Review: Steven Seagal and Luke Goss Bring the Pain in the Action-Thriller CARTELS (Reprint)

(Original Publication Date: July 10th, 2017) By: John M Jerva


Starring: Steven Seagal, Luke Goss, Georges St.-Pierre, Darren E. Scott, Florin Piersic Jr. and Martine Argent

Directed By: Keoni Waxman

Synopsis: “Action legend Steven Seagal headlines this explosive thriller that pits U.S. forces against an Eastern European drug cartel. When crime boss Salazar turns informant, U.S. Marshal Jensen (Luke Goss, Blade II) and his team must guard their luxury-hotel safe house. But as cartel underboss Sinclaire (UFC fighter Georges St. Pierre) and his hit squads descend to murder Salazar, the situation explodes, enraging Agent Harrison (Seagal), who will stop at nothing to root out the mole that compromised the operation.”

Is It Action-Flix Approved? A lot has been made of Steven Seagal in the last few years and people either love him or hate him. His movies have been hit or miss and a lot of times, he is a secondary character who appears only briefly in the movies while other actors take over. CARTELS from director Keoni Waxman (who has directed several films with Seagal) is no exception. Seagal’s character of Agent John Harrison is in the film at the beginning, the end and sporadically throughout in between. But that’s O.K. The rest of the cast headed by action favorite Luke Goss do a great job in carrying the slack and there is action a plenty in this tale of elite agents who must defend a high value target against invading teams of mercenaries. 


Luke Goss plays Major Tom Jensen who has just been assigned to an elite unit of Federal Marshals and wouldn’t you know it, his first assignment is a real killer. At the beginning of the film, Seagal and his team of DEA agents raided Joseph ‘El Tiburon’ Salazar’s compound in an attempt to capture the drug czar and get valuable info from him but during the raid, Salazar is killed. Jensen and the Marshals , who are commanded by Maj. John “Skony” Skokowski (played by Darren E. Scott in a great action performance) are tasked with bringing the body of Salazar back but when the arrive for pick up, they learn that Salazar’s death was staged so his cartel would not know that he had flipped to the other side. Now the Marshals must hold up in a hotel building for 24 hours and wait for extraction. Unfortunately, there is a mole in the group and before they know it, the unit is ambushed by an army of cartel mercenaries, led by Salazar’s second in command Bruno Sinclaire (MMA champ Geroges St-Pierre), who wants him dead. Now the Marshals must use all of their elite training to fight off the insurmountable threat that has overrun the hotel and live long enough to deliver their high value target.


CARTELS (formerly titled KILLING SALAZR) takes the flashback approach where Goss’ Jensen is being interrogated by Seagal’s Harrison to figure out what went wrong with the extraction. Harrison is pissed because good men and women have died and Salazar is in the wind and that is unacceptable. Through flashbacks, Goss explains what happened and tells Harrison that there was a leak. The interrogation scenes are where Seagal shows up the most and the cut back and fourth between present day and past. Sometimes, this movie gimmick can get a bit tiresome, but that wasn’t the case with Cartels. We get to see a lot of what happened and the interrogation scenes never carry on too long and we get back to the action rather quickly. The scenes with Goss and Seagal are pretty good and offer a little bit of drama to go along with all the carnage. 


Goss once again does a great job in the leading man action role and executes the fight scenes to a tee. It’s really his movie to carry and Seagal is lending back up. I enjoy his action movies like THE NIGHT CREW and the DEATH RACE sequels and he shines once again here.  The rest of the cast is pretty good also. Darren E. Scott, who plays Skony the leader of the Marshals, offers good supporting acting chops and even gets in on the action where he has a great exchange of gunfire and an awesome fight with Georges St.-Pierre. Scott has some pretty good unarmed combat skills and he gets to show them off. Florin Piersic Jr. is equally good as the drug czar Salazar. He isn’t one dimensional like he could have been but instead he has layers to his role and you even start to feel for him a little as the movie runs on. Seagal does what he does best and that’s shoot bad guys and beat the crap out of hapless goons. He’s in the movie enough and he is highlighted in the action set pieces at the beginning and end. His final fight with St.-Pierre is a good one and should satisfy action fans. MMA champ  Georges St.-Pierre gets to show a little more acting as Bruno and above all, he gets to showcase his fighting abilities more than once in the film.


The action in CARTELS comes at you fast and steady and there is plenty of hard R rated moments to be had. The film is filled with explosive firefights throughout and brutal hand to hand fighting as well. All the principal players are highlighted in the action at some point and genre fans should walk away happy. I know I did. There are a few moments in the film where i reacted because something rather brutal happened. CARTELS is a full on action flick and it doesn’t disappoint. Some of Seagal’s most recent efforts have short changed us on the action element but CARTELS more than makes up for it. 


The few draw backs are that this is a lower budget film so some of the supporting character performances are a little sketchy and the DIE HARD plot of being trapped in a building has been done to death so CARTELS doesn’t offer anything new in the plot department. What you see is what you get but that’s alright. It’s all about the action and that’s exactly what you get. 


To sum it all up, CARTELS delivers what the trailer says it would. Seagal, once again, isn’t the star but Goss, Scott and St.-Pierre bring it in the action scenes and having Seagal really is a bonus. There is a great deal of hard R rated action and a great mix of heavy weaponry and hand to hand carnage. I was satisfied for the hour and forty minute run time and i will definitely watch it again. CARTELS delivers the action goods and fans will be delighted.


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