The Glimmer Man (1996)

The Glimmer Man poster

The Glimmer Man logo

Director: John Gray
18 | 1hr 31min | Action/Comedy

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Steven Seagal has starred in so many second-rate movies you sometimes forget he was once a rather formidable action star. Back in his mid-90s prime, the lightning quick martial arts guru would headline some pretty decent efforts, the kind with enough of a budget to attract some top-level acting talent. Take The Glimmer Man for example. Keenan Ivory Wayans may not be first choice when it comes to fast-talking sidekicks, but he’s too good for the kind of bargain-basement efforts Seagal now stars in. Similarly, Manhunter‘s Brian Cox and The Shawshank Redemption‘s Bob Gunton are both very fine actors whose mere presence can elevate any old nonsense, and for the most part they are able to do that here.

That’s not taking anything away from from our leading man. His support may provide the acting pedigree, but the movie’s marquee attraction proves just as valuable. His ego may be as inflated as an overblown Zeppelin, his roles may ooze hypocrisy, but by 1996 Seagal had the smugly confident, borderline-reprehensible hero down to a tee, his sardonic aura and cod philosophies yet to suffer from the exhausting overkill of an actor who would one day squeeze out action fodder the way mortal men crimp loaves.

Seagal chews on a carrot (circa 2017)

Another thing that’s easy to forget is that Seagal was once in tip-top shape and could kick some pretty serious ass. Nobody destroys flimsy Hollywood sets with more understated panache than the prick with the ponytail, and this is probably one of his better efforts in getting the balance between combat and comedy just right, though in the realms of joyously overblown action vehicles The Glimmer Man proves just a little tepid. This was in large part due to budget restrictions. The original screenplay featured many blockbuster moments for a movie that was initially intended to be a much more lavish production, but scenes featuring a bomb on a boat and Seagal’s confrontation with a SWAT team were nixed, as was the movie’s original finale, a guns-blazing encounter at the Los Angeles museum.

Director John Gray still serves-up some fine action sequences. Seagal was pushing 44 when he starred in what was his ninth big screen lead, and he’s not the lean, mean killing machine of old, though it doesn’t really hinder the movie. He’s not the athletic action hero seen in the likes of Above the Law and Hard to Kill, but he doesn’t really need to be. Seagal’s aikido style uses locks and throws that capitalise on an opponent’s movements, using their weight to his advantage, so asides from some fast hands and smug gestures he doesn’t really have to move too much. Instead, The Glimmer Man‘s poor commercial reception was likely due to buddy cop oversaturation. We’d seen so many of these films that by 1996 it was hard for audiences to get too excited about the next hastily flung together duo to headline a marquee.

This time around Seagal plays the suitably ludicrous and contradictory Lieutenant Jack Cole, a green tea-drinking, prayer bead-wearing, Chinese remedy-advocating mass murderer with a badge (hypocritical enough for you?). Cole is a pacifist who only strikes back, which (un)fortunately for him is several times daily. He is also a spiritual philosopher who carries bladed credit cards for slitting several throats at once; you know, just in case the opportunity arises. Good luck explaining that one to the captain!

Unconvinced by his uniform, criminals demanded to see a badge.

Actually, Cole’s new partner, Detective Jim Campbell (Wayans), does just that, but el capitano isn’t interested in the behaviour of the reckless nut job running roughshod over his precinct. Campbell is therefore forced to snoop into Cole’s past as the two investigate a series of gruesome murders which have all the hallmarks of a serial killer, the movie taking more than a cue from David Fincher’s hugely popular Se7en released a year prior, which as you can probably imagine makes for quite the curious tone in a movie that otherwise hinges on comedy. 

This is a cut-and-shut case in the eyes of any mortal cop, but our enigmatic lieutenant quickly realises that something is rotten in Denmark, deducing that the murders are actually the work of a pro masquerading as a psycho in order to tie-up loose ends for the Russian Mafia. So yes, you can now add clairvoyance to Steve’s ego-driven repertoire.

Inevitably, Cole becomes the mafia’s next target. After his fingerprints are found at the scene of a double hit he becomes a prime suspect in the murder of his ex-wife — not the best predicament for a man who designs deadly weapons for the purpose of street-bound genocide. What those who framed him didn’t count on is that Cole’s surreptitious past is rather formidable, portraying him as a superhuman assassin who acquired his ‘Glimmer Man’ label back in Nam, before inevitably disappearing to Thailand to become a Buddhist monk. Quite preposterous, though in Seagal’s mind perhaps a simple case of art imitating reality.

Why should I be so presumptuous, you ask? Well, for one thing Seagal subjected an already heavily edited screenplay to further interference relating to his spiritual beliefs. According to co-star Stephen Tobolowsky, a reborn Steve no longer wanted to kill villains in his movies, which is presumably why he went on to kill them for decades thereafter. In the end, Tobolowsky convinced Seagal that his murderous character would be reincarnated as something pure thanks to his divine hand, a pandering notion that seemed to do the trick ― at least temporarily.

