Into the Sun (2005) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, language, drug content and nudity
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Steven Seagal, Takao Osawa, Ken Lo, Matthew Davis, William Atherton, Masato Ibu, Munehisa Fujita, Daisuke Honda, Juliette Marquis, Kanako Yamaguchi, Eddie George
Director: mink (Christopher Morrison)
Screenplay: Stephen Seagal, Joe Halpin, Trevor Miller
Into the Sun is a straight-to-video Steven Seagal (Exit Wounds, Submerged) vehicle, which for an actor as popular as Seagal has been over the years, would lead you to believe that it was a sub par endeavor, in which the studio felt they had no chance of recuperating their investment. I'm pleased to announce that it isn't -- in fact, it probably ranks as a respectable Seagal effort, although I will admit, that's not saying very much. There's nice locale work, punchy direction, acting that manages to keep from being embarrassing, and a relatively cohesive storyline. It's not really a good movie by any large stretch, but it's not that bad either, which for a Seagal film, might actually be the best a non-fan could ever hope for if forced to sit through it.
Seagal co-produced and co-wrote the screenplay, which should let you know that the movie plays to his strengths, unlike some of his other efforts that usually just stick him in the middle of a pedestrian plot. Here, he plays Travis Hunter, a CIA agent who has spent most of his life in Japan, who becomes embroiled in an investigation into the possible reasons behind the assassination of the governor of Tokyo. The CIA sends a green rookie, Agent Mac (Below, Blue Crush), to assist in the investigation, but he proves to be more of a distraction, not really knowledgeable about procedures or Japanese customs. What the duo uncovers soon leads them in the direction of the a deadly collaboration between a new Yakuza outfit and the Chinese Tong gang, which proves to be quite a hot spot for a couple of outsiders to poke around in.
Perhaps the weakest element of Into the Sun proves to be the story itself, with a very standard tale of feuding gangs and the typical revenge subplot you've come to expect from a Seagal vehicle. Plot developments all proceed according to their predetermined plans, basically just a means to piss off Seagal enough that he decides to take action in the most lethal ways possible.
Low expectations do actually help, as it is clear that this isn't a throwaway action movie just meant to cash in on Seagal's popularity. The production value is quite good, seemingly sparing no expense in generating the right look for the movie, whether it means bringing in helicopters and elephants, or just in the exhibition of high-tech computer graphics, it feels like a theatrical release. Also an asset is the energetic direction by mink, a former music video director, who employs a good sense of visual flair, but doesn't let his own technique get in the way of the characters and story, as so many others with an MTV mentality are prone to do.
The multilingual cast does lend an air of authenticity, although the verbal exchanges in two different languages are sometimes disconcerting. Seagal handles his Japanese parts well, although he still insists on whispering his lines instead of actually emoting. For a project co-conceived of by Seagal, it is also surprising that he doesn't dominate the screen time out of vanity, only choosing to appear when the situation calls for it. Still, he is still damn near invincible in this flick, as he probably does believe a pudgy guy with a sword could easily outmatch dozens of gun-toting Yakuza.
With all of the decent qualities, this is still not quite up to the stuff that merits a recommendation for anyone who isn't a die-hard Seagal nut. Although it is violent, and quite bloody (with an especially overzealous sound department who seem to relish the fluid noises of gushing blood), it is still not all that exciting. Into the Sun may be a decent flick for Seagal, but it is still a long way from gaining him mainstream acceptance. If you're a fan, watch it, but otherwise, it's just more action fodder from the king of blandly brutal b-movie revenge films.
©2005 Vince Leo