Examining the modern cinema of Wesley Snipes

The recent straight-to-video output of Wesley Snipes comes under Matt's spotlight, as he delves into four obscure action thrillers...

It was thought to be around 400 years ago that nature asked the question. We only learned the answer in 1962 – it was Wesley Snipes. Ever since, scientists have been working around the clock, trying to identify just what the question was. Not so we can ask it again, nor avoid asking it – just so we can be aware that if we do ask it, Wesley Snipes is the consequence.

Not for the first time, Den of Geek has to step in for science, as it’s going horribly wrong. To spend your time working out what caused Wesley Snipes is fine, but not at the expense of keeping an eye on what he’s been up to. Simply locking him up in a prison cell and hoping for the best won’t do. That’s why we picked up a collection of some of his most recent straight-to-video films. 

You’re welcome, science.

Unstoppable

Level of Snipes: Difficult to stop Snipes

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Best Line of Dialogue: “Look, I like Dean. He’s a war hero. He’s certainly got the medals to prove it. But did you see that guy’s face?”

Wesley Snipes IS Dean Cage, a former CIA agent haunted by an operation gone wrong. Now trying to piece his life back together, he gets targeted by a gang of villainous dickheads who are worried he knows something about the huge drug deal they’re working on. They inject him with their experimental drug, which is supposed to make people easy to influence (a side effect is that it renders users dead after nine-10 hours), only to find it sends him into a full flashback of his botched mission. The FBI, the local cops (one of whom is his lady friend) and the mobsters are all after him. Can he regain his grip on reality and stop this dangerous drug from getting out in into the world?

The intellectual powerhouses amongst you will have noted that, despite having the same title as the 2010 Tony Scott film that starred Denzel Washington attempting to stop a surprisingly stoppable train, this film came before, and has nothing to do with its blockbuster namesake. Why is it called Unstoppable? Well, I can only comment on my experience, but I found that while I was watching this film my DVD player refused to respond to the stop button. The film is literally unstoppable. Fortunately, it wasn’t unpausable, so coffee breaks weren’t a problem.

The bad guys in Unstoppable stop a distance short of intimidating. They’re daft and calamitous, which in Direct-To-Video terms is a gift. Their attempt at surveillance early in film is closer to ‘pantomime horse in a field’ than rogue government agents demonstrating their elite level training. Perhaps my favourite moment of the entire film sees these bungling toughs involved in an impassioned argument with ceiling tiles, as Wesley Snipes lies above them imagining that his legs are on fire. 

In Unstoppable, Snipes starts out a little bogged down by the role, as he’s haunted by memories of war. It’s probably just part of the unfreezing process. No, wait, that’s Demolition Man. Fortunately, as his character starts to work out what’s going on, we also see Snipes get a grip on the kind of film he’s making. There’s something playful about his performance – a bit like he’s the only one who knows how this film is going to turn out. There’s a lot of cheesy dialogue for him to deliver, and it’s almost as fun watching him make it work as it is watching him win a kick fight with a closed door.

Unstoppable is most memorable for some of its grander set pieces, which suggest a high-than-average budget for a DTV film. A truck crash looks terrific, right up until the SFX team invite CG fire to the party (CG fire ruins more DTV films than rappers-turned-actors), and the final shootout features a helicopter with a giant gun straight out of Predator, whirring shots at Wesley Snipes. Snipes cannot be killed by bullets, though, so the helicopter is soon exploded and Snipes’ life is saved by the power of love… and the antidote to the drug. But mostly love.

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Unstoppable, then, is a fun, slightly grander than expected DTV action film. It’s cheesy, clichéd, and connoisseurs of the genre will certainly find things to enjoy. 

7 Seconds

Level of Snipes: Gentleman Wesley.

Best Line of Dialogue: You don’t reward a film like 7 Seconds by complimenting its dialogue.

