Sunday, 6 April 2008

Shadow Man (2006)


In 2006/2007 Michael Keusch and Steven Seagal squeezed out an impressive three Direct-to-Video releases. I have already reviewed one of these and Shadow Man is another. These films are unified by their cheap Romanian shooting locations, nonsensical plots and the copious use of stunt doubles for anything more complicated than walking (and sometimes even then).

The film starts in a dojo, with Seagal giving his students a lesson in internal vs external martial arts. After using his internal skills to explode a watermelon, one of his students asks for a lesson. Seagal gives him a punch that sends him flying across the room and through the wall. That's what you get for expecting a lesson from your instructor, punk! In what was probably a post-production afterthought, a body double beats up the rest of his students too.

Seagal is Jack Foster, ex-CIA agent turned family man and Fortune 500 CEO (wow!). It's the five year anniversary of his wife's death and Seagal, his father-in-law and his daughter are planning to visit his wife's hometown. Luckily she was from budget-friendly Romania, which means there'll be more money to spend on more important things, like fiery explosions! Yep, as soon as they get there, Seagal's father-in-law gets blown up by a car bomb and his daughter gets kidnapped.

Why are all these guys out to get him? Well, Seagal's father-in-law (also a spy) planted the formula for a super-virus in the stylus of his palm-pilot. Bad idea, you know how easy it is to lose those things? Everyone wants the virus... Russian mobsters, corrupt Romanian cops, American Black Ops. Plus, it turns out the woman who kidnapped his daughter is actually a former MI6 agent turned cabbie. Pretty much everyone in this film is a spy or a criminal or both.

What follows is a series of gun battles and fistfights, during which Seagal is as invulnerable as ever. Probably moreso. He even manages to take down a helicopter with a few shots from his 9mm. At least he gets a lot to do in this film. He gets into a car chase (or at least, some stunt driver does while he grimaces in front of a green screen), he does some MacGuyver-like improvisation and he even gets a cabbie to take him to a random crack house just so he can beat up a bunch of drug dealers, shoot an old woman and steal some cash. That's Seagal's version of an ATM!

Anyway, like many of Seagal's recent films, the plot is just way too convoluted. There's too many factions and double-crosses, especially when you consider that everything gets resolved by a bunch of successive firefights at the Bucharest public library. There's nothing here that couldn't have been accomplished by a simple kidnapping story, but the runtime is padded with secondary characters. Speaking of which, the rest of the actors do a serviceable job. UK soap star Eva Pope puts in a good turn as Seagal's sidekick. Academy Award nominee Imelda Staunton must have some serious gambling debts, because here she is, playing the US Ambassador to Romania.

Compared to Attack Force, this one is pretty good. The acting is better, the script is better and Seagal even says his own lines 99% of the time, even if he is doubled for a few random long shots. Unlike Attack Force, I even think they decided on the species of the bad guys prior to filming. I wouldn't call it, as the back of the box states, a "two-fisted, all-action thrill ride". It's barely a "one-fisted, some-action thrill ride", but it's definitely in the top three Steven Seagal films of 2006.

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