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 clichéd 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
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".