Kill Switch and the DTV Star System

Being of a certain age I can unfortunately not claim to have seen one of the Big Man’s films on the Big Screen. Yet by the peculiar quirk of advertising I have still seen the Big Man himself on the Big Screen, so with begrudging gratitude to Orange telecoms I direct you to this:

It is, almost without question, one of, if not THE best thing he has done on screen in the last ten years. Needless vehicle-based chases, inexplicable explosions, a flourish of spoken Japanese, a sense of humour, and most astonishingly some genuine ass-kicking (albeit without any nut-cracking) from Seagal himself! No stunt-double!

Those dear marketing execs really outdid themselves in boiling down the essence of what we, the baying hordes, demand from a Seagal film. The irony is that this is literally what he is trying to escape with the Rom-com script he is touting to the fictional Orange execs. The double irony is that this mirrors Seagal own attempts to break out of the action mould, evident in traces through films like Kill Switch and other recent DTV films. Granted, the advert takes it to an extreme level of absurdity, but there is a bizarre poignancy in seeing Steve play out the bizarre Catch 22 he will forever be stuck in. It’s the self-reflexive postmodern genius of JCVD all over again, only condensed into a single minute. Call ‘over-analysis’ all you like, the dogs-dinner script and editing of Kill Switch is proof if any where needed that what Steven wants and what Steven gets are two very separate things.

For all the collected mistakes and shoddy breaks in almost all of Seagal’s recent DTV output, Kill Switch bears the marks of a film with grand intentions that just came crashing down in the edit. As executive producer, writer and lead actor in the film, you cannot help but wonder how much beyond mere finances Seagal had invested in this film. The Making-of that accompanies the film paints the picture of a team genuinely set on pushing some boundaries in terms of your average Seagal action DTV

Steven, the director, all the main actors, everyone lines up to discuss the nuance and the complexities of the story. Jacob King, the controversial detective at the heart of the film is discussed and Steven goes into some detail about the challenges of getting to grips with a man who is just as obsessed an perverted as the serial killers he pursues. The director also goes to some pains to describe a couple of scenes in the film and how he chose to shoot them, even going so far as to show a storyboard for the flying-out-of-a-window-seventeen-times sequence. He doesn’t corroborate my own rather bold reading of the sequence as a revisionist take on Hollywood editing, but there is proof at least that this wasn’t a wholly unplanned hodge-podge.

kill switch making of directorPerhaps most telling is that the interview with the director is shot in the editing room, in front of the editing suite with a cut of the film running in the background. Said cut of the film features a edit of the window-seventeen scene that differs significantly from the cut in the finished product. Fewer cuts, a shorter sequence, and another argument against my revisionist reading. It is impossible to guess at what stage in post production the interview was conducted, but on some level it does illustrate the different stages of where the Making-of was made, compared to the final edit of the film.

Kill Switch StoryboardIndeed I feel it is safe to say that the film that the cast discuss in the Making-of is separate from the film as it ended up on the DVD. It is possibly the most incoherent mess you could ever conceive of outside of experimental filmmaking. Characters appear and disappear, the story progresses without any sense of purpose, with more plot holes than a rural backlane. Almost worst of all, Steven’s character unexpectedly lashes out in brutal acts of ultra-violence. Think American History X curb stomping, but without the emotional impact.

Seagal’s character is wholly and totally morally irreprehensible. A chauvinist, a sadist, and a down right Arsehole.

He could very well pull off the nuance and complexities of such a character, and his fellow cast and director seemed to believe so too. The producers evidently, much like the Orange execs, did not and saw fit to chop and change the film to make it best fit the picture we all have of Seagal as an action hero. The simple fact is that DTV producers play the market much as the exploitation producers of the 1970’s did. Catch the eye with a bold poster (or DVD cover), and to hell with whether it actually lives up to the promise, as long as the punters just come flocking.

Seagal is a name everyone recognises. It is a hallmark of certain kind of rather conventional action film. Hire the name and you have a certain amount of box office guaranteed. Simple.

Exploitation producers didn’t care much whether a film actually lived up to it’s title, provided the title was good in the first place. Seagal’s name is on the poster, so why are these DTV producers so desperate to recut the film? A crying shame, as it would have been refreshing to see Seagal at least try to flesh out a multidimensional character.

Oh yes, and did I mention that Isaac Hayes is in this film? There’s another name for the poster. As a pathologist no less.

Kill switch montage

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