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Absolution (2015) Review

Absolution was directed by Keoni Waxman (Alpha Code, Contract to Kill), written by Waxman and Richard Beattie (Shark Killer, Maximum Conviction), and stars Steven Seagal (Fire Down Below, Under Siege), Byron Mann (Deadly Target, Skyscraper), Adina Stetcu (Love Building, The Hard Way), Howard Dell (Bermuda Tentacles, Doomsday Rock), Sergiu Costache (Umbre, Carturan), and Vinnie Jones (Bullet Proof, Escape Plan). It’s about a contract killer who takes his shot at redemption when he runs into a young woman fleeing from a mob boss.

The Plot: Even during his box office reign from 1988 to 92, Steven Seagal starrers weren’t all that concerned with crafting a complex or even a compelling story. Over 25 years later, whatever creative energy was there has long since dissipated.

An agency(?) represented by Van Horn (Dell) has a conflict on its hands, and they need a man they can trust to resolve it before anything truly explosive happens. That’s where contract killer John (Seagal, at his least interested) comes in. It’s an easy assignment because Absolution has no interest in dreaming up an original situation; kill an Afghani arms dealer (Costache) who’s in Ukraine doing business with an American enemy. John accepts and brings his partner Chi (Mann, always a welcome presence) along for the ride, which goes smoothly until the pair’s extraction is delayed. Subplots are strictly off-limits here, with the writers refusing to make a convergence of conflict when their new, impromptu assignment comes to the hitmen.

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Conveniently, while waiting to get out of Ukraine, a stripper named Nadia (Stetcu) literally falls over John and pleads with him to save her from her boss, who happens to be creatively named “the Boss” (Jones). Absolution doesn’t do much detailing of the Boss’s operations, as that would take away opportunities for the protagonists to talk about nothing. Nothing fills the narrative void, which isn’t a requirement for these kinds of B-movies, but something other than the half-baked yet entirely predictable ending twist is always appreciated. Shame that the screenwriters didn’t feel the same.

The Characters: So much of Absolution is spent talking, but most of the dialogue is just word vomit that fails to paint the film’s participants in any meaningful way. Some of the performers try harder than the script, but there’s little to be done.

You already know who Seagal played here. Name notwithstanding, he’s the same vaguely tortured ex-CIA operator who’s the best at espionage, melee combat, stealth and subversion, saving innocent women, and gobbling up donut holes. John is a name fitting a generic role (if you’re reading this Seagal, that’s role as in character, not as in jelly roll). Chi – though another hitman with shady origins – is at least given some charisma thanks to Mann’s presence and some throwaway moments like his taunting of assailants and his admitted enjoyment of “happy endings” at massage parlours. It’s still a nothing role, but there was something of an attempt.

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Nadia is a typical action movie damsel who got herself mixed up with the wrong people. No time is devoted to how she got to the point at which the movie introduces her at, but she has a sympathetic motivation; being on the run after getting brutalized by an untouchable man can’t be a good time. At least, I assume the Boss is untouchable, but again, Absolution just throws a few generic bad guy pastimes into a blender and calls it quits. Apart from his beating of the opposite gender, the Boss records the action for later use, usually paired with a hit of narcotics. Waxman isn’t a strong enough director to rein in an actor like Jones, who can go off the rails if permitted to do so, but in a movie this strapped for personality, his natural intensity is agreeable.

The Action: With the right cast and crew, a minimal amount of funding for action can be mitigated. Luckily for Waxman, there are some talented people behind the camera to make magic. Unluckily for said people, they got stuck with Waxman, whose kinetic sequences peak at averageness.

Setting the precedent quickly, John and Chi infiltrate the arms dealer’s meeting in a mansion to take out their target. It’s an efficient sequence, showing Chi handling a few goons with some comical one-liners and the use of a TV as a punctuation mark while John goes through the other side of the mansion with a more subtle approach, but perhaps it’s too efficient. This is supposed to be a place owned by a warlord, which should mean dozens of guards, but instead, the setpiece is over in a couple of minutes with a meager amount of bodies dropped.

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Little of Absolution’s middle section contains action scenes worth writing home about. Obviously, aging will diminish anyone’s ability to deal out and take punishment like they used to, especially an action star’s. However, Seagal’s is a curious case, as he’s only ever used about five unique moves – most of which are arm-related – making John’s choppy melee scenes less excusable. Chi’s are intelligible, but Bruce Crawford’s (2012, Detective Knight: Redemption) choreography is still messed with by the needless shaky cam. Gunfights and stunt work are generally bland, as John lumbers around with a silenced pistol to avoid attention, and therefore physical contact.

A return to form is almost achieved with the film’s final setpiece, where the pair of killers work their way through the Boss’s club (it’s always a club, isn’t it?) using their respective approaches. Some decent stunt falls, a gauntlet for Chi to run through, and the reprisal of a long-dormant bone-breaking precursor to the gory comeuppance courtesy of John make the finale an enjoyable one. It doesn’t make up for the mostly drab action that preceded it, but it’s better than one would expect for a Seagal movie post-1991.

The Technics: Nine features and an entire TV series should give an idea of the friendship (or tolerance) the director and the star of Absolution have. Some filmmakers have muses whose symbiotic relationships make their movies better (Spielberg/Hanks, Bergman/von Sydow, Shyamalan/Willis, just to name a few), but that doesn’t apply to Waxman and Seagal.

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Without anything beyond a grasp of the filmmaking basics, Waxman’s direction is largely on a barely functional plane. The camera is focused, the lighting is good, and most of the audio faculties are acceptable, but the helmer has no style, flair, or sign of life behind the camera. Nothing aside from the occasional deficiency in camerawork during Chi’s action scenes (except for Seagal, whose doubling necessitates this process) is worth noting. If “D-” was a director, it’d be Keoni Waxman.

Pacing surprisingly isn’t an issue here, even with the mumbling star and nonexistent plot, there’s a high enough quantity of action scenes to act as a boredom buffer. Together with some interesting Eastern European locations, there’s usually something to look at, whether that be the locations themselves or the stuntmen breaking the foundations of them. Sound design is almost exclusively made up of stock sound effects, but there’s at least more practical blood than normal.

Absolution is absolutely not a good movie, but it isn’t abysmal like a lot of the star’s other outings. This actioner sits comfortably in the depths of the streaming catalogue, holding some basic technical competence and a fair amount of mindless action to attract the occasional viewer.

Absolution is available on Blu-ray and DVD, as well as Digital from Lionsgate. And if you’re looking for something similar, but hopefully better, FilmTagger can offer some suggestions.

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