December 16th, 2009

INTO THE SUN (2005) ** ½

Okay, I have to admit that Steven Seagal:  Lawman is my new favorite TV show and in honor of the man I will be reviewing a couple of his flicks that I never got around to seeing.  I’ve always enjoyed Seagal’s theatrical releases (my favorite is Hard to Kill) but I never could bring myself to watch his Direct to DVD fare with any kind of consistency.  I am no Seagal expert (that would be Vern who wrote the excellent Seagalogy; a book that every human being on the planet should own) but I know what I like, and I sorta liked Into the Sun.


A Japanese governor gets assassinated by the Yakuza and the CIA is called in to investigate.  They put Seagal on the job, even though he blew a big time sting operation by giving away his position in order to save a chick from getting raped.  He is paired with an idiotic partner (Bloodrayne’s Matthew Davis) and together they learn about a plot that would unite the Japanese Yakuza with the Chinese Tong.  When the bad guys kill his partner AND his fiancé, Seagal grabs his samurai sword and proceeds to slice them up like sushi.


Steven Seagal co-wrote and executive produced this flick.  Because of that, Seagal actually seems to gives a shit and puts forth some effort in the acting department (although the scenes of him playing kissy-face with his fiancé are cringe-inducing).  I’ve seen him look worse physically but he’s still fat enough that he has to wear a wardrobe consisting of nothing but slimming black trenchcoats.  (Sometimes he’s even kept in the shadows a la Brando in Apocalypse Now.)  He kicks enough ass in this movie to make his girth almost a non-issue.  Seagal throws people out the window, cuts off a guy’s arm, sticks chopsticks into someone’s throat, and slashes a bunch of dudes up with a samurai sword.  He also sings over the end credits, which makes him a quadruple threat. 


Into the Sun is slightly more polished than most of Seagal’s Direct to DVD ilk.  It was directed by a guy called “mink”, who like Seagal TRIES to make a good movie.  (People get all up in arms about director McG being called “McG”; but mink is an equally bizarre moniker if you ask me.)  While the action scenes may have lacked the intensity of Seagal’s best stuff they were respectable enough.  I think my favorite scene was when some Yakuza punks interrupt his lunch and Seagal fucks them up but good.  This scene has the feeling of his early work mostly because the editing is there to reinforce Seagal’s movements not disguise them.  I particularly enjoyed the part where he bashed the guy’s head into a soda machine and Coke cans start coming out like coins from a slot machine.  The sword fights are decent too.  I’m not talking Kill Bill or Shogun Assassin quality mind you; but they were a lot better than what I was expecting.  mink also uses a lot of camera movement and puts in weird little touches (there’s a big zoom in on Seagal’s finger when he points) that make Into the Sun stand out from the rest of the pack.


The action is surprisingly good but there is an inordinate amount of filler that gets in the way of the fun.  The plot is thin and features way too much rigmarole involving the Yakuza taking meetings with each other and then killing inconsequential stooges.  We also get too many scenes of Seagal sitting across the desk from someone while he tracks down various leads. 


You also have to put up with Seagal’s dumbass partner.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that Matthew Davis is the one of the most gratuitously unfunny comic relief sidekicks I’ve seen in a long time.  He does everything from accidentally shooting his gun while putting it in the holster to saying stupid shit like, “What’s up dog?”  It’s almost as if the role was written for a rapper or something.


Now a lot of reviews I’ve read for Into the Sun made a lot of the fact that Seagal speaks a bunch of Japanese in this movie.  I don’t see where that’s such a big deal because there are more scenes of him speaking English while someone else speaks Japanese (especially the scenes with his fiancé) than vice versa.  Since we don’t watch a Seagal movie for his linguistic skills, I’ll give him a Mulligan on that one. 


There are plenty of middle of the road Direct to DVD Seagal flicks you could waste your time on.  Into the Sun is a little bit further up the road than usual.  Because of that, you should probably check it out.


I like to laugh.  We all do.  Sometimes laughter is good for the soul.  Sometimes it’s a coping mechanism for surviving a traumatic experience.  The laughter that came out of my mouth during the 90 minutes of Attack Force was a case of the latter.


The laughter started almost instantly.  It came as soon as Steven Seagal opened his mouth.  It was immediately apparent that somebody else had dubbed his voice in.  They also happened to do a piss-poor job of it if you ask me.  The Fake Seagal Voice isn’t even consistent.  I mean sometimes he sounds like George Burns.  Sometimes he sounds like Martin Sheen.  And sometimes he sounds like The Dark Fucking Knight.  It’s not until about five minutes into the movie when he actually starts using his own voice.


I looked up the Trivia feature for Attack Force on IMDB and learned that this flick was supposed to be about vampires or aliens or something or other.  At the last second though, the studio got cold feet and changed the plot to a more Seagal-ish storyline during post-production.  The reason why Seagal’s dialogue was horribly dubbed over was to fit the changes to the script.


