The villain of Born to Raise Hell has a ponytail. It’s on like 1993 now. How else can you appear threatening when facing down Steve Seagal? History shows the ponytail works as awful a direct-to-video action movie cliché as you’ll find, so why not bring it back as Seagal’s career continues on this non-theatrical path?
Of course, it would be too simple for Born to Raise Hell to include only a single cliché. What fun would it be for the pointless new guy unless his wife was going to have a baby soon? After all, since this totally needless, meaningless subplot goes nowhere other than a stunted, forced conversation, how would we know he’s destined to get shot on a drug raid?
Romania must be the new king of tax breaks, that and Detroit, since that’s about the only place these cheap clunkers are shot in. Look at every SyFy Channel original… Romania. Hence, it’s not much a shocker to see this plot revolve around a bunch of Romanian drug dealers, Seagal the lead cop in charge of cleaning up the streets. There’s some attempt to involve a bit of racism, the various cartel members showing disdain for his American origins, another one of those minor plot points that means nothing and goes nowhere.
This one comes from the lens of longtime stuntman Lauro Chartrand, capable in regards to stunts, not so much behind the camera. Every goofy lens trick, meandering forced focus, slow motion montages, split screen fades, and frame skip techniques are put into place in a desperate bid for style, the film carrying none without them. Of course, there’s nothing really contained in all of that either, just a sure sign this lackadaisical, care-free production is in it to plaster Seagal’s face on the box art. That they have done, and done well, copying everything Wesley Snipes has tried over the past decade or so to regain relevancy.
But, let’s be realistic for a second. You’re going into Born to Raise Hell purely for a bit of martial arts action and a few shoot-outs. You’ll get those too, a painfully pointless brawl in a restaurant that is never mentioned again the highlight as Seagal’s aging body stiffly produces a few Aikido chops to the face, and a throw into a conveniently placed glass structure. It’s like being back in 1993 without any of the charm.
Credit to Born to Raise Hell for actually putting the Red One to good use, one of the first to really showcase what the camera can do alongside Gamer. While the movie does appear immeasurably cheap with its glossy, soap opera movement, in terms of pure detail, sharpness, and clarity, this one isn’t too bad. The black levels remain the most surprising, keeping a constant level of depth, dimensionality, and shadow detail in view. Rarely do they flounder, a significant portion of the film taking place in a seedy strip club where they have plenty of opportunities to fail. They don’t, giving the production a stable, steady look.
Seagal’s face provides a constant source of coarse lines, pores, and wrinkles, the camera typically in close-up to hide the sets (or lack thereof). Even medium shots tend to hold fine texture, the stitching of the vests worn by the cops visible cleanly. Aerials of Romania are generally superlative, buildings in focus outstandingly represented here. Oddly, there are a series of shots, beginning with the opening credits, that repeat the same footage. Focus is off which ruins the consistency the source material had going for it.
That’s not to say all of Born to Raise Hell is free of general digital imperfections. A shot of Dimitri (Dan Badarau) and his on-screen family at 30:26 notably smooth and processed. Noise can be a bother against many backdrops, and some ringing can be spotted against high contrast edges. While we’re at it, banding litters some of the nighttime skies, especially above the police station at 1:07:08. A bit of moire even pops up along a fence at 31:49, not something you see everyday in HD presentations.
Colors take on a life of their own under most conditions, many scenes given added warmth or intentionally cooled down. For the most part and speaking in general terms, flesh tones take on natural qualities, color saturation limited and drab. Primaries have little room to breathe, and rarely become adventurous. Nothing here is offensive to eye, just appropriate for the material.
Shooting conditions can mean a funny thing when it comes to audio, although modern technology has all sorts of tricks to make it work like ADR. Better yet, you could even re-shoot the scene to make it right. This is however a direct-to-video release, and things like that don’t matter. Spoken dialogue routinely muffles and loses fidelity. An entire conversation inside a car at 40:15 sounds like it was recorded on tape. Back and forth exchanges can feature one character sounding clear and natural, the next drowned out.
Action scenes are no better in reality, someone forgetting to mix in the low-end. Seagal goes on a hefty shotgun spree late as he assaults a door (yes, a door), none of those shots providing anything with weight in the subwoofer. Even an overdone grenade explosion fails to generate any thrust, and the visuals would indicate something should be rocking the room. Gunfire passes behind the viewer with little sense of directionality. Pings and debris from shattering walls placed in the surrounds with no orientation. Stereos handle cars passing through and not much else. The fronts have no real presence outside of the center.
No extras to see here, move along.