One thing we don’t talk enough about as a society is how DMX was a legitimate action star for a 5-10 year window in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Maybe “we” is the wrong word here. What I mean to say is “you” don’t talk enough about it. I talk about it constantly to anyone who will listen or can’t get out of an unrelated conversation before I careen it toward “Remember when DMX was an action star?” He was in Belly, which is good, and two different movies with Jet Li (Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave), which is great. In a different and better world, DMX would have popped up in the Bourne movies and eventually gotten the lead in the spinoff that eventually went to Jeremy Renner. Picture DMX yelling “Are you running Treadstone?” and tell me I’m wrong. And now he’s gone and it will never happen. It’s all heartbreaking on a number of levels, some of which are too sad to get into in any real way.
And so, instead, let’s pivot to something that is a blast to discuss: The 2001 action movie Exit Wounds, which starred DMX and Steven Seagal. Did you know there was a 2001 action movie called Exit Wounds that starred DMX and Steven Seagal? I’m going to be so mad at you if you did not. It’s an incredible movie, full of crooked cops and gratuitous violence and Steven Seagal in one of the last roles he played before things really started going off the rails. Also, it features one of the wildest and most flabbergasting twists you will ever see in a movie. I am so excited to tell you about it that I might actually forgive you if you had not heard about the movie before today. But we’ll get to that. We have other business to get to first.
The time has come to talk about Exit Wounds.
1. The plot of Exit Wounds, in short: Steven Seagal plays a loose cannon Detroit cop named Orin Boyd whose captain — Bruce McGill, who was born to play Detroit police captains — has enough of his shenanigans and transfers him to the city’s worst precinct and makes him take anger management classes. Upon being transferred, he uncovers corruption in the police force that stretches all the way to the top, and his investigation of a local drug dealer proves to be the key to bringing the whole system down. It is all very Seagal and, yes, there is a sword fight at one point even though the film is set in 2001 Detroit, because plausibility has never once stopped a Steven Seagal movie from letting Steven Seagal have a sword. At one point early on, his new boss, played by Jill Hennessy, literally calls him “a lone wolf,” just to drive it all home. It’s a perfect plot. That’s what I’m getting at.
2. But you’re probably sitting here thinking, “Hmm, I bet there was some big incident early on in the movie that led to his transfer. I bet it was huge and dumb and ridiculous, too.” Buddy, you are dead-on. A Michigan militia group attempts to assassinate the Vice President during a visit to Detroit and, because they are dressed as cops, the chief orders the real cops to stand down to prevent confusion, which, I mean, sure. Seagal ignores this order (loose cannon, lone wolf, etc.) and proceeds to do the following things:
- Hijack a bright yellow cleaning van to storm the bridge
- Shoot down a helicopter using a handgun
- Kill all the bad guys and save the Vice President by heaving him off the bridge and into the river below
For this, for heroically saving the life of the Vice President and taking out an entire domestic terrorism operation, he is punished and demoted. It’s wonderful. As is the fact that all of this, the attempted assassination and thwarting of treason and the meeting with the chief, happens in the first 10 minutes of the movie. The efficiency is to be commended.
3. DMX shows up some time after this. His character is named Latrell Walker and is the biggest drug dealer in the area Seagal is banished to. He’s great. He does all sorts of movie drug dealer stuff, like, for example, owning a nightclub that has a shark tank in the office and counting huge amounts of money right in front of it.
He also spends a lot of time visiting a guy named Shaun Rollins in jail. It is not clear exactly why he keeps visiting a guy named Shaun Rollins in jail, at least not at this point, but if you’re hoping it is something tied to the tremendous twist I referenced earlier, I have some excellent news coming your way shortly. It is taking everything I have not to just shout it at you now. But there is so much more to explain first. Please, bear with me.
4. Tom Arnold is in Exit Wounds. It’s one of those things where your first reaction is, like, “Whoa, Tom Arnold is in this movie” but then you think about it for a second and realize how much it actually makes sense. I mean, of course Tom Arnold is in the action movie that stars DMX and Steven Seagal. He plays a Detroit talk show host who meets Seagal’s character in anger management class. In the first meeting, he discusses how he got in a fistfight at a Krispy Kreme. It’s all very Tom Arnold and even better because his character plays a very important role in getting us to the twist, which I apologize for continuing to tease, but I promise you’ll see why soon. For now, let’s just focus on the fact that Tom Arnold, DMX, and Steven Seagal probably had multiple conversations on the set between takes. I would pay up to $300 for the raw, unedited tapes of these conversations.
5. Exit Wounds was directed by a guy named Andrzej Bartowiak, who made a few of these movies where hip-hop and martial arts drive the action, including both Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave, the latter of which has a number in the title despite it not being a sequel. He is an extremely important figure in the DMX: Action Star movement and his Wikipedia page features what I consider to be the greatest and most informative chart ever made, in a section titled Collaborations.
6. But let’s not throw the guy a parade. He also cast Eva Mendes in this movie — Eva Mendes is in Exit Wounds — but, if you watch it, you might find yourself thinking “That looks like Eva Mendes but it sure doesn’t sound like her.” And there’s a good reason for that: it’s not her voice. They dubbed in a different voice in post-production, as she explained to Jon Stewart in a Daily Show appearance from 2013:
“They dubbed my voice,” Mendes said. “It was an English film in English.”
Mendes said that when she looked into why, she got a note back from the producer that she didn’t sound intelligent enough. “It was a Steven Seagal movie and I didn’t sound intelligent enough,” Mendes said.
