Thursday, September 07, 2006

It Ain't Over 'Til The Wolf Howls

SHADOW MAN is the third Steven Seagal film of 2006 and his 14th this decade. With the exception of a couple of brief stabs at a renewed big-screen stardom with action movies that didn't exactly light up the box office (EXIT WOUNDS, HALF PAST DEAD), Seagal has become one of the busiest direct-to-video stars in the world. Actually, "busiest" isn't quite an accurate description. "Prolific"...okay, but I don't know about "busy." You see, in most of Seagal's DTV features, his various doubles end up doing more than their fair share of his work. Watching these movies can be a surreal experience, because their lackadaisical shooting styles and haphazard editing--director's stumbling blocks mandated by Seagal's barely-there approach to his job--pull your attention away from the story.

SHADOW MAN is a good example. Pay attention to the many scenes in which Seagal's character is having a conversation with somebody, but the entire scene consists of closeups. That's because Steve only showed up long enough to film his closeups, cheating the director out of shooting much-needed coverage (two-shots, master, etc.). Plus, the lighting is often out of sync, because the cinematographer has chosen dark shadows to mask Seagal's paunchy, pasty face and obvious dark hairpiece. As well, Seagal barely participates in the many action scenes, allowing a stuntman to perform not just dangerous shots, but relatively tame fights as well, as if the star just couldn't be bothered. He doesn't use doubles just in action scenes either, but also routine shots of his character walking, driving, sitting. If you can't see the character's face, it isn't Seagal, and there is a lot of footage of the back of somebody's head in SHADOW MAN.

Another detriment plaguing Seagal's DTV movies, but not so much this one, is his laziness when it comes to ADR work. He apparently has little interest in looping his dialogue, so many Seagal features jar your ear with lines that are clearly spoken by an actor who sounds about as much like Seagal as Elmer Fudd does. In one (I think it's SUBMERGED), Seagal plays a Louisianan with a Cajun accent. Sometimes. Sometimes Seagal uses the accent, sometimes not. Sometimes the actor dubbing him uses one, sometimes not, leading to a schizophrenic listening experience.

SHADOW MAN is not a very good film and quite typical of Seagal's recent output. Once again, he's a government agent in Europe (these movies are almost always filmed in Eastern Europe, Romania in this case) who wants revenge on the bad guys who kidnapped his daughter. His father-in-law (Seagal's character, Jack Foster, is a widower) has unknowingly planted on Jack a microdot containing a nerve gas formula that he plans to sell to the highest bidder, likely one with sinister motives. Both enemy operatives and the CIA keep trying to kill Jack to retrieve the nerve gas, while all he wants to do is rescue his daughter, who was snatched from the Bucharest airport by a large-breasted cabby who can't act.

Director Michael Keusch helms with a shaky, unsure hand, and his action sequences are often confusing. Surprisingly, Seagal didn't get more involved in this one, as he also takes credits for producing and writing. Maybe he wrote his own dialogue, since it doesn't sound like anyone else's. However, he isn't trying very hard to carve out a performance, and you would think he would take some delight in reciting lines he had written himself.

Seagal reportedly has four more movies set to come out in the next 18 months. I'm mostly looking forward to THE UNTITLED ONION MOVIE, in which he portrays a character known at this juncture only as Cock Puncher.

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