In many ways, “Into the Sun” is probably Steven Seagal’s best movie — that is, if only it didn’t star Steven Seagal. With another actor — say, someone who can play a character that isn’t the 2,000th variation on the one he’s been playing for the last 20 years — “Into the Sun” might have actually been good, or at least not as underwhelming. But the film does in fact star Seagal, who is also the film’s producer and co-writer, and as a result “Into the Sun” is a slow moving, terribly uninteresting, and wholly clich’d piece of cinema fluff that even for the most diehard Seagal fans is guaranteed to disappoint. When you’ve cultured such a singular cinema persona for as long as Seagal have, it’s not recommended to go against your own established rules. To wit: for much of the film, Seagal seems like a tourist just passing through.
“Into the Sun” has Seagal returning as his favorite (re: only) incarnation: a Super Duper Martial Arts Guy With a Mysterious Past, which means he’s either a CIA agent or an ex-CIA agent. In this case, he’s a current CIA agent living in Japan who gets called by his boss (a very disinterested William Atherton) to work the case of a Japanese Governor shot dead by Chinese gangsters. We discover that the FBI is the one who actually asks the CIA to look into the killing, believing it to be linked to terrorism. How they came up with this connection is anybody’s guess.
In any case, Seagal’s Travis Hunter gets the job, which also means babysitting rookie FBI agent Mac (Matthew Davis, essentially the movie’s Odious Comic Relief, whose character is so wet behind the ears that it’s ludicrous the FBI would ever give this guy a gun, much less assign him to investigate something as important as terrorism links). As the duo goes about solving the case — Well, they don’t really do a lot of detecting or solving, because the first hour basically consists of Hunter going around Japan asking people for information on the Yakuza’s ties to the Tong (the Chinese mob). But considering how eager every Asian person is to open up to our heavyset American without the slightest bit of suspicion (including, but not limited to, a bunch of old-time Yakuza gangsters who don’t approve of their younger counterparts), you can’t really blame him for not bothering to do any of the work himself.
Since Seagal co-wrote the script, all the actor’s usual favorite things are readily apparent, including a general fawning over all things Asian. Seagal even tosses in a Buddhist monk every now and then to remind people that just because his character is incredibly violent, that doesn’t mean he’s not spiritual. The film spends an hour trying to develop chemistry between Seagal and his young FBI partner, but apparently the filmmakers just gave up, because at the hour mark Davis’ Agent Mac is nonchalantly killed off. I guess all that male bonding didn’t work, because Hunter doesn’t seem to give a rat’s behind that his young partner has gone missing right after he went looking for evidence on the bad guy.
I wouldn’t recommend “Into the Sun” even for diehard Steven Seagal fans. There’s barely any action involving Seagal in the first hour aside from an introductory sequence in the jungle that is so slapdash as to be embarrassing, and a street fight with some young thugs about 30 minutes later. One gets the feeling that the jungle sequence, which made no sense whatsoever, was tacked on later in re-shoots when the producers realized they had a Steven Seagal movie where Seagal didn’t get to shoot, punch, or break anyone’s arms for almost an entire hour. And really, that fistfight with those gangsters in the street barely qualifies as an action sequence. The film is saved somewhat by the movie’s final climactic battle, which consists of Seagal, a Chinese martial arts girl (whose name is, predictably, the generic “Mai Ling”), and a tattoo artist with a grudge, assaulting bad guy Kuroda’s house.
One of the few bright spots of “Into the Sun” is Takao Osawa as the villainous Kuroda. Osawa is a Japanese movie star of some renown, counting among his credits the Ryuhei Kitamura Samurai/action pictures “Sky High” and “Aragami”. Along with Hong Kong vet Ken Lo, who plays the Chinese villain, Osawa shows up onscreen almost more than the hero himself. It’s a good thing that Takao Osawa makes a great villain, while Ken Lo is adequate as the Tong contingent. To no one’s surprise, Seagal’s battles with Lo and Osawa are predictably short, although curiously Seagal allowed his character to get knocked about a bit. Just a bit, but it deserves mentioning considering Seagal’s infamous vanity.
Some may find “Into the Sun” to be a welcome break from Seagal’s recent lackluster productions, and while the film does seem to have an actual script this time around (albeit an unnecessarily muddled one with too many characters and subplots that are only interesting to Seagal and company), it barely delivers on what one has come to expect from a Seagal production. The action is pedestrian, with the moving swordfight at Kuroda’s house/castle/temple being the only real bright spot.
Even so, the film feels like a 30-minute Seagal movie expanded into a 90-minute feature, with the remaining 60 minutes padded with tedious plot points and unintentionally humorous scenes of Seagal talking English to Japanese characters while they respond back in Japanese. Strange, because Seagal’s Japanese sounds quite good. So why were there so many chicken-and-duck dialogue?
It deserves noting that “Into the Sun” completely cheats with the FBI character, basically dumping him so that Seagal can assault the bad guy’s place with two people whose names we barely knew, instead of the guy Seagal has been spending the last hour of screentime with. If I had to guess, the inexplicable inclusion of the Chinese girl and the Japanese guy in the film’s final battle was so Seagal can point to their characters as good guys, since at this point we’ve seen quite monstrous Japanese and Chinese villains. It’s all very PC of Seagal, but not all that surprising considering this is the man responsible for the ludicrously PC “On Deadly Ground”.
mink (director) / Steven Seagal, Joe Halpin, Trevor Miller (screenplay)
CAST: Steven Seagal …. Travis Hunter
Matthew Davis …. Agent Mac
Takao Osawa …. Kuroda
Ken Lo …. Chen