Just when you thought the action genre was out of ideas…in Out of Reach, Steven Seagal stars as a psychic who must rescue his 13 year old pen pal from a white slavery ring. No, really.
|Director: Po-Chih Leong
Starring: Steven Seagal, Ida Nowakowska, Agnieszka Wagner, Matt Schulze, Krzysztof Pieczynski
Screenplay: Trevor Miller
Country: USA, Poland
Stevie is an ex-CSA agent who has taken to running around the woods and helping animals in need. To fill in the time when not saving hawks, Stevie is pen pals with a 13 year old Polish orphan, whose English is fortunately exceptional – but then it appears everyone in Poland is very fluent so maybe she's not special there. The DVD case says he's a sponsoring a foster program, and perhaps he is, but the way I see it, they're mostly pals who communicate via pen. Whenever Stevie writes to his pal he gets so excited his voice changes completely. Or maybe it's meant to be her imagining his voice and getting it wrong? Even though she's never heard him speak, Stevie is clearly a huge influence on her life, and that's not a fat joke. I'm sure their correspondence is meant to be deep and meaningful, but it's just cheesy. She informs him via letter that she will have to leave the orphanage when she turns 14, which seems a bit harsh to me but maybe kids grow up quicker in Poland.
Between writing letters and saving hawks, Stevie also has his time taken up by his former employer, who are aggressively head hunting him to return to his old job. He's not having it, so he beats a bunch of them up and then flees. Meanwhile, it turns out his pen pal needn't have worried about turning 14 because the orphanage gives her to some human traffickers before she has a chance to be thrown out on the streets. His pen pal's final letter is intercepted and replaced with a letter saying she can no longer write to him. This was my first clue that the girl is psychic, because how did she know to write to him at the alternate address? Shortly after, Stevie also proves he is psychic, because he knows something is up, so he goes to Poland. We're not even 15 minutes into the movie yet!
Stevie arrives in Poland, and goes to the orphanage. The person working there gets so flustered by his visit she doesn't even wait for him to be out of earshot before dropping her ruse that she isn't up to anything dodgy. It wouldn't have mattered if she had stayed in character, though, because Stevie is psychic, so would've known anyway. I'm not just saying he's psychic because he knew his pen pal was in trouble, he displays other feats of enhanced awareness. When his pal runs out of paper, he appears to listen to a message she sends him telepathically. When he's left unsupervised at a police officer's computer station, he just knows the password to log on. And then there's the sushi cipher, a moment of absolute insanity. This comes much later in the film and is pretty hilarious, so be warned that if you don't want to spoil it you should skip the rest of this paragraph and all of the next. Begin spoiler: Stevie's been teaching his pen pal about coded messages, and she creates a coded message for him out of sushi – BUT there's no way the message could've been actually coded in the sushi tray. There're not enough bits of sushi to spell out the message, and there're too many bits of sushi for each portion to represent a full word. Therefore, it must be a psychic message, which Stevie is able to decipher once he sees it and feels its intended meaning vibrating through the universe.
Stevie isn't the only psychic, either! If the sending of the letter to the alternate address didn't convince you that his pen pal was psychic, she also somehow knows that he's on his way to rescue her. Plus she knows that he'll find that tray of sushi untouched, but there she had some aid there from her psychic captor…yes, he's psychic, too. See, somehow, he knows Stevie's a problem, and has some sort of vague internal monologue about why that means he has to keep the girl. I don't get it either. When the villain spots the sushi message, he also knows it's a message for Stevie, so very carefully keeps it aside by putting a serviette on it. Good thing that didn't blow away in the busy kitchen! Then the villain makes sure Stevie sees the sushi. Why would he do that? Talk about a bad, fairly elaborate, judgement call. The only thing that makes me question whether everyone is genuinely psychic is the title, because the characters should never be "out of reach" if they can communicate with their minds. Maybe they need to be within a certain distance of each other before it works, though, like one of them doesn't have long distance coverage?
If you hadn't already guessed, Out of Reach is a fuckin' shambles of a movie. Stevie is frequently dubbed for long stretches of dialogue, but then he uses a variety of names so maybe the altering voice is a trick he uses to throw people off? If so, it's a trick a few other members of the cast used as well, since a few of their voices change, too. Stevie's voice alterations aren't the only mystery about him: I know I harp on about Stevie's hair a bit, but seriously, what the fuck? It now looks like a bad Gene Simmons fright wig. He cuts his hair early in the movie, which is sad because it was so bizarre, but good because it was equally distracting. For some reason, no one questions whether this man who has flown half way around the world to find a 13 year old girl he's never met without any actual evidence she's in danger has malicious intentions of his own. In fact, maybe the reason he cut his hair was that he already knew, even before getting the last letter, that he would be going to Poland and if he went as he was people would mark him for a paedophile simply because of his hair.
There was so much to mock in Out of Reach that I ran out of note paper. If boredom is the opposite of being entertained, I was never bored with this one. Confused, yes, but bored, never. The only flaw would be for serious Stevie fans, as the action is infrequent. The fights can be okay, but lack inspiration, aside from the final fight, where Stevie cops a rare injury.
When I started looking in Stevie's direct to video work for the ultimate comedy, Out of Reach was the movie I was hoping for. This is the funniest movie I have seen in ages; I think I literally chuckled the whole way through. The only so-bad-it's-good movie that I might rate higher is Breeders, and they both have that perfect awfulness going for them. I may even like Out of Reach better than some of Stevie's good films, ranking it just below Out for Justice. He needs to make more movies with "out" at the beginning of the title, as clearly that's when the magic happens.