby sets out to excise this demon… by making a deal with the devil.
There's no point in spending a lot of time analyzing the script or the performances for 'Born to Raise Hell' since, let's face it, this is a direct-to-video Steven Seagal movie we're talking about here after all. These action flicks are typically derivative and I'm sure we all can agree that no words can truly describe Seagal's acting prowess so I'm not even going to try. This visual aid breaks it down to a science, though:
|Steven Seagal Emotion Chart - 16 ways Steven Seagal shows his range of emotions|
Actually, let me backpedal a little bit as there is one thing I'd like to mention about this before moving on. Steven Seagal wrote and stars in one of the most awkward and bizarre sex scenes you'll ever see. Picture this: Steve and his wife or girlfriend (I'm not entirely sure) are rolling around making sweet passionate love. But while his woman is topless and wearing a sexy black thong, Steven Seagal is fully clothed in some kind of kimono-hoodie tunic. I'm not knocking Seagal's nighttime attire, as it does look pretty comfortable to be honest, but he may have had more fun if he had bothered to take off his wardrobe from the previous scene first. I'm serious, judging by his unchanged mass I'm positive he's still got his flak-jacket on under there, too. The scene is perplexing to say the least, that's for sure.
Next there's the manic direction by stuntman turned first-time director Lauro Chartrand, which occasionally is a frustrating and borderline nauseating experience. The first fifteen minutes or so of 'Born to Raise Hell' are the worst, as he employs so many quick cuts, freeze-frames, double exposures, and anything else you can name that it's practically unwatchable. This movie is also the first time I've ever seen a nameless background character drinking coffee in slow-motion just for the sake of using slow-motion.
But fortunately, when the stuntman half of Chartrand takes over, not only does his frenetically wired inner Tony Scott calm down, the action has the potential to be a mild source of decent entertainment. People holding guns look like they know what they're doing, the camerawork tries hard to mask Seagal's age in hand-to-hand combat, and at one point Seagal even yanks a fleeing suspect right off of his motorcycle! Note that the motorcycle was placed in the same living room Seagal happened to be standing in at the time so he didn't have to walk very far, but still -- this gets points just on cleverness alone.
If you really want to know the most distracting part of the whole movie, though, that honor goes to the blob of unrefined oil passing these days for Seagal's "hair." Don't they sell "Just for Men" in Bucharest? Why is his hair thicker now than it was twenty years ago in 'Marked for Death?' Why am I asking rhetorical questions? Steve's new 'do is so unnaturally thick and black that at first I thought he was using household paint, but now I'm beginning to suspect a boom operator may be missing one of their foam microphone covers. It's the only explanation for that perfectly pointy widow's peak… just don't expect him to turn himself into a bat and fly away.
The bottom line is 'Born to Raise Hell' doesn't really offer anything new, but Steven Seagal does seem to be trying more here and he can still kick ass in his sixties, even if he does need a little help. Toss in a few hysterical scenes that have to be seen to be believed, and you could do plenty worse when it comes to direct-to-video distractions.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Born to Raise Hell' arrives on a single-layered BD-25 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. Playback goes straight to the menu without any trailers. The disc is also locked to Region A compatible machines.
'Born to Raise Hell' was also born to raise a very nice 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (1.78:1) encoded transfer. This is definitely one of the sharpest looking Steven Seagal flicks on Blu-ray yet.
The movie is shot in high-definition and therefore has an ultra-clean look. As a result, depth isn't particularly striking here, but on the flip side fine detailing can at times be quite stunning. The numerous textures in articles of clothing and background architecture have a rich distinctness that is very pleasing to the eye. The complexions of facial features are equally revealing, as pores, wrinkles, stubble, and skin blemishes are all rendered with excellent definition.
Skintones are where things get a bit... peculiar, although in all fairness it isn't from any fault within the presentation. While the majority of flesh appears very natural and lifelike, Steven Seagal's epidermal hue is in a class entirely of its own. I'm not a dermatologist so I can't really say for certain if Count Orangula does have carotenoderma or not, but here's my educated "theory" anyway. Apparently human skin can change color from excessive beta-carotene consumption, and do you know what edible plant is supposedly the richest source of carotenoids on the planet? If you said the carrot, you'd be wrong. It's the wolfberry, otherwise known as the Goji berry. Maybe we just discovered the "mysterious power" of Steven Seagal's Lightning Bolt.
Back to the video, some scenes can be a little on the soft side, but these instances are minimal. There's also a hint of banding and an occasional sighting of very minor digital noise every once in a while. Other than that, there really isn't much to complain about with this release.
The Blu-ray also has a rather enjoyable English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The mix has loads of gunplay and the hailstorm of bullets keep the speakers alert and attentive. Dynamics are quite engaging for a direct-to-video affair, while ambience -- though generally on the mild side, is still pleasing overall. Dialogue is clear and comprehensible, too, even when Steven Seagal puts his trademark whisper-threats into action.
Perhaps the most notable surprise with the film's audio, though, is that there isn't an abundance of the typical z-grade, insta-headache-inducing hip hop or thrashing metal tunes commonly found in DTV flicks to speak of, or even any of Seagal 's tunes for that matter. The score is actually fairly impressive and has some mild bleed to the rears. I'd even go as far to say that the music is better than on some big budget movies. So let's give some props to composer Michael Nielson for a job well done.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are also provided on the disc.
Apparently the UK release of 'Born to Raise Hell' comes with a trailer, however the U.S. version doesn't have any supplements at all. They didn't want you to see this one coming. Surprise!
On April 10th, 1952, a high school math teacher named Samuel and his wife Patricia welcomed a bouncing baby boy into this world, unaware that their precious bundle of squint was destined for greatness and would one day become a martial arts master and cinematic phenom. Yes, Steven Frederic Seagal was, well, 'Born to Raise Hell,' and I'd say he has proudly claimed his birthright with his seven black belts and extensive, uber-violent filmography. This latest entry to his direct-to-video line-up arrives on a barebones Blu-ray with a solid video and audio presentation, and even though it's not his greatest action flick, it sure can be fun if you happen to be in the right mood.