Amazingly, there are some people still willing to pay Steven Seagal to appear in movies. Despite whatever payment the faded action star receives, he certainly can’t be bothered to put forth the slightest bit of effort into any piece of schlock that he’s filming in some former member of the Soviet bloc. The latest piece of lacking effort to star Seagal is Cartels, a rather generic action flick from director Keoni Waxman, a frequent collaborator of Seagal’s, who according to IMDb directed him in three separate movies last year. Cartels is an action flick that operates by-the-numbers, establishing its simple scenario before introducing a couple twists and turns before an excessively long shootout resolves everything.
Cartels tries to be clever in the way its story unfolds with John Harrison (Seagal) interrogating Maj. Tom Jensen (Luke Goss) about the botched attempt to protect a valuable witness for the DEA. Joseph ‘El Tiburon’ Salazar (Florin Piersic, Jr.), a Russian drug kingpin with a Latino name, is believed to be killed during a raid, but the drug lord’s death was staged as Salazar is about to go into hiding and turn as a witness for the DEA. Jensen tells his story to the visibly disinterested Seagal, who spends most of the movie sitting at a table with his arms crossed. Bascially, at the hotel where Salazar was being kept, a group of hitmen led by Bruno Sinclaire (Georges St-Pierre) raid the hotel in an attempt to eliminate Salazar. It all seems too easy for the armed villains to sift out the location of the perceived dead Salazar, leading Tom Jensen to wonder just who on his side isn’t compromised, trust only Skony (Darren E. Scott) and Amanda Chavez (Martine Argent).
It’s not difficult to figure out who are the duplicitous characters in this low budget piece of action schlock. The script by Waxman and Richard Beattie doesn’t have much wit to expend, often allowing Seagal to vent his frustration with a series of awkwardly delivered F-bombs. To his credit, though, Waxman does stage some decent moments of action in the shootout. We’re not dealing with the heir apparent to John Woo here, but a few of the sequences are rather effective for what they aim to achieve. Plenty of anonymous bad guys get hit with automatic gunfire and CGI blood spurts from their wounds. It’s enough to entertain a non-discerning action fan for about 90 minutes.
Then comes the big showdown between Georges St-Pierre and Steven Seagal, and it might be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. St-Pierre is an MMA fighter who has kept himself in shape; those unaware of his MMA exploits will remember him battling Captain America in The Winter Soldier. The edited and camera angles required to make it look as if a pudgy Steven Seagal can hold his own against a fast, ripped Georges St. Pierre all but ruin the suspension of disbelief, and the fight concludes with such an absurdly underwhelming whimper it’s impossible not to laugh at the incredulous scenario.
Cartels is a disposable action movie made on the cheap with a star who is so faded that he can barely be bothered to annunciate. The effort that surrounds Seagal’s indifference only highlights just how little he cares about his work. Let’s face it, Steven Seagal would rather pal around with murderous dictators or star in stupid reality shows for a racist sheriff. There are always going to be tons of low budget, forgettable action movies made in Eastern Europe, but at least they should give the leading role to someone who’s actually interested in giving just least bit of effort. Cartels isn’t a good movie but most of its cast and crew put forth a bit of effort in making something with a few moments of action. Meanwhile, Steven Seagal sits on the sidelines bloated and half awake.