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The Patriot (1998)

Directed by Dean Semler


Squinty, monotone poster-boy for big & tall men everywhere, Steven Seagal, scores another slam dunk-touchdown in his ongoing competition with Jean-Claude Van Damme for the most golden turkeys by an aging martial artist. This time out, Seagal is a disillusioned immunologist who has left government service to live a more spiritual life near Native Americans in some remote part of Montana or something (I SWEAR I'm not making any of this crap up!). His other neighbors are a group of cracker-head neo-Nazis who want to confront the government and start a revolution to make an "America for Americans," whatever the hell that means. They think they are going to achieve this by releasing a stolen biological weapon in their little hometown. They also have the "anti-toxin" so they believe they will be immune. Things go badly for them when they discover that the "anti-toxin" doesn't work. With locals dropping like flies, the feds quarantine the town and send in their top dog immunologist to enlist uncooperative Seagal's help in preventing a worldwide catastrophe.

With little to no action, "The Patriot" is a series of scenes of Seagal telling everybody in sight, "I told you so!" Basically, the "I told you so's" are -- "I told you Western medicine can learn something from Native Americans or The East! I told you biological weapons are bad! I told you Nazis are bad! Why won't you listen to me?" Seagal phones in another performance as a new-agey kinda guy with a super short fuse.

It's easy to slam Stevie because he sucks so bad but you would be overlooking his great strength as a performer. Remember, William Shatner sucks as an actor, too. However, he was fantastic in the old "Star Trek" TV series! You could argue that he really set the tone (acting wise) for that show. There's really nothing quite like a shitty, Canadian, Shakespearean actor starring in a low-grade sci-fi series to launch it right over the fucking top. Seagal performs much the same function in his martial arts/message movies.

To appreciate his depth, you must realize that Seagal's not a one note actor but a three note actor. In most scenes, he's just smug, like he just took a big dump on a bad review of one of his films and mailed it back to the New York Times C.O.D.. In some scenes, he's smirky, like a dopey moron who thinks he's pulled a great prank not realizing that, in reality, he is the joke. But his last note is his best, as a pissed-off asshole, he's a natural! There's something about Seagal's cold delight while snapping limbs in two, impaling opponents with pool cues or sticking broken wine glass stems through their skulls that is quite silly. Next to Jean-Claude, Seagal seems like a deep and edgy Thespian. Dare I say, the "Bobby De" of grade B action movies?


This needs to be said again, little Stevie has really, really gotten fat. I don't mean to harp on something that has been well documented by others, but the dude is going the way of Orson Welles (only in regards to weight not films). I know we could all stand to lose a few pounds but you would think with all of his back to nature/outdoor-sy crap the mother could layoff a few of those roast pig on a bed of bacon sandwiches -- you are what you eat, my friend. The makers of "The Patriot" tried to cover up his enormous girth under multiple layers of funny clothes. My personal favs being the Dali Lama inspired saffron scarf and a blue jacket with fuzzy fringe that looks like something my mom use to wear while I was growing up in the 1960's. It's got to be his ever-expanding waistline that explains the lack of fight scenes in "The Patriot." Seagal no longer makes for a credible martial artist so he's trying to carve out a niche for himself as a big and violent Al Gore type. At one point, Seagal tosses an opponent into a vending machine, shattering its glass. I was surprised that he didn't lumber over and start gobbling up free candy bars!

If you are a fan of "cinema le bad," then this tape is a must for your collection. Put it right next to Seagal's "Fire Down Below," Van Damme's "Sudden Death," or (A)Dolph Lundgren's "Blackjack." It will be a proud addition to any collection of laughably bad actioners! Highly, highly recommended! -- Rating: $9.50 (I only wish the rating scale went up higher, to "eleven")

Tom Graney -- 1998 Hollywood Outsider

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