I’m sorry but this explanation just doesn’t hold water.  Sure, it makes sense for him to use his Martin Sheen voice while talking about specific plot points (like when he interrogates the captive vamp… freakazoid) but he also uses his George Burns voice while telling his troops “Move out” or “over here!”  Why would the filmmakers bother to dub his voice for useless little stuff like that? 


Like I said, this mystery Seagal ventriloquist provides plenty of laughs.  The biggest laugh came when he has a phone conversation and says, “I see you recognize my voice!” and then proceeds to use another person’s voice.  I do not know if this was meant to be an intentional commentary about the shoddiness of the production, but the results are hilarious. 


Jesus, I’m getting way ahead of myself here.  I forgot to tell you the plot of this thing (not that it matters much).  Seagal stars as the head of a special military unit whose team gets wiped out by a crazed superhuman hooker hopped up on a new party drug called “CTX” (an obvious play on XTC, or “Ecstasy”).  It seems the drug gives it’s users superpowers and turns them into maniacal motherfuckers.  Seagal digs a little deeper and learns that someone wants to dump the drug into Paris’ water supply.  In the end, he kills all of the infected Euro-Trash psychos but conveniently forgets about the whole water contamination thing.


Attack Force is the pits.  Usually when I watch a movie with as many unintentional laughs as this one, I award it a passing grade.  Not this time though.  Sure, I laughed a bunch but I didn’t enjoy myself at all while watching this flick.  It’s shit on every fundamental level.  The script is a mess (understandable due to the studio meddling), the cinematography is muddy, and the acting is non-existent.


You don’t watch a Seagal movie for that stuff, so let’s grade Attack Force on what you’d expect from the man; namely the fight sequences.  Well, they suck.  Hard.  And not in a so-bad-it-made-me-laugh kind of way.  The fight choreography is a fucking joke and Seagal uses an obvious double for a lot of scenes.  (Hey, if he can’t be bothered to use his own voice, why should he fight his own fights?)  The movie does set some kind of record for the number of scenes in which someone gets thrown through a wall, so has that going for it.


Then there’s Seagal himself.  Whenever he isn’t saying his own lines or not appearing in his own fight scenes, he just sits around looking bored.  (Maybe he should’ve downed some of his Lightning Bolt Energy Drink before the cameras started rolling.)  But what’s the point?  If he isn’t having fun then why should we?  I did like the scene where he walks up to the guy whose been following him and says, “Can I help you?” before kicking his ass.


Lon Chaney, Jr. stars in his first starring role as a detective named Jack looking for a jewel thief that has stolen a precious stone known as the “Tear of Buddha”.  The thief has a partner named Butch (also Chaney) that works at a bartender in a little hole in the wall.  Jack has Butch arrested and since they resemble each other; he disguises himself as Butch to get in good with the bad guy and steal back the stone.


Chaney played a lot of supporting roles up until this point in his career and this was his big break as a leading man.  He pretty much drops the ball; although it’s really not his fault.  It’s obvious that the filmmakers were trying to cash in on his late father’s name because like his dear old dad, Chaney is put in make-up similar to his old man’s make-up from West of Zanzibar.  (He dons a phony beard, wears a stupid earring, parts his hair funny, gives himself a lazy eye, and talks like Louis Armstrong.)  Because of this, he suffers in comparison.  It wouldn’t be until The Wolf Man when Chaney could shed (no pun intended) his father’s image and become his own man.


It’s hard to tell what country this movie takes place in because the marketplace scenes feature Americans, dudes in turbans, and Asians; all of whom speak in wildly varying accents.  It’s not that big of a deal because these outdoor sequences are a breath of fresh air next to the tedious stage-bound scenes of missing jewels and dapper detectives.  The exotic (albeit completely fictional) locale is still enough to separate Scream in the Night from countless other similar tales of jewel thieves and international intrigue.  I will say this for the movie though; it features a pretty good (for the time) optical effect so that both of Chaney's characters can appear on the same screen at the same time.


Silk Lennox (Lon Chaney Jr.) is a suave gangster that runs his underworld operations from the back room of his swanky nightclub. Lennox uses his hired muscle and intimidation tactics to keep potential stool pigeons in line if he thinks they’ll blow the whistle on him. An undercover cop posing as a safecracker infiltrates the gang and helps bring down his crime syndicate.

The Shadow of Silk Lennox is yet another Lon Chaney Jr. flick on this 50 pack of horror movies that isn’t remotely a horror movie. It’s actually a slow-moving gangster picture that features very little gangster type stuff. There is one bank robbery scene but all we see is one shot of a clock, then the robbers are seen exiting the building. You can get away with this kind of thing if you’re name is Quentin Tarantino. Unfortunately, Ray Kirkwood is no Quentin Tarantino. We do get one car chase, although it’s nothing to write home about.

You also have to contend with a handful of song and dance numbers that are simply awful. And they take up about a quarter of the movie. Sure, the flick is only about an hour long, but that’s fifteen minutes of irritating singing and dancing too much if you ask me. But, if you enjoy boring, gangster movies from the 30’s featuring characters named “Lefty”, “Dutch”, and “Fingers”; then The Shadow of Silk Lennox should be right up your alley.