'Cartels': Film Review

Courtesy of Lionsgate
A far cry from the star's glory days.

Federal agents attempt to protect a Russian drug kingpin turned informer in Steven Seagal's new action movie.

The main question you’ll be asking yourself while watching Keoni Waxman’s Cartels will be, “Why is Steven Seagal still a thing?” Sure, the veteran action star had a galvanizing screen presence back in the day. And he made some surprisingly good movies, especially his debut, 1988’s Above the Law, and 1992’s Under Siege. But nostalgia only goes so far, and the aging actor, whose hair and goatee are amazingly still jet-black at the age of 65, has long been phoning it in. This vehicle is one of seven — count ‘em, seven — movies that Seagal made last year, and anyone still ponying up to see them has to be considered a sucker.

The label certainly applies in this case, since Seagal makes little more than a cameo appearance in this film directed by his longtime enabler … I mean, accomplice … I mean, collaborator, Waxman. The rotund actor, who’s entered his late Brando stage in every aspect except talent, spends most of his brief time in the film sitting in a chair conducting an interrogation. And, not to say that he’s out of shape, but he appears to get winded just talking.

For the record — and I mean that literally, since the film will lapse into obscurity immediately — the story concerns a team of federal agents set to protect a Russian drug kingpin (Florin Piersie Jr.) turned informer from a team of assassins led by his former cohort (Georges St-Pierre). That the mission didn’t go well is signified by its being depicted in flashbacks, with its leader (Luke Goss) recounting the details to his skeptical superior (Seagal). Suffice it to say that such moments as when Seagal delivers an angry, profanity-laden monologue will not be taught in acting courses.

By sheer dint of experience, Waxman — whose lengthy screen credits include Contract to Kill, Force of Execution and Maximum Conviction (are you sensing a trend?) — handles the action sequences with reasonable proficiency. Goss, who by any standard is the real star of the film, displays charismatic intensity and impressive physicality. And mixed martial arts star St-Pierre displays an undeniably scary screen presence, especially when he has a knife sticking out of his neck. But their efforts are not enough to prevent Cartels (originally titled Killing Salazar) from falling victim to the cinematic elephant in the room.

Production: Daro Film Distribution, 24TL Productions, Action House
Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Steven Seagal, Georges St-Pierre, Luke Goss, Martine Argent, Darren E. Scott, Massimo Dobrovic
Director: Keoni Waxman
Screenwriters: Keoni Waxman, Richard Beattie
Producers: Steven Seagal, Binh Dang
Executive producers: Benjamin F. Sacks, Keoni Waxman, Geza Decsy, Pierre Andre Rochat, Robert Lane Sisung, Phillip B. Goldfine
Director of photography: Nathan Wilson
Production designer: Alina Pentac
Editor: Trevor Mirosh
Composer: Michael Richard Plowman
Casting: Floriela Grapini

Rated R, 100 minutes