The Glimmer Man (1996)
The Glimmer Man has a lot of the weirdness and indulgence of On Deadly Ground, but this time it’s all confined to a single character. Everything about the movie is stock, cliché and routine, but with a flaming (glimmering, if you will) pit of distracting eccentricity burning at the center. For meat-and-potatoes action fans, a robe-wearing, herbal-medicine-shilling protagonist who shares both Buddha’s religious beliefs and physique must have been a heinous affront to their sensibilities. For most people, Steven Seagal was now officially over, but for his true fans, The Glimmer Man simply marks the beginning of a new chapter: goodbye bad-ass Seagal, hello crazy Seagal.
The Glimmer Man marks Seagal’s last big shot at box-office glory, and one of his last movies to make an attempt (half-assed as it was) to cash in on current trends. By now, “Die Hard on a _____” movies were old news, but “gritty serial killer” movies (i.e. Seven, Silence of the Lambs) and “black cop/white cop mismatched duo” movies (i.e. The Last Boy Scout, Lethal Weapon) were hot properties. This movie awkwardly crams both into one by having a serial killer who commits grisly crimes and pairing up Steven Seagal with a wise-cracking black cop. I guess it could almost be considered ambitious to rip-off two separate action sub-genres.
As for Seagal’s black cop friend, let me ask you this: If you were going to star in an action-comedy, and you could choose one Wayans brother as your co-star, who would you choose? Me, I’d choose Damon, the break-out star of In Living Color and portrayer of the coolest human being ever filmed in The Last Boy Scout. Don’t believe me? Consider this: his character rides a horse across a football field, saves a Senator’s life by blocking a bullet with a football, and has a girlfriend who is both a stripper and Halle Berry. The term ‘swag’ was actually coined as a way of describing his character in that movie, as the English language, at that point, lacked the appropriate vernacular. If The Glimmer Man had just taken footage of Damon from The Last Boy Scout and digitally inserted Seagal’s floating head at random intervals, it would have been a better movie than The Glimmer Man.
My second choice would be Marlon, who was pretty funny in Don’t Be A Menace, and proved himself dramatically capable in Requiem For a Dream. If I was going to be ‘the funny one’ of the action duo, I’d go with Shawn to be my cool counterpart. He’s definitely the coolest Wayans — the stoic, handsome foil to his goofier brothers.
At the bottom of the list would Keenen Ivory Wayans, who co-stars with Steven Seagal in The Glimmer Man. As the director/writer of most of their movies and TV shows, he’s clearly the brains behind WayansCorp., but as an actor he’s a little charismatically challenged. In other words: if you were going to make a British comedy, and you had to pick one member of Monty Python to star, you wouldn’t pick Terry Gilliam.
Given how shamelessly this movie imitates The Last Boy Scout, which starred Damon, it’s tempting to imply that they just hired Keenen because they hoped people would confuse them. They do, after all, have the same last name, and they also look incredibly similar.
I feel like there’s a lot of potential for a buddy-cop Seagal movie. He is, after all, pretty hilarious, which should give a funny sidekick some easy material. By mercilessly mocking Seagal, an actor could serve as an effective audience surrogate. But Keenen Ivory “Coast” Wayans barely even makes fun of Seagal’s crazy Asian robes and “prayer beads” — perhaps the producers didn’t want to draw too much attention to how weird Seagal actually is. Or maybe Seagal’s contract requires everyone else working on the movie to try as hard as they possibly can to make him look as good as possible.
In terms of white cop/black cop combos, Seagal/Wayans falls short of Gibson/Glover, Willis/Wayans, Pitt/Freeman, Nolte/Murphy, Crockett/Tubbs and even Crystal/Hines. They’re more on par with Burt Reynolds and that black kid in Cop and a Half. I don’t think it’s Keenen Ivory “Tower” Wayans’ fault that the two have absolutely no chemistry — how could anyone develop a natural human relationship with someone as weird as Seagal in this movie? How could anyone develop a comic rapport with someone who has so far demonstrated a total non-understanding of humor (excepting jokes in which the punchline is someone’s arm being broken)?
As for the serial killer aspect, it sucks too, but that’s not Seagal’s fault (unless he extensively re-wrote the screenplay to remove any traces of depth, which, now that I think about it, he probably did). The killer — who’s called “The Family Man” — crucifies people in their own homes and gives them a crown of thorns (using barb wire). When he kills people, he says “forgive me father, for I have sinned.” The sequences of him committing his crimes are filmed in grainy black & white. And that’s entirety of The Glimmer Man’s attempt at portraying/understanding the mind of its killer. Think about all the twisted psychology and grimy visual flair that went into Seven, and this movie’s laziness will depress you. “It’s crazy and Christian” it seems to say, “so it must be deep.”