Wesley Snipes IS Jack Tuliver, a former military man turned expert thief. Tuliver puts together a team to pull off a heist in Romania, planning to hit armoured security vehicles transporting money from casinos. When things fall apart, they seize the opportunity to take an important looking briefcase. It turns out that they’ve been set up. They’re ambushed by a gang of motherfuckers who kill most of Jack’s team and kidnap his girlfriend. He makes off with the briefcase and a British army sergeant, because why not? With the painting as his bargaining chip, Jack must rescue his girlfriend and evade the authorities.

The first 25 minutes or so of 7 Seconds filled me with hope. The film starts with a scene featuring a woman becoming bored while having sex with Wesley Snipes, suggesting that this was an outlandish, otherworldly fantasy film. It turns out to just be a plothole, though, as the film then launches into a massive action sequence that is ridiculous and entertaining.

It culminates with Wesley Snipes kidnapping Tamzin Outhwaite off of Eastenders. That’s the kind of crazy shit that’s going on here. It made me wish this was the start of a series of European EastEnders action cinema crossovers. I’m still hoping for an Ian Beale versus Bruce Willis shoot ‘em up in Paris and a Scandinavian buddy cop movie starring Dolph Lundgren and Pat Butcher.

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The film ended for me after this sequence, though. The director welcomes us to the new 7 Seconds with a clumsy spinny camera trick that looked awful. Seriously, straight-to-video action directors, knock this shit off. Simplicity is your friend. 

The things I watch a Wesley Snipes action film for include punching, kicking, shooting and quipping. These are things that are largely absent from the new 7 Seconds. Lengthy conversations with art dealers, you’ll note, didn’t make my ‘want from Wesley’ list, and, as 7 Seconds proves, that’s because they’re incredibly non-violent and dull. 

Once the action stops, we’re faced with actually taking in some of the things they’ve got going on in 7 Seconds, and urgh. The film has no pace, the story feels directionless and the characters aren’t interesting. The film’s main villain is an unhinged, wild maniac, something that feels like it should be exciting, but isn’t. We know the character is crazy because he has wide eyes and won’t stop shouting. It’s not really anything he does, it’s more his general manner. Top work, guys.

When the final action does kick off, it’s too late as the film has already worn down all of your good will. Snipes employs a minimalist fighting style here, because fuck you, and the shootouts are noisy but are essentially people standing in front of each other, with the good guys hitting their targets and the bad guys simply unable to aim.

7 Seconds should be avoided. Boo!

The Marksman

Level of Snipes: Wesley Snipes? More like Wesley Sniper! Seriously though, he’s actually an explosives expert.

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Best Line of Dialogue: “I have to persuade the President that this plan could work.”

Wesley Snipes IS Painter, a gifted but troubled military specialist. They need him to sort out some arsehole Chechen rebels who are planning to do something explodey with a Russian nuclear power plant. It’d be bad enough if they were just planning a nuclear atrocity, but it turns out that there are Americans working in that plant. Painter and a team of cliché tough guys head in to sort the problem out, only to find that all isn’t as it seems. 

Wesley Snipes IS bored. Just look at him. He’s texting in the middle of a scene. He’s probably letting his agent know that he thinks he’s a dick for setting him up in this tedious-as-teacups movie. The Marksman is about as dull a straight-to-video action film as you could ever expect to run into. It plods along with no pace, no ideas and no tricks.

Snipes plays a quiet introvert, which feels like kamikaze casting. His character is haunted by a previous failed mission, where he blew up the wrong target causing an entire minute of stock footage explosions. He spends the first hour moping around, sadly getting on with the mission and shooting who he has to, then just starts running around at the end.

His team is duller than dust and the occasional banter scenes between them are witless and excruciating to watch. The guys responsible for sending them on their mission spend much of the film gawking at monitors and talking on the phone, two of the least visually engaging acts ever recorded by anything other than a webcam. We also get a big boardroom scene where the plan is cobbled together, and it takes ten people in suits to come up with ‘shall we just send in Wesley Snipes?’  

