Friday, September 18, 2009

The Seagal Factor

Out of nowhere, a little direct-to-DVD movie called Blood and Bone hit me like the fist of an angry black man. For years now, Michael Jai White has been trying to establish himself as somewhat of an action movie leading man. You might recognise him as the black mob boss killed by the Joker in The Dark Knight or, if you liked metal in the 90s, the titular character in Mark A.Z. Dippé epic Spawn. Whatever happend to Mr. Dippé?

Dippé aside, Blood and Bone is an entertainig martial arts film, recounting the tale of Isaiah Bone (White). Fresh out of jail, Bone goes to live with a nanny lady played by Marvin Gaye's daughter Nona, an actress you might recognize as Spunky Black Girl in The Matrix Revolutions, if you're unlucky enough.

Bone is looking for some street fightin' action because that is just how he rolls and soon becomes represented by Asian thug-wannabe Pinball. Pinball is played with reckless abandon by Dante Basco. This guy voices Prince Zuko in the excellent Nickelodeon cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, but (slightly) older filmgoers will know him as

in Spielberg's unfortunate Peter Pan re-imagining Hook (that I still manage to watch at least once a year around Christmas time, which I am not entirely sorry for). Together they rise to the top of the underground fighting scene, where they must go up against James, an ambitious gangster with connections to the mysterious Consortium. James is quite a hilarious villain, as he is like an anime geek in the body of a gangster. He's always going on about samurai warriors and shit, and being PURE IN BODY MIND AND SPIRIT I DON'T DRINK SMOKE OR EVEN CURSE. And then he holds his crackhead wife hostage with drugs.

Bone has himself to pick with James for reasons that are altogether irrelevant and frankly, slightly boring. If you know this kind of movie you can pretty much guess and never be too far off the mark. What is very relevant is James' desire to climb higher within the Consortium. You see, his contact is one Franklin McVeigh, a British crime lord played by none other than Julian Sands (yes, the Warlock himself). McVeigh lives in a castle, has some kind of ninja chick bodyguard and very amused by "the high-flying shenanigans of the negro" and finds it laughable that the Consortium would admit one in their own ranks. James retorts with a parable about black men's penises. A tense situation arises, but it is quickly deflated with sympathetic laughter from the two men, followed by a hug. Does that mean McVeigh's racism is nothing but a humorous attempt at edginess? Who knows! It's certainly "internet" enough to go with James' samurai obsession.

These colorful villains (and I haven't even touched James' ten-pills-at-a-time+steroids-while-yelling-his-ass-off-in-the-back-of-a-limo henchman Hammerman) form a great backdrop for Bone to punch/kick his way through. There's no real tension here, as Bone just destroys everyone he comes into contact with, without breakin any real sweat. It even occurs twice in the film that he's set up for some big fight, there's a whole lot of build-up and then Bone just KO's the other fighter in one punch. The other guy's coach then becomes super angry and proclaims loudly for all to hear that Bone and Pinball somehow cheated (even though it is pretty much impossible for him to have done so). He then sends about twenty guys up against Bone, who -- again -- demolishes most of them with a single punch/kick. Twice.

Michael Jai White is the film's best special effect, and director Ben Ramsey chooses wisely to just let the camera linger on him when he does his thing. No doubt, the man's skills are truly a thing to behold. I didn't notice any (obvious) wirework, something that plagues a lot of modern day martial arts movies. So kudos on that, movie!

The movie is very "grindhouse" in that it's all about the fight money shots, its typical revenge storyline, and the fact that Julian Sands appears for about ten minutes throughout the entire movie, if that. It's something so beautifully B-movie to have a semi-famous actor in there, only be able to pay him for a few days' work and still give the dude second billing. Strangely non-exploitative was the lack of boobies. Every single woman in the film offers herself up to Bone (no pun intended, honest!), but being the honorable warrior that he is, the lone wanderer allows himself only the sexual release of teaching Nona Gaye tai chi. Whatta catch, ladies!

Lone Wanderer, indeed! The film ends with Bone taking to the road, ever watchful of new adventures to get caught up in. Well, the film technically ends with something a lot more comical than that, but I don't want to give it away. Instead I will give you the final fight between Gino Felino and Richie Madano in that other classic Out For Justice. Scroll down carefully if you still want to know, I spoil the ending beneath the vid.

You ready? Here it is:

Instead of funny bloopers and outtakes, the credits show us James in prison, being raped. I don't even think I need to come up with a joke around that.