The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Outsider

Craig Fairbrass isn't well known here in the States, but in his native England, he's a popular actor, thanks to his role on the TV soap opera The EastEnders and his work in films like The Bank Job. With his immense size and intense presence, Fairbrass is a natural for action movies. He's got some talent, to boot. What he needs, however, is a vehicle better suited to his strengths than The Outsider, a fairly generic beat-'em-up movie that clearly tries to fit into the Taken mold. It's an okay picture, but Fairbrass deserves more.

The actor plays military contractor Lex Walker. While on assignment, he gets word that his daughter has died of a drug overdose in Los Angeles. Lex travels there to identify her body, only to discover that the young woman in the morgue isn't her. With the help of a waitress (Shannon Elizabeth) who knows his daughter, he begins investigating her disappearance. The trail eventually leads to a shady businessman named Schuuster (James Caan) who's masterminding an identity theft ring. Jason Patric co-stars as Detective Klein, a cop who starts tracking Lex after his first attempt to confront Schuuster.

The Outsider reminded me of the kinds of movies Steven Seagal used to make, where the main point is to show the hero acting tough and kicking the crap out of someone every five minutes. Also as with most of Seagal's films, it's clear that very little effort went into formulating the plot, which marches disinterestedly through a few perfunctory elements that create just enough of an excuse for Lex to go nuts on the bad guy and his henchmen. (The early scenes, which set the plot in motion, are an exercise in awkward exposition.) Oddly, though, when Schuuster's big scheme is revealed, the movie suddenly becomes ridiculously complicated. One wonders what talented folks like Caan and Patric saw in the screenplay that made them want to sign on. Patric is the real mystery, since his character only ever seems to show up long enough to give orders to other cops.

For his part, Fairbrass has a nice, down-to-earth quality that mitigates the awfulness of the plot to some degree. He's macho, yet also relatable in a way that Seagal and Van Damme never were. Whereas some action heroes rely on posturing, Fairbrass actually seems to be trying to play a character. He turns Lex into a genuinely concerned father seeking answers about his daughter. The actor is also very credible in the fight sequences, which are well-staged - and by that, I mean not over-staged. Like Liam Neeson in his action hero roles, Fairbrass shows an intent to bring some level of humanity to the proceedings. I'd love to see him in a more ambitious picture.

The plot of The Outsider lets him down. After a while, any entertainment value the movie has comes from peripheral things, like wondering what excuse they'll find to get Shannon Elizabeth into a tight, low-cut dress (it's imperative that she pose as an escort to bring Schuuster down), or why every single light source in this film, no matter how small, emits a blinding lens flare. It's watchable if you only care about witnessing an occasional ass-whooping, but The Outsider would have been much better had it recognized the full potential of its star and tried to be worthy of him.

( out of four)

The Outsider is unrated, but contains adult language and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.

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