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Steven Seagal is the big name, but crime thriller 'Cartels' would have been better off without him

Steven Seagal is the big name, but crime thriller 'Cartels' would have been better off without him
Luke Goss in the movie "Cartels." (Lionsgate Premiere)

Writer-director Keoni Waxman has collaborated with actor Steven Seagal on more than a half-dozen feature films plus the cable TV series "True Justice," but their latest international crime thriller, "Cartels," is more like a movie that takes place in the general vicinity of the aging action star than a proper "Steven Seagal vehicle."

"Cartels" (originally titled "Killing Salazar") stars Luke Goss as U.S. Marshal Tom Jensen, who's tasked with protecting an imprisoned Russian drug lord (Florin Piersic Jr.) from his former employee, brutal assassin Bruno Sinclaire (Georges St-Pierre). As skeptical government agent John Harrison, Seagal spends most of the movie interrogating Jensen in a framing device that looks back on an operation gone wrong.

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As a budget-priced spin on "Sicario" — with elaborate paramilitary action sequences peppered into a story about how lawmen become compromised when they work with crooks — "Cartels" is passably entertaining. Goss has charisma, the plot takes some clever turns and the luxury hotel where most of the action takes place is easier on the eyes than the abandoned warehouses and airfields where these pictures are usually shot.

But Seagal's roughly 15 minutes of screen time are ultimately a distraction — especially when he gets his own clumsy fight scene with St-Pierre. With his thick leather coat, bushy goatee, tinted glasses, and whispery monotone voice, he looks like an ordinary schlub in a Steven Seagal costume. He makes the movie more marketable … but at what price?

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'Cartels'

Rating: R, for strong violence, language and some drug use

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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