Couch Trip 

Pistol Whipped
Junction Films

For more than a decade, a big opening weekend for a Steven Seagal movie has been if two idiots fight over the lone copy at Blockbuster — late Saturday night, after every last Police Academy movie has been rented. But the reasons fans stopped caring and turned the one-time action hero into direct-to-DVD Stevie are the very same reasons I'll rent every last one of his loser movies! Hell, when he's got a black coat long enough to hide a walker and colostomy bag — I'll even rent one for a friend! A Seagal film is crammed with the obvious stunt doubles, the long black raincoat to hide a spare tire or two, the redubbed dialogue he probably phoned in, the inability to see both sides of his face in direct light, etc.

Sure, the ravages of time claim every action hero, but Seagal's inability to deal with them realistically make him all the more endearing, even sorta heroic. Take the mysterious left side of his face we never get to see that requires every scene has to be lit like it's Meet the Beatles! Things reached its zenith on either Into the Sun or Submerged (they do tend to blur together). When the story required old Steven not to be in a dimly lit bunker or a dark submarine but at a sunny outdoor funeral service — what's a cinematographer to do? If he wants to keep the gig, he overexposes the film and turns up the tint so everyone looks like a furry orange, that's what.

Pistol Whipped, however, is a new kind of Steven Seagal movie since it addresses his age, makes mention of his weight and has him playing a loser ex-cop instead of a loser ex-CIA agent for a change. To add dimension and depth (add your own fat joke here) to the role, he's also a compulsive gambler, an alcoholic and a divorced dad who disappoints his daughter because she keeps showing up at his house whenever some thug's got a gun to his head saying, "Get rid of her!" This heartbreak results in a lot of head ajar scenes that meet the usual facial obstruction requirements and elicit sympathy for Seagal, who earlier tells a priest, "You're right. I'm a bad man," with all the repentance of a smoker who's gonna light up after the surgeon general leaves. Combine tugging at heartstrings with action scenes that are obviously him and not sped-up (Dolemite style), a few snappy comebacks you'll have to scan backward to make out (it took three rewinds to decipher "If I want any lip from you, I'll rip it off your face" but I'll check that off as "method acting" — who has time for elocution at an ass-kicking?) and this could be considered a return to form. That is, if that form wasn't still a big aging redwood with a hipster ponytail that looks more like a dust bunny. —Serene Dominic

Party 7
Synapse Films

There's a dazzling and hyperkinetic opening-credit sequence in 2000's Party 7 that introduces its cast of oddball characters with eye-popping animation by Peter Chung, promising you a colorful and action-packed ride. (It also probably served as inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's opening credits in Kill Bill Vol. 1.)

Now, promising is one thing — completely dashing your hopes is another. That's what happens watching writer-director Katsuhito Ishi's self-consciously hip and ultimately pointless Party 7. You get all wide-eyed and geeked as hell at the colorful bunch of characters, including an Elvis-styled yakuza member, a voyeuristic pervert who calls himself Captain Banana, a sexy ex-girlfriend, and a mob hit man with a passion for plastic model kits.

An hour in, after the opening-credit giddiness fades, you sense that Ishi hasn't a clue what to do with the menagerie of characters he's assembled. It's all played as a farce — everyone ends up in the same hotel room angling for a stolen briefcase of mob money while a pair of peeping toms wax philosophical about their perversion in a room next door. Throw in some Tarantino-esque dialogue, lame slapstick and '70s pastiche set design and you've got a cinematic hodgepodge that never engages. Sure, Tarantino has inspired an entire generation of hacks with his visual flair, cyclical storylines and idiosyncratic dialogue. It's no surprise that directors who admire Tarantino imitate him, mostly with lackluster results — and Ishi's no exception. But why he chose to model his flick off Four Rooms — which was directed by four directors including Tarantino — is bizarre. Maybe next time he should set his sights a little higher than on the single flick Tarantino probably wishes he could leave off his résumé. —Paul Knoll

Diva
Lionsgate

The film that all but launched France's Cinéma du look movement — which Luc Besson and Leos Carax quickly leeched from — Diva remains a remarkable synthesis of striking, candy-colored images and a dense soundtrack that, appropriately enough for its title, is loaded with operatic grandeur. All the plastic pleasures of this cult classic provide the window dressing for a simple thriller about an amorous postman who bootlegs a performance by his favorite diva, only to find himself an unlikely player in a police-corruption cover-up when he's slipped a second tape. The postman, Jules (Jean-Jacques Moreau), is an almost archetypal Hitchcockian wrong man, but director Jean-Jacques Beineix is more interested in the surface of things than the deep-rooted psychology of them. Still, while the substance might be suspect, the style is staggering. The multitude of supplements with everyone from the principal cast to the set designer and composer drag on laboriously, spending too much time on the production trivia that interviewer Phil Powrie wanted to avoid. Only the two-part interview with Beineix is particularly revealing of the vision of Diva. —John Thomason

Black Reign Volume 13
Mercenary Pictures

It's not any woman who has the moxie — or back-end qualifications, for that matter — to tattoo "D ASS" on her behind, but Cherokee (not to be confused with adult's other Cherokee, she of the Betty Boop voice) is just such a woman with just such a tat, God bless her. And the almighty certainly has, bestowing upon this joyous slattern a chocolaty rear end that would crush Fred Astaire like a thin white man if it came to dancing cheek to cheek.

As the title suggests, director and star Lexington Steele delivers the dark goods big time, getting utterly filthy performances from all of his uniquely gifted females. Longtime adult starlet Jada Fire, proud owner of areolas the size of Big Gulp coasters, is another sulpherous boff queen with a booty that not only deserves its own zip code, but its own dressing room. Its own dressing, actually.

Mr. Steele and his crotch-based proof that not all men are created equal puts foxy Loona Luxx through her paces, and what she may lack in spelling, the dusky vixen more than makes up for in pure sleaze passion. Sister lovers will take great interest in Ms. Olivia Winters, who has no problem verbalizing exactly what she wants. Scriptwriters of HBO's The Wire should be taking dialogue notes off what Winters spews. The only question? How is Volume 14 going to top this? —Fern LaBott

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