But before any of that happens, the movie establishes something else: that it is paced with break-neck efficiency. In the first 8 minutes of the movie (which include the credits), the following things happen:
- We see a montage of The Family Man’s murders
- Steven Seagal and Keenen “Ebony and” Ivory Wayans meet each other and disclose relevant back-stories (married, unmarried, etc)
- Seagal and Wayans inspect the crime scene of The Family Man’s latest crime
- Steven Seagal talks an unrelated character out of a suicide attempt by throwing him through a window
- Steven Seagal discusses his prayer beads
- The film’s villain is clumsily introduced
It took me longer to type that than it took to happen. So relentless is this movie’s pacing that the serial killer story — which is seemingly what the movie is about — is wholly resolved after only 44 minutes (Steven Seagal shoots him in a church). Then, perhaps realizing that movies should generally be at least 80 minutes, Steven Seagal and Keenen “Merchant” Ivory Wayans spend the rest of the movie fighting the Russian mafia, who have been importing chemical weapons. The Russians are backed by a corrupt US Senator played by Brian Cox. With his southern accent, facial hair and string tie, it’s clear that Cox modeled his character after Col. Sanders — an interesting, subversive choice.
The other villain is local businessman Frank Deverell. I don’t have much to add about him, other than he lives in what appears to be an Aztec temple.
At one point, Keenan Ivory “-billed Woodpecker” Wayans suspects that Seagal himself is the man behind the killings. This is pretty hilarious, and proof that Wayans has never seen a Steven Seagal movie before. Seagal might die unexpectedly 41 minutes into a movie, but he would NEVER be the bad guy. It leads to a pretty awesome scene, however, when Seagal is forced to take a lie-detector test. They ask “have you ever climbed Mt. Everest” as a baseline question, but Seagal screws the whole thing up by actually having climbed Mt. Everest (presumably a few decades earlier, when he was carrying less weight and not breathing so heavily). The whole lie detector scene, now that I think about it, was probably crammed in because it was the best way they could think of point out that Seagal has climbed Mt. Everest. It also gives the test’s sexy administrator an opportunity to gush about how “in control of his emotions” he is.
The movie generally doesn’t make any sense. As I was watching it I started jotting down plot-holes, but I soon became overwhelmed. I found, by the end, I didn’t really understand the story at all, which made it hard to pin-point precise moments that seemed wrong. The movie went from being like a sieve to just being a single giant hole.
Seagal’s character is Jack Cole, and he is easily his most ridiculous creation yet. The official plot summary describes him as “mystical, new age New York cop with a checkered past.” That describes most of Seagal’s early characters, but this time it’s exaggerated to a hilarious degree. The very first time we see him he’s wearing what looks like a dreamcatcher, although he later describes it as a set of “Tibetan prayer beads” which “calm my spirit.”
Moments later, he and Keenen Ivory “Soap” Wayans go to investigate a crime-scene and Seagal throws on a jacket — a sequined, shiny robe adorned with a repeating dragon pattern, to be specific. Note that he wears this while on duty. This officially beats Out For Justice’s sleeveless vest and beret as most blatant disregard of the phrase “plain clothes.”
Seagal’s co-opting of other cultures returns to Asia, after a brief stop in the Inuit for On Deadly Ground and Marked For Death’s Jamaican detour. Like Hard to Kill, Seagal is seen meditating with incense and a statue of Buddha. Although this time, for obvious reasons, he keeps his shirt on. He also visits a Chinese herb store and speaks in fluent Chinese to the elderly store-owners. It should be noted that Seagal has far more chemistry with the old Chinese woman than he has with Keenen Ivory “League University” Wayans.
In the store, it should be noted, Seagal gifts Wayans with a remedy he claims will cure his allergies. Keenen “Black Market” Ivory “Trade” Wayans asks what’s contained within, and is told (get ready to laugh) that it’s deer penis! (He spits it out.) The movie references this deer penis moment several more times. There’s also a running joke about how Keenen “Allen” Ivoryson Wayans likes to watch Casablanca and always cries at the end. Guess what: there are three separate moments when he somehow winds up in a situation where he’s watching Casablanca. It’s like the movie hired some freelance writers and paid them by the joke... then, realizing they couldn’t afford more than two (“deer penis!” and “cries at Casablanca!”) they desperately jumped through hoops and bent over backwards to stretch them out to maximum screen-time.
Back in the Above the Law days, Seagal’s cultural references (if that’s the right word) added an appealing level of eccentricity to his character, amidst the oceans of generic action heroes. It was always a bit silly, I guess, but anyone as imposing, threatening and charismatic as he was back in the early ‘90s could get away with a lot. Now, he’s a bloated, over-tanned middle-aged man with a bad hair-piece. His new-age mysticism is now just one of a dozen ridiculous things about him, and if he wants to be taken seriously, he desperately needs to scale it back.
