Unlike his fellow action heroes Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, Steven Seagal never got to work with John Woo, but his opportune teaming with director Roel Reine (Death Race 2) brought the Buddhist Bonecrusher about as close to "heroic bloodshed" subgenre as he's going to get in one of the best DTV titles he'd ever release... Okay, the comparison to Woo is a matter of opinion, but the mere fact that a Steven Seagal movie can still feel inspired is noteworthy. "Pistol Whipped" is a stellar follow-up to his previous Urban Justice and simply one of the most unique Seagal flicks you're ever going to see. Sure, it's still just a Steven Seagal movie, but at long last, it's one that can actually be used to attract new fans.
The story: ex-policeman Matt Conlin (Seagal) lost his job and family to the vices of gambling and alcohol when he's approached by the agent of a mysterious, gentlemanly "Old Man" looking to put his lethal talents to use (Lance Henriksen, Aliens). Matt finds new purpose in life as a hitman attacking the city's criminal underbelly, but finds himself at odds with honor and duty when his family is dragged into the mix.
"Pistol Whipped" was written by J.D. Zeik, the pen behind Ronin, and when interpreted by director Reine's able hand, the script makes for the most complex and dramatically intense outing that the usually one-note Seagal has ever been on. For one thing, it's a decently complex story of double-crosses and fragile relationships, but unlike manure like The Foreigner which simply confused you in the process of trying to appear smart, this one is surprisingly streamlined - keeping you in suspense but not causing any headaches. Additionally, the mere fact that Seagal's not playing an invincible superman but an individual afflicted by worldly ills is an elephantine step forward for Steven. Dramatically, it's clear that he's on uneven footing, but he still gives one of the more layered and sophisticated performances of his career. This isn't saying much, so it's a good thing that he's got the likes of Renee Goldsberry ("One Life to Live") as his love interest, Paul Calderon (The Last Castle) as the Old Man's enigmatic enforcer, and B-movie god Lance Henriksen to support him, creating one of the most capable ensembles you'll ever see in his movies. Even relatively unknown names like Lydia Jordan (Kidnapped) as Matt's neglected young daughter and Mark Wilson as her two-faced stepfather do significantly good jobs, to the point that you can almost forget you're watching a Steven Seagal movie and can just think of it as its own capable action-thriller.
I could go on about the film's dramatic strengths, but of equal importance is the film's action content. In an interview, director Reine mentioned how he wanted the halt the embarrassing trend of modern Seagal action scenes relying heavily on stunt doubles and stand-ins, and I'm happy to say that, for the first time in a long while, Seagal is looking back on-form with his younger self. There aren't as many fight scenes as many of Steven's other pictures, but they all look pretty painful and feature long, uninterrupted shots to show that it really is Steven doing his own fighting. There's also a pretty decent car chase in there with a couple good crashes. The gunfights fluctuate between old hat and classy, with the finale in the graveyard being a complete triumph of style.
Occasionally, the writing does bear a loose end or two (e.g. who sent the assassins after Matt in the beginning?) and the film's visual style is clearly limited by its budget. Because of this, there is a chance that viewers who turn down Seagal's DTV fare simply for being DTV won't be as blown away by this as I was, but I like to think that true fans will be impressed and delighted by how far our hero came with this picture. It's safe to say that Steven's never done a movie quite like this one, and for that reason alone, it should be worth a buy. Go for it.