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Contract To Kill isn’t just bad—it’s Steven Seagal bad

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Photo: Lionsgate
Photo: Lionsgate
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Contract To Kill

Director: Keoni Waxman
Runtime: 90 minutes
Rating: R
Cast: Steven Seagal, Russell Wong, Jemma Dallender, Mircea Drimbareanu, Sergiu Costache (in English and Spanish w/subtitles)
Availability: Select theaters and VOD December 9

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The rare Steven Seagal movie to open in American theaters, Contract To Kill is so crude and anti-cinematic—so fucking bad—that it becomes its own parody. It is a treasure, as are all of the god-awful movies put out by the onetime black belt with the help of his dedicated team of “whatever, sure” men. (This is writer-director Keoni Waxman’s third such film this year.) Seagal, in his triangular Bela-Lugosi-in-Dracula toupee and his clothes picked straight from a big-and-tall outlet store and his orange prescription Oakleys, walks stiffly and very slowly. It is possible that he never once bends at the waist. Most of the movie, he spends sitting down or walking (again, slowly) up and down flights of stairs. There is a love scene—and, Jesus, what a love scene. His fully dressed body is lowered over a naked woman like a drawbridge. He doesn’t take off his glasses. He never takes off his glasses. Also, he doesn’t drive, which is a shame, because it is a well-documented fact that Seagal is the worst fake driver in Hollywood; this might be the first time that green screen—really awful green screen—has been used to make it look like an actor is just sitting in a parked car. Overall, he gives the kind of performance traditionally associated with stars who died during filming. And yet, Seagal is in almost every scene.

Here are some relevant facts about Contract To Kill: It was made in Romania; its cast is composed mostly of Romanians; it takes place in Mexico and Turkey. The Turkish and Mexican locals are played by Romanians, and it’s truly something to see a thin, pasty guy who looks like he was just let go of his cashier position at Mega Image yell, “Move it, gringo!” or “Hey, ese!” at an American sort-of star with a printer-cartridge dye job. Seagal’s character—named John Harmon, though not like that matters—is both a retired DEA agent and a retired CIA agent, and he has been brought back to fight a secret alliance of cartels and terrorists by a CIA handler who is also definitely Romanian. The script is ludicrous; this is a given. The acting is laughable. One might, as always, point out Seagal’s reliance on stunt doubles for everything that doesn’t involve sitting or walking at an unhurried pace. In a car chase scene, the driving is done by a double poorly concealed behind heavily tinted windows, with cuts to the green-screened Seagal whenever the car comes to a stop. There is an excruciatingly long early scene in which Harmon is menaced by a remote-controlled drone with a plastic assault rifle glued to the bottom. The effects can’t really be called effects.

But the combination of unfiltered vanity and unbelievable laziness is exactly what makes a Steven Seagal movie. The star only plays wise, throat-chopping badasses, but he can’t be bothered to stand up or learn his dialogue. He speaks every line as though he were hazily remembering it, with plenty of uhs and ums. At one point, he is composited into a shot of a tunnel while the camera bobs around to make it look like Harmon is walking, because Seagal himself can’t walk down a tunnel. It is not sincere Ed Wood-ian incompetence that makes a movie like Contract To Kill, but a complete absence of any traits apart from ego. There are scenes that exist solely so Harmon can share his deep thoughts on geopolitics to an audience of thoughtfully nodding characters. (Of Puerto Rico, he says, “They have a situation. It’s kind of very distinct.”) Seagal looks awful, sounds terrible, and regularly appears to be winded. Objectively, Contract To Kill is the most carelessly made movie to be released theatrically by a major studio in a few years; its standards may even be called negligent. It belongs in a museum, along with all of the other Seagal curios.