Over my several years as a rising Seagalogist I have been asked many times who would win in a fight between Seagal and Van Damme. I have also been asked who would win between Seagal and Bruce Lee. I have never been asked who would win between Seagal and vampires, but I know now that the answer is Sea(SPOILER)gal. But this is also one of those whoever-wins-we-lose type scenarios because, I’m sorry to report, AGAINST THE DARK may be the least interesting movie Seagal has ever made.
Some might disagree. Many who don’t like Seagal’s movies criticize him for the exact reason why I think he’s interesting: he keeps making the same type of movie over and over again. To me it’s the perfecting, tinkering, and slow evolution of that formula that makes the movies cool. You don’t listen to blues to hear brand new riffs. Still, it SEEMS like it would be interesting to see his first attempt at a horror movie. But let’s be honest, nobody’s expecting it to work as a horror movie, and it doesn’t. So it should be a real Seagal movie, but it isn’t. It’s a shitty Sci-Fi-Channel-worthy vampire siege movie where one of the characters happens to be played by Seagal. And not even the main character.
For better or worse it is a landmark in Seagalogy. As my fellow scholars know, Seagal has tried at least twice to dip his toes into genre movies. SUBMERGED was filmed as a movie about mutants on a sub, ended up being about mind control. ATTACK FORCE was supposed to be about an alien invasion but was released as a story about stylish European gangsters on performance enhancing drugs. Producers resisted and made them science-fictionless in postproduction. Now Seagal has succeeded, he has faced (sort of) vampires.
When I saw the bloodsuckers on the cover for the screener I still wasn’t holding my breath. They could’ve re-dubbed it by the time the disc got in my player and it would just be about Russian mafia with bloody lips. But sure enough there is Steven Seagal as swordmaster Tao leading a team of leather-jacketed hunters in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by vampires. Unfortunately though they’re not the cross-fearing, bat-turning type of vampires, it’s more a 28 DAYS LATER deal where they say it’s a virus. They’re not undead I guess, they just enjoy blood. The opening narration says the survivors can move around during the day, but they never say or show what would happen to the vampires if they were in sunlight. For all we know it just gives them gas.
Seagal has done such a good job of sticking to one type of movie that suddenly showing him cutting up vampires with a sword is a real novelty. Here’s the catch: he’s not in the movie very much. Even when he is he’s not much of a character. Most of the movie is about a group of survivors walking around in a shadowy abandoned hospital. I already forget their names and if they had personalities or what they were trying to do. Eventually they run into the group of hunters led by Seagal and Tanoai Reed, who is The Rock’s stunt double and looks the part. (Hey, how about this guy in SCORPION KING 3?) He’s pretty cool looking but has even less of a character than Seagal.
There’s no background on Tao, no detail. All we know is what he says his name is and that he has a sword. In the first half of the movie he doesn’t get that much screen time and his only dialogue is generic commands like “Clear the area!” If it was a good movie and Seagal was only in a supporting role then it wouldn’t matter (see EXECUTIVE DECISION). But when it’s a generic, poorly made vampire movie Seagal is the ONLY thing going for it and they don’t keep him on screen enough to take advantage of the vampire/Seagal juxtaposition.
That’s kind of the evil nature of DTV though. “Ha ha ha, Kris Kristofferson and DMX together in LORDS OF THE STREET? Sign me the fuck up! How could that NOT be awesome?!” And then you watch it and you say, “Oh. That’s how.” Same thing here.
If you like gore there is some, including alot of intestine munching like in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. In one of the very few effective moments an infected woman franticly files her own teeth into fangs, which is pretty disturbing. Seagal chickens out from being shown killing a little girl vampire (you just see a knife – not even his hand – raising and then it cuts to a different scene) but does allow a brief shot of him killing a little boy vampire. And the dude always looks cool with a sword so that’s a plus (too bad he just starts shooting them after a while.)
That reminds me, these vampires die the same way humans do. You just gotta shoot them or cut them. It’s not really clear why the non-hunters don’t arm themselves.
There are a couple enjoyable goofy moments. Seagal saves a little girl who says “Who are you?” He just says, “My name is Tao,” then dramatically turns around and leaves to the tune of rockin guitars. (okay, I guess you had to be there.) For me the biggest laugh is when he frees a guy who’s tied up, being tortured by a mad scientist. The guy says, “Thanks man,” and Seagal says, “Get out of here buddy.” It’s a little casual in my opinion. If I ever escape and/or rescue somebody from mad scientist torture I hope to say something more dramatic.
In a later scene the torture victim tries to explain to the others that “we’re the monsters now” because he was attacked by a guy who wasn’t a vampire, just crazy. Seagal says, “Man, I’ve seen that. People do what they have to do to survive.”
What? You seemed pretty high on vengeance a minute ago when you shot that guy! Now you act like you’re hearing about it for the first time and you sympathize with the dude. See, this movie would be better if it either a) was good or b) had more ridiculous crap like that. But this is about all you get.
The cast also includes Linden Ashby from MORTAL KOMBAT and the great Keith David. I knew David would have to be a small role but I was excited for his reunion with Seagal, since in MARKED FOR DEATH he was Seagal’s all-time best sidekick – in fact, more of an equal partner than a sidekick. So, of course, David plays a military commander ordering the hospital bombed (for some reason “there’s no time” – not really sure what they are trying to stop) and never has a scene with Seagal. Same goes for Ashby.
The main problem is that Seagal isn’t using his home field advantage. He’s going into a shitty vampire movie instead of bringing vampires to his own turf. It would be more fun if he was still an opinionated ex-CIA martial arts expert turned freelance intelligence operative and while he was in Japan as a youth he picked up the ancient secrets of vampire hunting and he discovers a nest of suckheads working with Yakuza or international arms smugglers or somebody. Or his brother is a vampire and he has to get revenge on the vampire slayer that staked him. I don’t know. I also think he should do a werewolf movie called HOWL FOR JUSTICE where he’s a cop framed by corrupt cops and he has to clear his name but also doesn’t want anybody to find out he’s the one eating everybody’s pets. And after that of course THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK OPS LAGOON.
I guess I published SEAGALOGY at just the right time. I was able to give it a happy ending because URBAN JUSTICE and PISTOL WHIPPED were sort of a return to form for the big guy. But KILL SWITCH and especially this one kind of undo that luster, he’s back to FLIGHT OF FURY levels here. I also got some thinking to do some day down the line if I update that book, because on a first viewing anyway this thing seems to challenge my theory that Seagal always puts his personal touch on every movie he’s in. You can definitely still say that with KILL SWITCH but this one it literally could’ve been anybody playing the character. Well, I guess if they had no arms it would be hard because they couldn’t hold the sword. Other than that anybody with a stunt double could play this character. In fact, any stunt double could play this character. It’s not Seagal-specific at all.
Sorry guys, don’t mean to piss on the parade, but this is not the hilarious movie everybody expects when they hear about it, or the actually good one a guy like me hopes for. Hopefully Seagal put more effort into one of the other two movies he has on the way, or the reality series, or something. I have my hopes pinned on this one:
That trailer alone has a hell of alot more of interest than STEVEN SEAGAL AGAINST THE DARK. Sorry, but I’m gonna have to give this one to the dark.
Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/39496