Monday, December 23, 2013


An above-average Los Angeles crime thriller about a power struggle between two rival gangs, “Force of Execution” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) manages to be a predictable but entertaining B-movie actioneer that eschews both romance and sex. Ostensibly, Steven Seagal takes top billing, but newcomer Bren Foster of "War Flowers" handles the heavy lifting.  Apparently, Seagal and Foster constitute co-stars of a sort, with the demographic appeal of both actors covering the 15-to-4o year old audience.  The old will ogle it for Seagal, while the young will undoubtedly identify more with the younger, athletic Foster.  As the feared but respected crime boss Mr. Alexander, Steven Seagal wears a sculpted Van Dyke beard and rules the neighborhood with a sense of violent compassion.  Above all, he is the kind of crime boss who resents being told what to do.  Before he embarked on his criminal career, Alexander refined his art of warfare during his service to the government.  Since then he has parlayed his on-the-job government training to maintain his own criminal empire. As Mr. Alexander's most trusted executioner for 15 years, rugged Bren Foster plays Roman Hurst.  Hurst performs a hit in prison for Mr. Alexander during the first quarter hour of the action.  Based on the duplicitous word of a Judas-minded inmate, Iceman (Ving Rhames of "Pulp Fiction"), Hurst killed the wrong guy. Afterward, Hurst has to fight his way, one guard at a time, out of the prison.  Not only does Hurst admit failure but also he willingly accepts any punishment that Alexander feels appropriate. Alexander turns Hurst over to the African-American gang, and they wield hammers without mercy on his hands. Basically, when they conclude their anatomical retribution, the best that Hurst can do is spiral into alcoholism until the urge to straighten himself and a Mexican witch doctor revitalize him. 

The themes of reformation and rejuvenation pervade “Force of Execution.” "Maximum Conviction" director Keoni Waxman along with "Cold Sweat" scenarist Richard Beattie and freshman scribe Michael Black have enlivened this formulaic crime thriller with the maimed warrior plot.  This plot usually occurs in martial arts movies and westerns.  Roman Hurst becomes a "Django" type hero who has to rehab himself with the help of a Hispanic witch doctor, Jimmy Peanuts (Danny Trejo of the "Machete" movies), who cooks for Mr. Alexander in one of his diners.  The use of scorpions to convert our hero's lax hands into weapons of lethal power seems wholly improbable, but the idea sounds cool and the sight of Trejo fiddling with the critters is neat. The chief problem with "Force of Execution" isn't the action-laden plot with a body count, but the pedestrian dialogue and the shortage of cool Seagal scenes. Every good Seagal movie and some of his bad ones always boast a memorable combat scene where our soft-spoken hero demolishes the opposition with minimal force. “The “Under Siege” movies as well as “The Glimmer Man” exemplify Seagal at his coolest with several spectacular kick ass scenes.  "Force of Execution" lacks those cool scenes.  Roman Hurst has some nice fights that generate terrific velocity.  He specializes in a spinning kick like Jean-Claude Van Damme, but Hurst doesn't flaunt much personality in his characterization. Grim, tough, resourceful, he appears to be channeling Daniel Craig, but he needs to develop a personality.  It is like having a stunt man play a leading role.  Nothing really makes him sympathetic.  His miraculous recovery is difficult to accept.

The thesping in "Force Execution" is okay. Trejo gives the most charismatic performance as a down-to-earth short order cook. He doesn't play his usual tough-guy type snd he doesn't shed his shirt to display his heavily tattooed physique. He qualifies as the most likable character in the action, while Jenny Gabrielle is both pretty and vulnerable as Karen. She plays the blond waitress & cashier at Alexander's protected restaurant who encounters trouble along the way. Bren Foster has a dynamic physical presence, while Seagal essentially plays an amoral but principled criminal who expects, deserves, and gives respect. Ultimately, at fadeout, he realizes the error of his ways and reforms himself. You don’t often see Seagal play a character who makes mistakes.  Ving Rhames makes a menacing antagonist who challenges our hero and tries to take over his empire by force. The Spartan combat sequences are helmed with skill. The typical Steven Seagal fan should enjoy the experience of watching "Force of Execution." Waxman doesn't let the film wear out its welcome. This 99 minute melodrama doesn’t rank as top-notch Seagal, but those minutes won’t feel like they were stolen from you.