Steven Seagal is back, and this time the Weighty Warrior is playing a
former member of the Russian mob, complete with a Russian accent that
ranges from "OK" in some scenes to "not so hot" in others, and all the way
to "not even trying" in some scenes where he just speaks in his usual
whispery Steven Seagal voice with no accent at all. He also speaks several
sentences in Russian, with the same mixed results. He learned this
creative inconsistency in one of his intensive acting classes at the
prestigious Kevin Costner as Robin Hood School of Fake Movie Accents.
It seems that the Stout Sensei has been out of the Russian mob for
decades, and is now a peaceful beach rat who makes a living as a novelist.
Unfortunately, he has to return to his home turf for his daughter's
wedding, and his reappearance in the old 'hood triggers all sorts of alarm
bells among his former associates. The action escalates to mayhem when the
daughter's pre-nuptial preparations are interrupted by a violent assault
that leaves the bride and her mother dead. Seagal, while hiding some hole
cards of his own, vows to gain vengeance by systematically erasing the
entire Russian mob from the face of the earth, even if doing so will
require him to exterminate every last Russian, or even every last human
being, on the planet. Because sometimes you DO have to throw out the baby
with the bathwater. If you're a REAL man.
The basic premise of the film is a fine fit for the Seagal formula, the
cinematography is actually quite good, and the storyline looks pretty good
on paper, but the execution of the film is ham-fisted. The fundamental
problem is that the action scenes are clumsy. Seagal has started to gain
weight again after keeping his bulk under control for a few years, and he
now looks bigger than ever. So he's a 58-year-old fat man, and that's
really not the ideal job description for a martial arts hero. His
hand-to-hand scenes are mostly shot in close-up from the chest up, and are
typically shot into Seagal's face rather than from the side, as if looking
over the shoulder of the baddies. As a result, the audience can usually
see only Seagal's chest, head, and hands, as well as the opponents' hands.
This technique disguises Seagal's age and bulk. If you are willing to
accept the use of that obvious crutch, Seagal doesn't look bad in the
scenes. It may be a trick caused by creative editing and speed-ups, but
the Plump Paladin still seems to have fast and dextrous hands. Of course
he must get a lot of chances to keep his hands nimble, judging from the
number of Snickers Bars he must have to unwrap every day to get that big.
Even with all the camera tricks, the number of hand combat scenes is
relatively small. Most of the fighting consists of scenes of where the
Bulky Brawler blasts baddies with various firearms, presumably because
gunfights represent the only kind of battle scenes in which an ancient fat
man in a long overcoat can still create the illusion of being as bad-ass
as the character is supposed to be.
Of course, if the fight scenes were good, we would forgive some flaws
elsewhere, but lacking the strong combat scenes, we are left taking a
chance that we can appreciate a Steven Seagal film for the intricately
developed plot, the masterful performances, and the subtle
characterizations. I'll leave it to you to guess whether that's a good