Steven Seagal’s hypocrisy is also dialed up to new heights. He talks about his Buddhism constantly and in an early scene says that it’s against his religion to fight. Yet, he spends the entire movie persistently, aggressively violating his own religious beliefs. He beats people up at every opportunity, sometimes starting fights for no particular reason. Maybe in his next movie he could play a devout/leather-wearing Hindu who eats hamburgers for every meal, or maybe he could play a Catholic priest and action sequences could be constantly intercut with him performing abortions at a free clinic.
Action-wise, The Glimmer Man is nothing special. There are plenty of martial arts sequences, which is good, as we’ve been deprived of them lately, but they don’t make very good use of Seagal. They rely so heavily on jittery editing and close-ups — perhaps as a way of hiding Seagal’s newly bloated gut — that it’s hard to even tell if Seagal was even present for the filming. He has one neat trick, though, when he pulls out his wallet and, in one single swoop, cuts the necks of like ten guys with a credit-card/razor blade.
There’s a scene in a restaurant that seems to pay tribute to the famous bar brawl of Out For Justice. It’s by far the best part of the movie, and features Seagal in full-on swaggering asshole mode. He’s come to talk to an old CIA friend, and on the way in, insults the maitre d’ and punches him in the face for no real reason. He throws a bunch of guys throw the window because one one makes fun of his “sissy beads” and his “sensitive ponytail.” After a surprisingly polite sit-down with his friend, he leaves, and on the way out, beats everyone up again, and throws more people out of windows. All in all: Seagal at his finest.
The Glimmer Man, while it may not seem like it, is a very important movie in the Seagal canon. For mainstream audiences, this was it for Seagal. He had his shot and he’d run it out in eight short years. He lacked the savvy and professionalism of the Bruce Willises and the Sylvester Stallones. His eccentricity and egotism had now officially turned him into a niche commodity.
Note: if you’re wondering about the title, some CIA guy is describing his time with Seagal in Vietnam and says “they call him the glimmer man, because all you see is jungle, then a glimmer, then you’re dead.” I wonder who first came up with the name. Presumably someone who saw said glimmer (otherwise, how would they even know about the glimmer?), but then aren’t they all dead? I also think the title does a disservice to Keenen Ivory “Claw” Wayans. It would have been nice of them to come up with a title that includes both stars. The Glimmer Men, maybe, although that sort of sounds them sound like a glam-rock duo.
- Weapons: miscellaneous guns, credit card with a blade inside, spiked fence, piece of wood.
- What People Say About Seagal:
- “He’s like Bruce Lee, only better.”
- “He’s obviously not just a cop.”
- Lie detector administrator: “He has total control over his emotions. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Must be the meditation!
- [See the whole glimmery man discussion above]
- Seagal Comebacks:
- “I have some herbs in my pockets that will clear that bruise on your face right up.”
- [*trashes entire restaurant*]
“Do you guys validate parking?”
- At point, Seagal says “he’s cowboy” (referring to Wayans) “and I’m rock ‘n roll.” Then he punches a guy. He doesn’t quite explain what, exactly, the fuck that means, but it kinda sounds cool.
- “I have some herbs in my pockets that will clear that bruise on your face right up.”
- Critical Bile:
- Janet Maslin did not review the movie, which is too bad, as that’s generally Seagal’s best bet for a good review. Instead, the New York Times gave the job to Lawrence Van Gelder who called The Glimmer Man “short on suspense, routine in its action and monotonous in its performances.”
- The Washington Post says “Wayans proves a solid foil” for Seagal. It also refers to the black cop/white cop genre as “assault-and-pepper” which is pretty clever.
- USA Today says: “It’s repetitive mayhem as usual.”
- Hair Status: the ponytail returns, finally. It’s a bit stringy and small, which I guess is to be expected given that just six months ago it wasn’t even there. Also: Seagal’s hairline is un-receding in dramatic fashion, and he sports what are clearly hairplugs on the front part of his forehead.
- Steven Seagal Weight Watch: Some very interesting developments here. Seagal has swelled like a balloon, and from some angles, appears to be slightly pregnant.
- According to this interview with Stephen Tobolowsky (he plays The Family Man, by the way), production of The Glimmer Man ground to a halt for a period of time so that Steven Seagal could re-write the script in such a way that would have him kill fewer people. Because (seriously) he was worried about his karma. Warner Brothers replied, rather bluntly, by saying: “Steven, we hired you because you’re good at killing people. We’re not casting you to do a peace-loving cop, we’re casting you to murder people.” The DVD’s ‘production notes’ word it a bit more politely: “the script underwent some spit-and-polish to accommodate the contributions and idiosyncrasies of its stars.” Whatever changes Seagal manage to institute were obviously pretty minor, as he kills a lot of people in The Glimmer Man.
- Steven Seagal provides several songs for the soundtrack.
- One of Steven Seagal’s kids is played by future Spy Kid Alexa Vega.
- This movie opened 7 months after Executive Decision. Executive Decision was, by far, the bigger hit.
- Debuted in the #2 spot, behind The First Wives Club.