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Exit Wounds  

Cast: Steven Seagal, DMX, Isaiah Washington, Tom Arnold, Anthony Anderson, Michael Jai White, Bill Duke, Jill Hennessy
Directed by: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Written by: Ed Horowitz and Richard D'Ovidio Based upon the novel by John Westermann

"Exit Wounds" is a high energy film that moves at a fairly brisk pace. So why, I often find myself wondering, do movies that are pieced together with relative skill always seem to be at the mercy of storylines that are immeasureably tired? Why does Hollywood continue to make strides in the visual style of movies, yet never spends nearly as much time coming up with better plot lines?
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The screenplay is based upon the novel by John Westermann, which I haven't read. Still, the pieces to this puzzle of corruption feel numbingly familiar. We have the renegade hero who engages in his own form of justice, only to be demoted and transferred. We have the "perceived" villain who takes part in some dubious dealings, yet we know immediately there is more to him than meets the eye. We have the "eventual" villains whose identities aren't revealed until two-thirds of the way into the story, despite the fact that we can spot them from a mile away. We have the hero's new boss who begins by despising his tactics, but eventually comes to trust him. We have the arena of corruption itself, a police precinct where some officers are engaged in the dealing of ... you guessed it, drugs; and of course, we have the typically unorthodox way the illegal substance is smuggled.

Steven Seagal stars as detective Orin Boyd, a rough, tough, attack-first-and-ask-questions-later police suspension waiting to happen. His bestial tactics utilized in the rescuing of the vice-president have caused his superior (Bruce McGill) to transfer him to the shadiest precinct in Detroit. There, his insubordinate attitude immediately makes waves with the other officers, leading his new boss (Jill Hennessy) to order him into an anger management program. Feeling a need to become involved in some sort of investigation, he eventually stumbles upon a shady dealing involving an undercover cop who informs him that he is nearing the apprehension of a street dealer. Boyd believes there is a little more to the story and his suspicions are right on target. The supposed "street dealer" isn't a dealer at all, but a mysterious young man named Latrell Walker (DMX) who has his own ulterior motives behind his actions.

"Wounds" isn't an excruciating experience to sit through, yet it remains distinctly marred by the ultra-familiar elements it depicts. The idea of drug-dealing as a motive for action-movie villains has clearly run its course. Well-thought out dramas (i.e. "Traffic") can still make good use of the topic, but using it for an action movie like this is rather lazy.

In addition, the comic relief feels a bit tired as well. Tom Arnold brings his trademark overbearing brand of humor to the table as the host of an AM talk show who takes pride in attending the anger management classes Boyd hates. He's a likable guy, but his performance here feels like the rehashings of a schtick he perfected years ago.

Steven Seagal acts as little as he has to, which is the wisest course of action. He's not an awful presence on the screen, but like many "action heroes," he's only as good as the movie surrounding him. DMX does everything he can with a role that is suffocated by the movie's laborious plot mechanics. He breathes what little life he can into the character of Walker as allowed by the toilsome story.

I suppose it's a tribute to cinematographer-turned-director Andrzej Bartkowiak that the movie is as rapidly paced as it is. The action number that opens the film is actually handled with surprising skill. (Implausible, sure. But skillful nonetheless.) I still can't quite figure out why he wouldn't wait until a better screenplay presented itself. Thinking back on it, unoriginality in the story seems curiously common among former cinematographers, including Janusz Kaminski ("Schindler's List", "Saving Private Ryan"), whose directoral debut was "Lost Souls," a good-looking but familiar retread of previous horror-stories; and Ernest Dickerson, who went from being Spike Lee's main cinematographer to helming some fairly forgettable movies, including the drudgingly familiar buddy-action movie "Bulletproof," with Damon Wayans and Adam Sandler.

Will those merely seeking an action-packed escape from reality be pleased with the movie? Probably. Although I would instead recommend a trip to the video store and renting a good adventure flick you've seen before. Trust me, you won't miss anything new by skipping out on this one.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney

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