Here’s a thought: the first draft of Seagal’s latest direct-to-video actioner “Black Dawn” must have had Muslim terrorists as the villains, because it doesn’t make sense that a bunch of Chechnya teenagers (they look like teenagers with facial hair, anyway) are trying to blow up Los Angeles with a suitcase nuke. The reason given is that the CIA killed their leader, so now they want to bring the pain to Los Angeles . Which, actually, is kind of okay with me. Like most Americans, I probably won’t miss L.A. all that much if it went kaput tomorrow. Oh sure, we’ll probably bemoan the absence of mindless Hollywood Summer blockbusters for the first few years, but by then some quick thinking entrepreneur would have relocated Hollywood to Idaho already, so what’s to cry about?
In “Black Dawn”, Steven Seagal reprises the character of Jonathan Cold, an ex-CIA agent turned freelance operative who was last seen blowing stuff up real good in Europe as chronicled in “The Foreigner”. (For those wondering, “Black Dawn” marks the only sequel Seagal has done other than the “Under Siege” movies.) This time around, Cold is somewhere in Los Angeles , having broken some British guy whose name escapes me out of federal prison. Said British guy wants Cold to join him and his bearded little brother to sell a suitcase nuke to the aforementioned Chechnya teenagers, who have been going around the world busting up jewelry stores to finance their little purchase. And they say teenagers nowadays can’t finish a hard job!
While Cold is in the employ of the British fellow, we notice that the CIA is watching things. Or actually, Agent Amanda (Tamara Davies), who used to be Cold’s prot’g’, is doing most of the watching, not to mention snapping an obscene amount of photographs. (At one point the cutie pie CIA agent must have snapped about 5 rolls of Cold during a 5 second span. Seriously, the girl’s got a problem, methinks.) And so the Chechnya teens manage to get their hands on the suitcase nuke (remember, they want to blow up L.A. ), and it’s up to Cold and his former prot’g’ to save the day.
The film takes a curious turn toward the halfway mark, as it’s revealed that Cold is not who he claims to be, and various other factions of the CIA become involve. It’s all very convoluted, not to mention keeping the main storyline in the background. (Remember those crazy Chechnya kids and their plot to blow up L.A?) There’s a lot of action in “Black Dawn”, but it’s almost all shootouts, which leaves little room for Seagal to ply his trademark bone breaking skills. Fans of Seagal’s martial arts won’t be too happy with the choice of guns over martial arts, and even longtime watchers of generic direct-to-video shoot’em-ups will walk away thinking there are way too many gun battles involving silenced pistols going pfft pfft pfft all the time.
Besides using more stunt doubles than before (basically anything involving Cold shot from 5 feet away involves a Seagal stunt double), Seagal seems content to remain in the background for much of the movie. That leaves Tamara Davies to do a lot of the running, diving, and shooting. Davies’ character is the audience’s POV — she’s constantly confused about what’s going on, leading to some funny lines. It goes without saying that Davies has no chemistry with Seagal whatsoever, but then again, who does? To her credit, Davies carries on with the role with enthusiasm, as if she didn’t know she was in a generic action movie filled with generic bad and good guys doing and saying, well, generic things.
Of the villains, Nicholas Davidoff talks with a Russian accent for half of the movie, and forgets for the other half. And I can’t even remember the name of the British villain, which should say something. Most disappointing of all is that Don Franklin, late of the great but cancelled TV show “Seven Days”, has a small role as Amanda’s partner, but he has a total of about 3 exposition scenes before he’s unceremoniously killed off. Plus, fans of ’90s softcore erotica should get a kick out of seeing the movie’s producer, Andrew Stevens, sporting a ‘stache as a security guard at a nuclear facility.
There’s nothing about “Black Dawn” to make it a particularly bad movie given its star’s recent output, but unfortunately there’s also nothing slightly remarkable about it, either. Director Alexander Gruszynski doesn’t bring a whole lot to the film, but then again, neither does Martin Wheeler’s Plot-o-Matic 3000 screenplay. The film is saved somewhat by the fresh enthusiasm of Tamara Davies, and it’s too bad she’s not in a better movie. The lack of martial arts might put off Seagal fans, but let’s face it, if you still consider yourself a Seagal fan after the string of mediocre products the man has put out in recent years, and then you’ll probably watch anything with the ponytail one in it.
Alexander Gruszynski (director) / Martin Wheeler (screenplay)
CAST: Steven Seagal …. Jonathan Cold
Don Franklin …. Max Pierson
Nicholas Davidoff …. Nicholi
Tamara Davies …. Agent Amanda
Warren Derosa …. Sergey
Angela Gots …. Stazi