Belly of the Beast (2003) Movie Review

Steven Seagal and Hong Kong filmmakers don’t go together, mostly because the filmmakers are used to throwing actors around with wild abandon; this includes making them do absurd stunts. Now add Steven Seagal, who is in his fifties but looks like he’s going on his deathbed (No more close-ups, please!), into the equation. What you have is a lot of scenes featuring an obvious body double doing most of the work. And when I say it’s obvious, it is painfully obvious.

The Formerly Viable Action Star Known as Steven Seagal plays Jake Hopper, an ex (what else?) CIA agent who is (what else?) forced out of (what else?) retirement when murderous rebels in Thailand kidnap his daughter. Hopper seeks answers in Thailand, his old stomping ground, all the while managing to get into a fight about every 5 minutes or so. Thankfully Seagal is endowed with magical kung fu (or so it seems), which allows him to whup ass with great efficiency. But because this is a Dumb Action Movie (or Damn Dams as I affectionately call them) there’s conspiracies aplenty, many of them involving a (way too young to be a) General Jantapan (Tom Wu), whose character speaks English throughout the film because, obviously, the actor is Chinese and not Thai.

If you’re wondering what the heck Seagal is doing still playing a leading man when he has lost the body, the face, and the charm for the job at the same time the ’80s expired, then this question will only stick in your mind after you see Byron Mann. Mann plays Sunti, Hopper’s ex-CIA partner who became a monk 10 years ago after he accidentally shot a woman during a gunfight. After Hopper tells Sunti the story, Sunti voluntarily ditches all that Buddhist stuff to help Hopper kill, oh, half of Thailand or so. And when I say these guys leave a massive bodycount in their wake, I mean these guys leave a massive bodycount in their wake.

What you immediately notice is that Byron Mann (“Invincible”) is a pretty darn good martial artist, not to mention a fair actor. Actually, working next to Mister One-Face, One-Emotion Seagal, Mann looks like Brando. So it’s a bit disheartening to see Mann relegated to not just sidekick duty, but chauffeur for his Lardo Lead, who has to grunt just to climb out of a boat. And since falling from the A-list has yet to humble our hero, Seagal’s ego is still in full effect here. Meaning that his character never gets a single scratch during the countless fights and gunbattles he gets into. In fact, it’s probably a miracle he even let his character be “hurt” by a voodoo character that sticks needles into him via a voodoo doll. The man’s come a long way!

Seagal’s love interest is played by Monica Lo, whose character falls madly in love with the puffy faced, old-enough-to-be-her-granddad-two-lifetimes-over Seagal after he beats up some guys with bad teeth chasing her in a club. The way she was stumbling over herself to aid him in his quest to strut around Thailand wearing some truly obscene Chinese clothing, you’d think Seagal was Tom Cruise. Again, it’s all about the casting. Seagal just doesn’t work in this role because he’s Seagal. Byron Mann could have worked; in fact, anything Seagal does in this movie Mann could have done 10 times better. I don’t mean to harp on the topic, but when you see both men in the film it’s an inevitable conclusion.

Speaking of casting, the film is populated with those “actors” who were hired for their ability to withstand multiple squibs exploding against their chest and fall down screaming incoherently. It’s your usual Hong Kong type of stunt work, in this case transplanted to Thailand for the shoot. Action-wise, there’s a lot of variety to be found, which is a major plus. During a train yard shootout, Seagal (or, to be more accurate, his overworked stunt double) channels Chow Yun Fat while director Tony Ching channels John Woo. By the end of the movie, Seagal and Kato — er, Sunti — has killed most of the males in Thailand. But seeing that the only Thai males that ever show up are gun-toting terrorists, gun-toting rebels, gun-toting crooked cops, or gun-toting cross dressers, I suppose it’s, er, okay that our heroes should mount such a staggering bodycount.

Director Tony Ching (“Naked Weapon”) choreographs the action scenes well enough — that is, if you don’t want any realism with your action at all. As mentioned, Seagal’s character seems to possess superpowers here, otherwise why would everyone he barely touches goes flying about 50 yards or so through the air? Seagal is such a champ of Buddhism that at one point some monks get together to gang up on the voodoo priest in order to save Seagal. Try telling Seagal that Buddhist monks wouldn’t voluntarily kill someone, even an evil voodoo priest, and he’ll probably tell you that he knows more about Buddhism than you do. (Also, Seagal insists on butchering the Thai language for some strange reason.)

For those looking for an extra treat, pay attention to the final shootout at the villain’s estate, where Tony Ching does his best to copy the lobby shootout in “The Matrix”. The theft is so obvious Ching can’t even be bothered to hide the familiar-sounding techno score playing over the sequence. The only thing missing is Carrie-Anne Moss in tight black leather — although we do get a cross dresser in tight black leather, but alas Seagal had already snapped her/his/its neck like a twig 30 minutes earlier.

In the final analysis, if you hate Seagal movies, you’ll hate this one. As I’ve said in previous reviews, Seagal has stopped trying to act. He’s essentially playing Seagal, but just under different character names and movie titles. “Belly of the Beast” is neither very good, nor is it very bad. Actually, in comparison to Seagal’s recent works, it’s passable entertainment. Mindless, idiotic, and completely pretentious entertainment — but passable nevertheless.

Tony Ching (director) / Steven Seagal (story), James Townsend (screenplay)
CAST: Steven Seagal …. Jake Hopper
Byron Mann …. Sunti
Monica Lo …. Lulu

Buy Belly of the Beast on DVD