If you were a teenage guy in the 1990s who lived on action movies, you belonged in one of two camps: Steven Seagal or Jean Claude Van Damme. You probably made a point to watch both actors’ films on opening weekend, but your allegiance belonged to only one of them. Whats more, you probably also engaged in serious and sometimes emotional debates with your buddies as to who could kick more ass. Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme dominated the B movie action genre in the early 1990s and they were the last vestige of the Hollywood tough guy action star. Since their career peaks in the mid-90s, time has not been kind to Seagal and Van Damme. Whats left of their careers are pale shadows of what they used to be and if they’re lucky to find financing for their movies, they get relegated to the straight-to-DVD market.

Of the two actors, Steven Seagal was my favorite. With his ponytailed, slicked back hair, soft and calm voice, and tall build, Seagal had an imposing bad ass presence. Add to this his expert proficiency in aikido and Seagal had the perfect traits to be an action star. Seagal had a good initial run during the late 80s and early 90s. Although they didn’t have the most original plots, his movies were highly entertaining, which was all due to Seagal. However, during the mid to late 90s, the actor’s career began a downward spiral from which he has yet to recover from. When I watch Steven Seagal now, I see a fat, bloated old dude who mumbles through his lines without putting an ounce of effort into it. His characters rely more upon guns to dispose of bad guys than on the martial artistry that Seagal is best known for. His films now are low-budget, straight-to-DVD mindless action movies that are best seen by either being highly intoxicated or high.

Today You Die is a prime example of Steven Seagal’s degraded career. Absolutely nothing good can be said about this film. Its story is a convoluted, uninspired jumbled mess. The action is tired and cliché. The acting is on the same qualitative level as your typical high school production. Today You Die is nothing more than a waste of plastic, time, and money.

Steven Seagal doesn’t veer very far from the 2-3 types of characters he always plays and Today You Die is no exception. Here he plays Harlan Banks, a Robin Hood-type crook who gets hired to pull a Las Vegas heist. The heist gets botched and Harlan is framed for a bigger crime, which lands him in prison. In prison, Harlan befriends Ice Cool (Anthony “Treach” Criss) and together they organize a jailbreak so they can go out and find the guys who framed Harlan. NOTE: Chloe Moretz, who is currently the BEST kid actor working in Hollywood today and who can be seen kicking ass in Kick-Ass, has a tiny role as a hospital kid.

I can go through frame-by-frame and explain everything that is wrong with this film, but I won’t make you suffer what I had to suffer so I’ll touch upon the most major issues with the film. First, we’re sort of told Harlan Banks is supposed to be a Robin Hood-type of crook by another crook during the first 2 minutes of the film. After those first 2 minutes, we NEVER see nor even HEAR about Harlan’s altruistic nature. For a character trait that should have been demonstrated throughout the film or at least have been mentioned by the characters in exposition, the film completely forgets to develop our main character beyond that first 2 minutes.

Harlan has a girlfriend who has psychic abilities and every time we see her, she seems to be having visions of random shit that’s supposed to signify that Harlan is in trouble and that he’s dealing with some very bad people. Of course, she doesn’t provide any specifics and the only advice she gives Harlan is to 1.) be careful, 2.) stop getting involved with bad people, and 3.) he’s in danger. At one point during the film Harlan asks his girlfriend whether the big boss he’s seeking is dead or alive. She cryptically replies that he’s neither alive…nor dead!! When she’s not having visions, she’s always shown to be sitting in her armchair surrounded by burning candles, which is what all psychics apparently do when they’re not using their powers.

We’re not told what prison Harlan is sent to, but I suspect it must be the fancy, posh one that’s infamously referred to as Club Fed where the rich and famous inmates stay. In this prison, everyone is allowed to walk wherever the hell they want, whenever they want and beat up and kill anyone they want without any interference from any guards. In fact, we don’t see the guards most of the time so I assume there aren’t any. The prison scenes are also where we get to see Steven Seagal be gangsta, which is extremely entertaining so long as you can decipher his mumbling. Of course, nobody fucks with Harlan in the prison because Harlan knows aikido and everyone knows aikido can stop any shiv.

One thing that surprised me was how the producers apparently had enough money to shut down parts of the Vegas strip to shoot a car chase scene. Granted, it was not the best part of the strip where the major resorts are located. Nevertheless, I would assume shutting down any part of the strip for filming would be quite expensive. I noticed that the police cars used for the chase scenes were old 80s models (this film came out in 2005), which for a film like this probably doesn’t really matter. Clearly, a good chunk of the film’s budget went toward this chase scene because the remainder of the scenes take place in settings that I swear must be used in porn flicks (they’re lit like pornos too).

I’ve already touched upon Steven Seagal’s performance in this film and its as atrocious as anything I have seen from any movie star in any movie. If you think I’m exaggerating, watch this film and see for yourself. Seagal quite literally dialed in his performance. I know he’s not exactly known for his great acting abilities, but at least you can see him try in his earlier films. Here, his face does not change expressions…ever. Whether he’s being funny, sad, or angry, you see the same expression on his face. As for his dialogue, thankfully this is a shitty film because if this was actually something worth watching, I would be pissed that I couldn’t understand most of what is coming out of Seagal’s mouth. He mumbles through all his lines and half the time it seemed like there was no scripted dialogue. It was just Seagal being himself and improvising some bullshit.

You should be able to tell how awful Today You Die is simply by its title. It’s a sad reminder of Steven Seagal’s nonexistent career. Every once in awhile I like to torture myself by watching some of these cinematic car wrecks and I’m always left wondering who the hell actually enjoys viewing this shit. Apparently there’s an audience somewhere out there who does or else they wouldn’t keep coming out with these movies.

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