Sunday, 18 May 2008

Black Dawn (2005)

I Can't Believe It's Not Seagal

Ladies and gentlemen, Jonathan Cold is back! Who? Well apparently he was the protagonist of 2003's The Foreigner, which technically makes Black Dawn a sequel. Strange choice, since the The Foreigner was Seagal's first Direct-to-Video film and was considered by most to be his worst. Compared to his later output, however, it's Citizen Kane, or at least Hard to Kill. Not sure why they bothered anyway, Seagal is only capable of playing one character: Steven Seagal, an ex-CIA martial-arts expert on the run from corrupt government spooks. And that's exactly who Jonathan Cold is!

Jonathan Cold is a CIA operative who works for a government branch so secret that nobody knows who he is working for or what he is doing... not the terrorists, not the CIA, and especially not the audience! He does claim that he does things for national security that most people would consider "immoral or illegal", and in the opening scene he busts an illegal arms dealer out of prison so he can help broker a deal to sell some nuclear weapons to Chechen terrorists. Yep, I think most people would classify that as illegal and/or immoral. Come on Seagal, I know you've fallen on hard times recently but you're supposed to be the one fighting corrupt government weasels.

Well, I think he's supposed to be undercover actually, not that it's ever explained why, but he's forced to break cover so he can rescue CIA Agent Stuart (Tamara Davies). Soon he's on the run from the nuclear arms dealers, the Chechen terrorists and also some corrupt CIA agents. You know, the usual. There's one quite entertaining scene where the two of them escape by jumping out of a warehouse window and onto the roof of a passing truck. The truck driver gets shot in the arm, but instead of stopping like a sensible person he keeps rumbling on down the road, swerving all over the place and smashing into parked cars. Hammer down, good buddy, gotta keep making those deliveries!

Anyway, the Chechen terrorists are planning on detonating a suitcase nuke in the middle of Los Angeles. Not sure how that's supposed to help their cause, but these guys partially funded their operation by a daring night-time robbery of a brightly lit, glass-fronted diamond store on a busy street. So not the brightest bulbs on the tree, or whatever. Doesn't really matter in the end, since Agent Stuart's evil boss Greer (Timothy Carhart) steps in to kill them and detonate the bomb (spoiler), and he has even less motive than the terrorists.

Seagal must have fallen asleep during his bomb defusal training, because his solution is to squeeze into the cockpit of a helicopter and toss the bomb into the ocean. He quips that the two of them may "glow in the dark for a while", but considering their proximity to the explosion I'd say that's a very real possibility, not to mention the several miles of L.A. shore that they just contaminated. Afterwards Seagal and Agent Stuart are having dinner in a restaurant (there is classical music in the background, shorthand for "this is a fancy restaurant") and they talk about having had slept together a number of times (more than three, if you can believe it). Man, thank Christ they cut out those scenes. Seeing Seagal's bloated form huffing and puffing away would be more than I could bear.

Seagal's army of stunt doubles get quite a workout in this one, but seriously guys, you can't just slap an embarrassing Seagal wig on any old stunt man. At least try to get the same body type. In one scene it took me a while to realise that Seagal was supposed to be the one fighting and not just standing around watching some other guy fight. I don't know, maybe they don't want to hurt Seagal's feelings by casting a stunt double who's a bit on the chunky side. They try to disguise his weight by cramming him into slimming pinstripe suits instead of his usual leather trenchcoat, but that isn't fooling anybody. Hell, at the beginning of the film the dash of his SUV is crammed with fast food wrappers.

Tamara Davies is actually pretty good. Like the audience, she's constantly confused about what's going on, but unlike the audience she seems very emotionally engaged during the proceedings. There's a brief interview with her on the DVD where she seems painfully earnest about her performance. She's one of the bright spots in the film and it's nice to have her compensate when Seagal starts stinking up the screen.

It's decently if blandly directed by Alexander Gruszynski. The script isn't as retardedly complex as The Foreigner, but it's full of the usual CIA shenanigans and double, triple and quadruple crosses that make up a Seagal plot. It isn't too bad, considering it's the fourth film Seagal made in 2005. Seagal must be stretched to the breaking point, much like the suits he wears in the film.

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