Genre: Action and Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.
Release Date: July 10th, 1998 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Dean Semler Actors: Steven Seagal, Gailard Sartain, L.Q. Jones, Silas Weir Mitchell, Camilla Belle, Dan Beene, Damon Collazo, Whitney Yellow Robe
r. Wesley McClaren (Steven Seagal) and his pal, poor old working cowhand Frank (L.Q. Jones), rope a steer in dramatic fashion, all while a rousing Western score thunders in the background. Wesley then proceeds to locate a sick pony, hoping to nurse it back to health. Quite expectedly, Seagal is overly heroic and compassionate; there’s no gray area when it comes to his character’s morality. He even has a precocious young daughter, Holly (Camilla Belle), to make him just that much more relatable and sympathetic.
Meanwhile, a siege in Montana is ongoing, with the FBI creating a standoff against a local militia group headed by neo-Nazi Floyd Chisolm (Gailard Sartain). To throw a monkey wrench into the authorities’ plans, Chisolm intends to surrender, but not before infecting himself with a lethal biological weapon called NAM-37. And his other followers are still hunkered down in a compound, waiting for the situation to escalate. “There ain’t no law against playing army.”
The film is based on a book called “The Last Canadian,” but Seagal opts to change the title to something far more macho. And if it weren’t enough that he’s a single father, a hard worker, and an animal lover, he’s also a holistic therapist and highly skilled immunologist (running the Montana Wellness Center), willing to trade his expertise and vitamins for labor (or a blackberry pie) rather than money. And though he doesn’t want to get involved in the government’s Biological Response Team for contagion containment, he’s apparently the only one with the right qualifications, forcing him to eventually lend his services. Of course, his other skillset involves martial arts and firearms proficiency – the last thing anyone would expect from this quiet, peaceful doctor.
At the local hospital, no one knows how to deal with a sudden outbreak of the fatal biohazard; but McClaren just so happens to know exactly what to do. Countless civilians become infected, a quarantine is set up, and the military arrives in helicopters, its armed soldiers wearing gas masks and hazmat suits. Interestingly, the initial premise is handled with the utmost seriousness, a somewhat complementary piece alongside “Outbreak” and “Contagion” – both with bigger budgets but dealing with similar themes. Here, however, there’s the standard disbelief concerning Seagal’s latest theatrical profession, along with an action-based angle when he has to physically contend with gun-toting villains.
“How do you fight an invisible enemy?” Viral warfare is the wave of the future; it doesn’t compromise infrastructure or damage equipment. It only wipes out humans. And so, transitioning from a cautionary tale about uncontainable, airborne pandemics, “The Patriot” becomes (about halfway through) a full-on actioner, fueled by hostage scenarios, assaults on federal agents, harrowing rescues, and Seagal punching adversaries dozens of times more than necessary. Additionally, the picture boasts the nonsense of a neo-Nazi henchman (Silas Weir Mitchell as Pogue) knowing his way around a medical database and code-based system and the details of crafting a vaccine, as well as Wesley handily managing to forge a Department of Defense ID badge using his home printer.
“I guess I could use a pair of extra hands.” It’s not long before any gravity and sincerity this film had is scrapped, not only from the over-the-top militiamen, but also from the introduction of Dr. Ann White Cloud (Whitney Yellow Robe), a conspicuously attractive woman who accompanies McClaren into the mountains to infiltrate a top-secret laboratory – where they set about analyzing electropherogram data and playing with beakers and vials. It’s almost comical that Seagal is both a one-man army and a preeminent scientist. By the absolutely silly ending, it’s evident that not enough of the film is devoted to believable biohazard thrills, nor is enough focused on martial arts combat; this particular hybrid story doesn’t work well with Seagal’s standard brand of action, even if it contains realistic notes on both right-wing terrorists and biochemical disasters.
– Mike Massie