Glimmer Man
Lieutenant Cole admires his partner’s shiny bald head.

After many a sleepless night battling with his own conscience, the ass-kicking multimillionaire rallied to have the outcome changed yet again, and even provided dubbing for an alternate ending that was never used. You just couldn’t write this shit!

If movies like 1995‘s Die Hard With a Vengeance went some way to rejuvenating the buddy formula during the mid-90s, this one is straight off the rental conveyor belt. It has all the ingredients of a typical odd couple cop affair, but thanks to a lack of meaningful chemistry from our leading men it doesn’t quite bear fruit, the movie’s screenplay failing to communicate the kind of emotional connection that keeps you rooting for the film’s protagonists as a unit.

The Glimmer Man cost a whopping $45,000,000 to produce, resulting in a box office loss of almost $25,000,000, which would prove something of an indicator as to the direction in which Seagal’s career would soon be heading. Even so, this is a pretty enjoyable exercise in mindless violence with enough silliness to raise the occasional smile, and the action sequences, though few and far between, are sufficient to keep the cheap thrills fizzing along.

As a side note, I struggle to recall a movie in which so many bodies crash through so many windows, and if you ask me, the sight of our protagonist’s garish gold jacket is enough to justify 90 minutes of anyone’s life.

Credit Expired

No amount of spiritual pandering can disguise the fact that Seagal’s Lieutenant Cole is less a cop, more a rampaging psychopath pushing his luck on the streets of Los Angeles. Police brutality has always been a serious problem in American society, but the department is gonna have to do some pretty serious covering up with Cole on their books, particularly after a rather extreme showdown with a gang of heavily-armed Russian Mafioso.

Sardonically apologising for his partner’s attitude as he squirms on the concrete having been decked with the butt end of a rifle, Cole offers his would-be-assassins double what their client has agreed to pay them for rubbing him out. Naturally, this is merely a ruse for an act of premeditated violence so unconscionable Cole should be locked in a padded room for the rest of his days. I mean, how many sane, law-abiding citizens sit at home forging a crudely constructed death device using a credit card and razor blades? The fact that Cole goes unpunished for slitting a half-dozen throats in one swift motion is even more astonishing.

Lord Have Mercy

Nobody kicks ass with as much casual aplomb as Seagal.

After getting into it with a highly-skilled assassin, Cole sends his assailant crashing through a plate glass window. This is the same assassin who has been imitating the work of a serial killer by crucifying his victims, and here he receives a quite improbable dose of poetic justice, landing on a spiked gate in a manner that echoes the deaths of his victims.

Window Repairs

Thanks to his ties with Cole, Detective Campbell also becomes the subject of assassination, and is soon hijacked in his home and left to burn. As if matters couldn’t get any worse he then realises the man has ruptured the apartment’s gas pipe, fleeing an explosion which takes out the entire building by smashing through the window of his abode and falling three stories onto the roof of a car.

Hope he didn’t wake the neighbours.

Double Window Repairs

Of all the candidates cut-out for hostage negotiations, Seagal would be the last on my list. I mean, who in the right mind would assign a smug, egotistical asshole of this variety to such a sensitive and possibly catastrophic situation? You may as well bomb the place and get it over with the amount of damage he’d cause.

To be fair, he gets the job done here, though things could very easily have turned sour given his cavalier tactics. Taking charge of a hostage situation involving a psychotic high school pupil and his terrified classmates, Detective Cole takes the pacifist route, placing his gun down on the table in favour of trying to understand the boy’s motives. Unfortunately, Johnny is a seriously messed-up puppy, inevitably turning his weapon on himself. Taking the initiative, Cole quickly tackles the student before he can commit suicide, sending him crashing through one window and soaring thirty feet across an alley through the window of the building opposite. Smooth!

Choice Dialogue

There’s conceited, overbearingly pompous, and then there’s Seagal.

Having trashed a restaurant with the bodies of a bunch of bad guy extras, an exceedingly smug Lieutenant Cole intercepts a booking request via a ringing telephone.

Lieutenant Cole: Hello, Lento’s. No, no, no; that won’t work. We’re closed for renovation. I’d say . . .  [looks around at his handiwork] . . .  two months. Yeah. Thanks.

Landing somewhere between Se7en and The Last Boy Scout, The Glimmer Man logo is a derivative flop which saw Seagal’s stock plummet, but despite a relatively weak plot and lack of onscreen chemistry, I rather enjoyed the silliness, and the notoriously arrogant actor is fairly likeable as the supercilious Cole. Wait a minute, did I just write that?

Edison Smith

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