Into The Sun

Director: Mink
Steven Seagal, Matthew Davis, Takao Osawa

If Steven Seagal feels he needs to blame someone for the sharp decline his career has been descending on for the past decade or so, the person he really needs to blame is himself. Sure, there are some outside factors that can be considered as well - the audience's changing tastes in theatrically-released movies has resulted in a decline in the kind of action movies that previously played to packed houses in the '80s and early '90s, for example. But even when you consider Van Damme and Stallone are also heading straight to video these days, I still think most people would consider those stars still being at a higher standing than Seagal. Not long ago, I was talking to Kenner of Movies In The Attic and Ziggy's Video Realm about Seagal's ruined career, and we quickly came up with several explanations as to how Seagal damaged his credibility. In no particular order: He never gets seriously hurt in fight sequences - it's hard to identify with or admire an onscreen hero who isn't struggling or feeling he's in danger. He more or less plays the same character in each movie - familiarity breeds contempt, especially when the actor doesn't even seem to be trying to be different. It doesn't help that this character most often comes across as a smug know-it-all. He has let his physical appearance and abilities slide - it's not just that he looks bloated and overweight nowadays, but that this results in him doing less actual martial-arts action (or relying on obvious body doubles.)

Of course, there is also the obvious fact that Seagal's movies for the past while simply haven't been that good at all - and a string of turkeys More like "Into his fat-hiding coat"would kill anybody's acting career. I have yet to see Out For A Kill, but from what I've read about it, it seems to be as bad as the other recent Seagal movies I've seen, like Ticker, The Foreigner, Belly Of The Beast, and Half Past Dead. Van Damme and Stallone have certainly made more than their share of awful films as well, which has also hurt their careers. Though Stallone still gets the occasional theatrically-released movie job, probably because (1) he's played a number of different characters in his career, (2) having less of an ego than Seagal or Van Damme, and (3) building some good will by freely admitting a lot of his past work was garbage, expressing a desire to better his standing. Could Seagal ever work his way back into getting his movies theatrically released, and find a receptive audience for them? It's possible, even when you factor in things like his now-advancing age. After all, Exit Wounds, theatrically released after the straight-to-video The Patriot, did decent business. Though examining that movie's production history, one will discover that Seagal had less control over that movie - he was actually made to go on a diet before shooting started, for one thing. It's further proof that Seagal's greatest enemy to his career may simply be himself.

So unless Seagal decides to stop his insistence on creative control and listen to somebody else for a change, a comeback in the future seems unlikely. (Especially since he recently signed a multi-picture deal with Franchise Pictures, what is today like Cannon was in the 1980s) Most likely we will get straight to video movies like Into The Sun, which he not only starred in, but produced and co-wrote the script as well. Actually, it is a bit unfair to compare Into The Sun with the garbage Seagal has participated in during the past few years. That's not to say that it's a good movie or even a passable one, but it's a step in the right direction if Seagal intends a comeback, and it's far more tolerable than the recent movies Seagal has starred in. Instead of a domestic setting, Into The Sun takes place in Asia. After an unsuccessful assassination mission in the Golden Triangle, CIA agent Travis Hunter (Seagal) is called back to Japan, the country where he grew up. It doesn't take long for a new assignment to come this way, which happens when Tokyo governor Takayama is assassinated during election time while campaigning for a crackdown on immigrants with questionable origins. Assigned to the case with a new partner (played by Davis of the What About Brian? TV series), it doesn't take Travis long to find out the culprits behind the assassination, Tong gang members. It also doesn't take him long to find out that the brains behind the operation belong to Yakuza gang leader Kuroda (Osawa), who has allied with the Tongs in a bid to control the import of heroin to the Japanese market.

One of the positive things that can be said about Into The Sun is that it is a polished production. Although it had a much smaller budget (around 16 million dollars) than his theatrical movies, it doesn't look it. The movie looks sharp, well lit, and has several camera movements (crane shots, helicopter shots) that you'd associate with big-budget theatrical movies. The musical score by Stanley Clarke, though limited, manages to be pleasing to the ear. The story also manages to be an improvement over some of Seagal's recent movies. The plot is easy to follow, and at no point manages to be particularly stupid. Plus at no point do the unfolding events become boring and a chore to watch. However, this doesn't mean that there aren't any problems with the script. The biggest problem with the script is that it runs out of plausible ways to delay the inevitable showdown at the climax. It doesn't take very long for Travis to find out who is behind it all (and why), so the question arises as to why he doesn't get right to business sooner than he actually does. The movie feels like it's spinning its wheels and giving us a bunch of unnecessary material to pad out the running time. There are also some minor nit-picks here and there. For example, while it's plausible that the CIA would get involved with the case (feeling that it's terrorist-related) would the FBI be authorized to get involved with a foreign case? There is also some unfunny comic relief, mostly involved with Davis' character, who is too naive to be believable as an agent.

How is Seagal in all of this? Well, as someone says at one point in the movie, "You look younger and taller." Seriously, though, that comment provides a good unintended laugh, especially when compared to how Segal really comes across. Although he doesn't look as bloated as he has in his other recent films, he still comes across as being significantly overweight. They try to hide it in a variety of ways, like his wearing of a long coat in almost every scene, sitting behind a table, or being filmed from the chest up. As for his performance, it is mixed. He is still the same humorless quasi-thug he's played in his other movies, though on the other hand he tackles with ease the parts of the movie when his character speaks Japanese (in his younger days, Seagal spent several years in Japan studying the martial arts.) But there are other parts of the movie when he seems to be very uncomfortable and not trying very hard at all. His whisper-voice is even more of a whisper, and at times I had to turn on the DVD's subtitles in order to make out what he was saying. He largely avoids eye contact with whoever he's speaking to. Seagal seems most lost during the movie's (very brief) romantic subplot; he generates no chemistry with the woman whom he claims love for. He comes across more like he's scheming to snap her neck instead of planning to kiss her.

While I'm on the subject of snapped necks, I might as well talk about the movie's action sequences. That is, the few action sequences there are - there isn't that much action (martial art or otherwise) to be found in the movie. This may be the main reason why director "Mink" didn't use his real name in the credits. The martial art sequences in Into The Sun are a good example of what's often wrong with martial art sequences in American films. It almost seems at times they are actively trying to be the opposite of what's found in Hong Kong cinema. The fights take place in cramped quarters instead of wide areas. The camera is close up to the participants instead of stepping back to show the full bodies of the participants (and add to the feeling that Seagal is using a double during the many times when we don't see his face in the shot.) The editing creates quick cuts after one or two moves instead of showing several more. The fights are over barely after they've begun, instead of going for length. And there is a gratuitous feeling to the action sequences, feeling like they are tacked on in a desperate attempt to provide some action instead of coming out of the direct results of the characters' decisions. Take the opening jungle action sequence; it could easily be cut out of the movie without affecting the rest of the movie at all. If Seagal is to make a true comeback, one of the things he needs to seriously think of is how to present himself onscreen. Otherwise, his chance of a comeback will be like one of his movie titles - Out Of Reach.

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See also: Fighting Fists Of..., Replicant, Ulterior Motives