- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2001

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"Exit Wound" labors under a serious handicap: It follows the lyrical, lovely "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" into American movie theaters.

In many ways, "Tiger" is the epitome of the martial-arts action film. Set in long-ago, far-away China, it pits the good guys against the bad guys (who occasionally win one, as they do in real life), has a hero who is both brave and pure, and also boasts two very romantic romances. Add magnificent cinematography, lush costumes, breathtaking locales and some superb martial-arts action, and you have a package built to endure.

"Wound," on the other hand, takes place in one of the more unattractive parts of today´s Detroit. It is almost impossible to sort the good guys from the bad guys, our hero is a loose cannon, and the audience gets a lap dance for lack of anything with more substance.

On the other hand, there is lots of superb action traditional aikido, to be exact, that most esoteric of the martial arts.

Steven Seagal, a master of aikido, stars as Orin Boyd, a detective who pushes the envelope as well as the law and gets exiled to the 15th Precinct, where the inmates appear to be running the institution.

It is pushing matters a bit to believe Boyd earns his exile by saving the vice president of the United States from a very well-planned terrorist attack. But then the opening scene, which has Boyd mowing down terrorists equipped with automatic weapons and a helicopter just what kind of ammunition is he firing, anyway? is pushing belief about as far as it will go, even for someone who views Mr. Seagal as an almost mythic figure.

Shortly after Boyd arrives and the scene where he is put to work directing traffic is a comic treasure a band of thieves hits a police stronghold and makes off with $5 million in seized drugs.

The rest of the film involves Boyd´s increasing entanglement in the effort to recover the drugs and route out corruption that has rotted deeply into the police department.

That is a lovely excuse for what Steven Seagal does best: move. Naturally, there is plenty of aikido, but viewers also get some very well-done kung fu and even some swordplay, possibly shinkendo though the sequence, fought with fabric cutters used like katana, is too brief to characterize for someone who is no expert on Asian styles of edged weapons.

The action is choreographed by Dion Lam, who deserves credit for making even the beginners look convincing.

Producer Joel Silver, late of "Matrix"; director and former cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak of "Romeo Must Die"; and production designer Paul Austerberry of "Mercy" unite to create a dark, stylish look at crime and consequences. The scenes shot in daylight seem almost to have wandered in from another film, so dark is the mood of "Wounds."

Enhancing the action is hip-hop star DMX as Latrell Walker, one very cool brother possessed of a Lamborghini Diablo, a superbly fitted wardrobe and apparently a very together street gang. Walker, like a number of the characters, is not what he seems.

Isaiah Washington plays Boyd´s new partner, assigned the problem of keeping Boyd out of trouble. Yeah, right. Jill Hennessy of "Law and Order" plays Mulcahy, one tough chick in charge of the 15th. She knows she has trouble; she´s just not yet sure where and who. Miss Hennessy is a good pick for the role because she can play tough to Mr. Seagal´s tough while remaining very much a woman.

Tom Arnold and Anthony Anderson provide comic relief as more or less willing sidekicks to Mr. Seagal and DMX. They are very good at what they do.

The movie is reminiscent of some of the classics of the genre. "Dirty Harry" comes to mind, though "Exit Wounds" is even more violent. It thoroughly earns its "R" rating and is not suitable for young people because of the extent and intensity of its action.

It also is not suitable because it creates a very unrealistic expectation about what can and cannot be done with firearms. There is a chase scene in which Boyd and Mulcahy would have been dead several times over, to judge from shot patterns on their vehicle.

The film is an adaptation of a novel by retired street cop John Westermann. Word is that Mr. Seagal already has optioned the sequel, "The Honor Farm," so Boyd will be coming back.


2 and 1/2 out of four stars

WHAT: "Exit Wound"

RATING: R for excessive and intensive violence, some nudity; some sexual situations implied

CREDITS: Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak

RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 26 minutes


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