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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Out for a Kill (2003)

"They say kill one to warn a hundred. I might have to kill a hundred to warn one. They say when one sets out on revenge to first dig two graves. And I know you know that meaning. But I promise you one thing—the souls of our enemies will be ashes and dust and gone in the sky before the funerals of our loved ones. That's a promise."
- Travis Burns (Steven Seagal)

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: August 20, 2003

Stars: Steven Seagal, Corey Johnson, Michelle Goh
Other Stars: Kevin Dunn, Elaine Tan, Michael Junior Harvey, Chooi Kheng Beh
Director: Michael Oblowitz

MPAA Rating: R for (violence, language, nudity and some drug content)
Run Time: 01h:29m:56s
Release Date: August 19, 2003
UPC: 043396014763
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

How did Steven Seagal become a star? The man possesses miniscule acting talent, speaks in an almost inaudible monotone, and enjoys little chemistry with the camera. Sure, he's a crackerjack martial artist who could single-handedly whip an NFL front line, but is that sole distinguishing ability enough to vault someone into superstardom?

Apparently so. American moviegoers admire a guy who can bloody a dozen adversaries without breaking a sweat. Who cares if he's a negative-two on the personality scale as long as he leaves a trail of bruised and broken bodies in his wake? Of course, now that Seagal has joined Schwarzenegger and Stallone in the over-50 club, his grip on action stardom is slipping. And if he makes more movies like Out for a Kill, Seagal might have wished he joined his pal Arnold in the California governor's race. After all, flexing muscle in the statehouse might be easier than making waves at the box office.

Out for a Kill (the title says it all) is a typical, uninspired revenge tale that operates under the assumption that stringing together a bunch of fight scenes constitutes a movie. Never boring but never interesting, the film follows the vengeful trail of Professor Travis Burns (Seagal), an archaeologist specializing in Chinese artifacts, who's mistaken for a drug smuggler when some illegal substances turn up in an ancient statue. He beats the rap, but must contend with a ruthless band of Chinese mafia who believe Burns could foul up their plan to monopolize the worldwide drug market. They pursue Burns, but when his wife ends up murdered, Burns switches from hunted to hunter and, with his own sense of Asian calm and purpose, methodically seeks to eliminate those who wronged him.

Perhaps the movie's most audacious move is in trying to pass off Seagal as a professor of archaeology! Okay, okay, it's true his character used to steal Chinese artifacts instead of preserve them, leading to a seven-year prison stint during which time he completed his doctorate, but it's still a stretch nonetheless. In between cracking the bones of his enemies, Seagal speaks with a Brando-like wheeze and in such an emotionless drone one might think he's about to flatline. But at least his hangdog presence shows he doesn't relish the retribution he inflicts. The camera may savor the slayings, but Travis Burns is simply following Eastern teachings and dutifully avenging the dead. (Yeah, right.)

If you can get past all that, accepting the film's rip-offs and clichés should be a cinch. Give director Michael Oblowitz credit, though, for recognizing his material's weakness and tirelessly constructing flashy visuals to overshadow it. Unfortunately, he borrows most of his tricks from other, better films. The opening nightclub massacre salutes director Sam Peckinpaugh (The Wild Bunch), as a Western-like posse of Asian gangsters opens fire on a rival gang (and dozens of unsuspecting patrons) in a slow-motion glorification of violence and gore. Later, during a car chase, we're treated to a bullet's perspective when we follow its target trajectory (also in slow-motion), much like the Japanese warheads in Pearl Harbor. But the most blatant borrowing of all transpires in a Chinatown barbershop when Burns squares off against an airborne assailant a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Guess who wins.

A better actor might have salvaged Out for a Kill, but Seagal has trouble putting over even the most mundane expository dialogue. As a result, we feel little for his character and just bide our time between the choreographed, stylized fight scenes. Those violent orgies wind up dulling the senses, too—so much so that even the film's climactic decapitation provokes a ho-hum response.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Columbia's video treatment of Out for a Kill far outclasses the film itself. The anamorphic widescreen presentation possesses deep black levels, solid flesh tones, crisp detail and a natural sharpness level, although processed shots are glaringly obvious. For such a recent release, I wasn't expecting grit or nicks on the source print and, thankfully, none exist. The film strives for a gloomy, noir look, and the transfer errs slightly by keeping some scenes too murky, obscuring shadow detail. I watched this movie during the day in a darkened (but by no means pitch black) room, and was forced to occasionally turn the brightness levels up on my monitor. All in all, an above-average transfer—it's just a shame Out for a Kill doesn't live up to it.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Portuguese, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Here's where the film really shines. The DD 5.1 mix is one of the best I've heard, with each channel outputting distinct sounds but still blending well into the whole. The surrounds kick in constantly, providing plenty of ambient presence and powerful emphasis. Gunshots nicely buzz across the speakers, but the track also highlights skidding wheels, shattering glass, clanking swords, snapping bones and the swish of weapons and bodies flying through the air. Even Roy Hay's music score warmly envelops while it augments the action. At times, the audio overpowers the actors, especially the mumbling Seagal, but for the most part dialogue is clear and comprehendible. This is truly surround sound, with every component contributing equally and dovetailing in perfect sync. The 5.1 track doesn't quite rescue Out for a Kill, but it does its best.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Double Vision, The Foreigner
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A few trailers and that's it.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Okay, I'm not a Steven Seagal fan, but plugging any actor into Out for a Kill would undoubtedly yield the same disappointing results. Despite a valiant effort by director Michael Oblowski, the film can't overcome its bland acting, retread script and gratuitous nature. A slick-looking transfer and kick-ass audio distinguish the DVD, but it's too bad Columbia wasted such a fine technical effort on such an unworthy film.


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