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Movie review: 'Exit Wounds' long on action, short on plot

EXIT WOUNDS —* — Steven Seagal, DMX, Isaiah Washington, Michael Jai White, Anthony Anderson, Jill Hennessy, Tom Arnold, Bill Duke; rated R (violence, profanity, gore, vulgarity, racial epithets); Carmike Theaters (Carmike 12, Ritz 15); Century Theatres 16; Cinemark Theaters (Jordan Landing); Loews Cineplex Cinemas (Midvalley and Trolley Corners); Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons; Redwood.

There are movies that aim for the stars. Then there are movies whose stars seem to be aiming at you. "Exit Wounds," the new Steven Seagal sock hop, falls into the latter category as if dropped from a great height. There are times when he's outacted by the snazzy costumes, but then nobody ever went to a Steven Seagal movie for the acting.

Joel Silver, the "Lethal Action" producer, knows how to put plenty of mayhem around his action stars. He and his director, Andrzej Bartkowiak, throw no end of fleeing cars and flying bullets at Seagal's Detroit cop in the film. Enough, at any rate, so that you can scarcely help checking yourself for exit wounds as you leave the theater.

Like Schwarzenegger and Stallone, Seagal is not immune to time, and he's starting to show his age, which means that he's a little less physical here and spends a little more time behind the trigger as a veteran cop who has a bad track record with authority figures. He finds himself busted down to traffic duty after saving the vice president from militia assassins by breaking all the rules to do it. Exiled to the Detroit equivalent of Fort Apache, (much of the shoot actually took place in Canadian locales), he can't help repeating his Dirty Harry routines, sounding like a pale Clint Eastwood imitation. His rogue cop righteousness only gets him in deeper trouble, until he stumbles onto a clique of corrupt cops who stole a huge cache of heroin from a police evidence vault.

Shrewdly, Silver keeps the action level high by buttressing Seagal with younger stars who more than hold up their end of the explosive action. Silver may even be testing the waters, hoping to replicate the "Lethal Weapon" series success he enjoyed with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, by assigning Seagal's cop a charismatic and convincingly physical partner in Isaiah Washington. He also inserts hip-hop authenticity by casting rapper DMX as a drug dealer with a younger brother behind bars and surprising degrees of depth and nobility, presumably on the theory that it wouldn't do to derail a burgeoning career by lumbering it with stuff that's too off-putting.

The film doesn't so much have a plot as a pretext for all the blood and firepower. It also has no high regard for women, including Jill Hennessy's precinct commander and other women channeled into meat-market roles in various clubs. Humor, such as it is, is provided by Tom Arnold's over-the-top morning TV talk show host, who introduces himself to Seagal's cop at an anger-management class they're both taking, and Anthony Anderson, trapped in yet another stepin fetchit clown role. But who goes to a Steven Seagal movie for enlightenment? This one is at least livelier than many of his outings. Its pile-driving succession of set pieces comes at you with numbingly relentless efficiency, presumably in the hope that you won't notice or care how dumb it all is.

"Exit Wounds" is rated R for violence (mostly martial arts and gunfire), occasional strong profanity, gore and use of crude slang terms and racial epithets. Running time: 117 minutes.