This is, of course, bad and dumb and some extremely 2001 garbage, but please do imagine the moment this decision was made, and please also imagine the people involved thinking they’re not the cartoonish villains in the story. It’s not even a big role. Not a single person watching it would have put a single second of thought into it. Again, this is a movie where Steven Seagal shoots down a helicopter using a handgun to save the Vice President and it results in him going to anger management classes with a Tom Arnold character who is wearing a bandage on his head due to fisticuffs over donuts. It says a lot that these dudes were willing to put that much thought and effort into being creeps about it. Hollywood is relentlessly weird.
7. A few quick pieces of plot-related business:
- Every cop in this movie is dirty except for Steven Seagal and Jill Hennessy and one other dude, and it is really funny to watch the movie reveal each one separately after putting very little effort into a series of misdirects, like we’re supposed to keep being shocked
- DMX’s character’s big drug operation involves dipping t-shirts in liquified heroin and transporting the packs of shirts to other dealers, which is also hilarious because, like, it is honestly so many t-shirts
- There’s a point earlier in the movie where a cop asks Seagal if it’s true he once beat a suspect unconscious with a dead cat and Seagal replies, “No. The cat wasn’t dead,” which is a combination of preposterous and horrifying, especially if you take anything more than five seconds to think about it
Anyway, Seagal starts looking into this Latrell Walker guy. And he enlists Tom Arnold’s character for help. And when he does, Tom Arnold is at a strip club and dressed like this.
This brings us to the twist. Please sit down and hold on to something.
8. Tom Arnold’s team of investigators discover that Latrell Walker is a front. DMX’s character is actually — I swear to God this is true — a computer genius billionaire named Leon Rollins who created a website called 999 dot com that sold everything for less than $10 and he cashed out before the tech bubble burst. He is using his fortune to try to free his wrongly imprisoned brother, Shaun, who was the fall guy the police pinned a series of crimes on to hide their corruption. Leon and Eva Mendes have been running a high-tech sting to videotape the dirty cops, which Seagal discovers after, again, getting the information from a morning show host who is wearing a fake mustache in a strip club. This development will require more bullet points:
- Find me a better twist than this in any movie
- DMX is a secret computer genius
- All of the cops in Detroit never put it together that the huge drug dealer and the guy he kept visiting in prison were actually brothers
- They also never put it together that the huge drug dealer looks exactly like the local tech billionaire computer genius
- In any reasonable universe, the young black computer billionaire would have been covered extensively by the national media and been a recognizable figure who appeared on the cover of a number of magazines and almost certainly could not disappear into a new identity he barely hides, considering he continues visiting his brother in prison
- All of this is blown wide open after a brief investigation by some dudes Tom Arnold hires, and DMX proceeds to explain it all in a massive exposition dump when Seagal shows up to confront him about it
- I would have watched just a movie about DMX navigating Silicon Valley during the Dot Com bubble
I am so happy I got to tell you all about this. It is one of my favorite things to talk about. DMX plays a billionaire computer genius who goes undercover as a drug kingpin to expose police corruption and reveal it to the people over the internet with the help of Eva Mendes. Also, this is their headquarters.
Exit Wounds is a perfect movie.
9. The last half hour is a steady stream of shootouts and violence and, yes, again, the sword fight between Seagal and the leader of the corrupt cops, who is played by Michael Jai White, because Michael Jai White is also in Exit Wounds. At one point Steven Seagal jumps up and over a moving car, which might be a bigger reach than the twist I just got done explaining. But I assume you already knew all that. It’s a Steven Seagal movie. Of course it ends with 30 minutes of sword fights and violent revenge. What I want to do here instead is point out how legitimately good DMX is in this silly movie. He really is. DMX was a surprisingly solid actor, and not just in a “non-actor acting in a movie” way. He was a better actor than just about anyone else in Exit Wounds, Seagal very much included. He could have done this as a whole second-act of his career. He easily could have been a character in the Fast & Furious franchise. It’s one of the many reasons it’s such a bummer how things ended up for him. He had tons of talent and tons of demons and they spent his whole life trying to take each other down.
10. But let’s close on a happy note. Let’s close on my favorite scene in the whole movie that doesn’t involve a shocking reveal about secret billionaires and Eva Mendes in front of a dozen tiny flat-screen monitors. Earlier in the movie, back when the movie was trying to show Latrell Walker’s bona fides as a big-time drug dealer, it had him show up at a car dealership and buy an exotic convertible with a bag of cash, surprising the snobby salesmen who assumed he couldn’t afford it because he is young and black. You’ve seen this scene in a bunch of movies. It’s a good scene. But that’s not what I love about it. What I love about it is this…
This is Anthony Anderson, who plays DMX’s associate, because Anthony Anderson is also in Exit Wounds, blasting “Good Girls, Bad Guys” by DMX on the car’s radio inside the dealership, which is a fun little wink at the audience. But it also opens up a fascinating wormhole. Back to the bullet points:
- Playing this song means DMX, the real person, exits in the Exit Wounds universe
- Which means there was a Dot Com billionaire from Detroit who looks exactly like world-famous rapper DMX
- Which makes the twist even funnier because it means the billionaire who looks exactly like DMX went undercover as a drug dealer who also looks exactly like DMX and no one figured any of it out until Tom Arnold and Steven Seagal looked into it
- No character at any point says “Dude, did anyone ever tell you that you look exactly like DMX?”
- No one on earth has put as much thought into this as I have
- I regret none of it
Thank you for indulging me. Go watch Exit Wounds. And then come over and talk to me about it.