Two Steven Seagal Films from Sony
Shadow Man (November 9/07)
While Shadow Man is undoubtedly a marginal improvement over Steven Seagal's last few efforts - ie Flight of Fury, Attack Force, etc - the film is rife with many of the same problematic elements that viewers have come to associate with the big guy's straight-to-video output. At the top of that list is the continued use of Romania as a shooting venue, although - unlike most movies of this ilk - at least Shadow Man is actually set there (the country remains an absolutely abysmal cinematic locale, however). Seagal - who's actually credited as a co-writer on this thing - stars as Jack Foster, a shady ex-military man who finds himself caught up in an international incident minutes after arriving in Bucharest with his young daughter. Given the inclusion of a surprisingly suspenseful early scene involving a bomb and a car, one could be forgiven for thinking that Shadow Man might just reach the levels of some of Seagal's earlier, theatrical efforts. Alas, the film suffers from the sort of dull and surprisingly confusing midsection that seems to plague most shot-on-the-cheap actioners (these movies are never simple; there's always double-crosses and strange viruses and government conspiracies). Here, Seagal's character spends much of the movie's second act avoiding a series of bland baddies while trying to track down his kidnapped daughter - with the surprisingly effective climactic shootout (in which Jack caps a villain in the stomach and cheek) finally providing the film with some much-needed thrills. Shadow Man is, ultimately, yet another needless entry within Seagal's increasingly woeful filmography, and one has to wonder when/if his remaining fans are ever going to grow tired of his mediocre antics.
Urban Justice (November 10/07)
That Urban Justice eventually devolves into yet another tedious Steven Seagal actioner is particularly disappointing, as the movie boasts an opening half hour that essentially possesses the feel of an old-school Seagal effort. The film's seemingly foolproof premise - a mysterious figure (Seagal's Simon Ballister), in an effort to solve the murder of his son, moves into a gang-infested neighborhood and starts shaking things up - is ultimately squandered by filmmaker Don E. FauntLeRoy, whose overuse of various camera tricks (including the dreaded choppy slo-mo) becomes awfully tiresome almost immediately. It's a shame, really, as the film's early scenes seem to promise a delightfully tongue-in-cheek sensibility, as evidenced by Seagal's first encounter with a couple of local gangbangers (a typically brutal fight ensues after one of the men has the misfortune of calling Seagal a "pendejo"). There's little doubt that Urban Justice would've benefited from the inclusion of more scenes like that, yet screenwriter Gil Fuentes places the emphasis on the increasingly tedious behind-the-scenes shenanigans of the various gangs and cops behind pursued by Seagal's character. And while the movie does recover for an admittedly effective finale - there's a brilliant scene late in the proceedings in which Seagal kicks a hapless thug in the groin about a dozen times, knees him in the face, and finally tosses him down a flight of stairs that virtually justifies the film's entire existence - Urban Justice ultimately comes off as a missed opportunity that'll probably frustrate even the most ardent Seagal devotee.