I had trouble remembering anything about the villains when they were still onscreen, and even though I wrote my notes in black ink they somehow managed to appear light grey and almost impossible to read. The really notable thing about the bad guys in The Marksman is that they’re in a constant state of dropping cigarettes. It’s littering and a potential fire hazard, but they’re evil so they just don’t seem to give a shit. There’s genuinely a sequence in this film that goes: villain throws cigarette, Wesley Snipes falls off a ladder, two villains throw cigarettes. It’s nerve shredding stuff.

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The Marksman is a very poor film. Every sequence feels endless and so much of the runtime feels like padding. It takes an age to get going, briefly sets itself up as Die Hard in Russia (what a terrible idea that would be), then launches into a predictable action ending that suffers badly from a lack of urgency and invention. Honestly, by the end I had trouble following what was happening because I’d become so bored I’d started really thinking about lunch.

The Contractor

Level of Snipes: An introspective Wesley.

Best Line of Dialogue: “Don’t bother. I don’t really have a cat.”

Wesley Snipes IS James Dial, a former CIA agent asked to carry out a hit on a terrorist who is due to stand trial in London. Dial’s living the quiet life now, wearing a cowboy hat and a neckerchief while spending his days riding a horse. Still, he’s got history with this terrorist, and the operation could save innocent lives, so he heads over to London and prepares to shoot the bastard’s face off. The only problem for Snipes is that the hit doesn’t go entirely to plan, and he soon becomes a target for both UK police and Collins, the corrupt CIA shitbag who hired him in the first place. A local teenager takes pity on him and helps him out while he deals with injuries and works out how he’s going to get home.

Far from the wild man Snipes we all know and love, The Contractor provides us with something of an introspective Wesley. This is more a thriller than the action shootout I was hoping for, but it’s actually a decent enough little film. Snipes portrays a sort of troubled problem solver, and although he does occasionally get acted off the screen by a 15-year-old girl from Reading, he does all right for himself.

There are, of course, glorious moments of violence that earn the film a spot on Snipes’ CV. A brief punch-up sees a villainous henchman lose consciousness with his head in between Snipes’ meaty thighs. When Snipes is escaping the high profile hit that triggers the films events, there’s a wonderful car crash (after a chase sequence that appears to have been filmed by someone who hates fun) that sees his black cab collide with the entrance of a tube station. Snipes walks away, cool as you like, as the car explodes behind him. He then presumably tops up his Oyster card and hops onto a train, where the police won’t be able to get near him as it will be stationary between platforms for the foreseeable future. 

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Collins is a villain so arrogant, sneery, corrupt and murderous that he could almost pass for a reality TV judge. He swaggers around London in constant state of shooting. When he starts firing a shotgun in the kitchen of a London hotel, I found myself nodding in agreement. ‘He’s probably just seen the price of a burger and chips’ I thought, before spotting Snipes as the intended target of his blast.

There’s fun to be had seeing Snipes sneak through security at a London airport. It takes him two trips through the metal detector to be asked to remove his belt and shoes, which is at odds with my own experiences passing airport security, where I’ve found it more likely that he’d have been internally inspected for not removing them first time. I bet they didn’t fart into his suitcase before loading it onto the plane, too. Bloody fantasy airport. The police are after him at this point, but apparently this is a period piece, set in a time that looks identical to our own but before the police had access to radios or mobile phones.

The Contractor is a slightly wobbly, cheap thriller, with a cast (including Lena ‘Ma-Ma off Dredd’ Headey!) who are almost all better than the ‘all right I suppose’ material they have to work with, that’s a little light on action and loses its pace in the middle. Ultimately, though, it’s better than you might expect. It’s also really nice to see a film like this set in London (even if it’s quite obviously Bulgaria dressed as London at times). 

However, The Contractor is a film that will no doubt be remembered for the delightful set of costumes worn by Snipes, who dresses up as a cowboy, priest and pilot. 

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