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The Glimmer Man

(John Gray, USA, 1996)


 


For about its first ten minutes, The Glimmer Man can make even the most indulgent fan of formulaic action movies groan wearily.

The banter between two mismatched cops – white Jack (Steven Seagal) and black Jim (Keenen Ivory Wayans) – is straight out of Lethal Weapon (1987). The jagged camera moves in a chaotic police station are cribbed from television’s NYPD Blue. And the flashes of evidence from a gruesome serial killing case are a pale imitation of Seven (1995).

But then this film starts to get interesting. Jack is a mighty strange character: not only a Buddhist with a multi-cultural, New Age sensibility, but also a shady operator with a mysterious, lawless past. And the murders that he and Jim are investigating take an unforeseen swerve when it becomes apparent that there are two killers – one copying the work of the other as part of a labyrinthine conspiracy.

Seagal’s screen career is one that critics like to reflexly deride. But The Glimmer Man is a fine reminder of what works best in his movies: a cynical, almost subversive attitude toward all state authority (everybody except the heroes is absolutely corrupt); an oddball approach to action, incident and character; and a director (in this case John Gray) eager to impress.

There are elements from a dozen different genres thrown into this brew: film noir, comedy of manners, sadistic revenge movie, portrait of urban malaise. But it is not a mere hodge-podge; the movie flows well, its detail is captivating, and the action clinches are modestly but imaginatively staged.

I have never been a fan of Seagal’s wooden acting. When placed inside a tragic scene, he struggles to produce an appropriate or convincing facial expression. But The Glimmer Man, by casting him in an offbeat, semi-comic role, elicits a new, more satisfying performance style. And the combination of Seagal with Wayans – usually a comic actor here trying on a straighter part – has a fetching, roughhouse charm.

© Adrian Martin January 1997


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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