It’s fairly obvious to see, to non fans, that Steven Seagal over the last few years has seen a decline in film quality, since Exit Wounds, which itself briefly reversed a falling trend in the big guys, post Under Siege works. By the time Wound’s came out Seagal hadn’t actually done all that many films, 11 in all, including Executive Decision which was merely a cameo for Steven. Since wound’s though he’s so far done another 13, shot and in the can awaiting release. Including another 3 awaiting release, and several potentials yet to be shot. So in the last 5 years his career has shot up in terms of output. Unfortunately the sheer amount of films, has seen a decline in quality. Furthermore Seagal has put on a lot of weight and is no longer looking the part, in the way he used to. Similarly trends have emerged such as voice dubbing, stand ins, stunt doubles and a real lack of enthusiasm, which is remarkable considering Seagal’s wooden demeanour has been in question from critics since his glory days, but in some recent films he’s nearly asleep. Seagal films these days, ridiculously, are rated on his participation in fight scenes, his own dialogue, etc, which in a critical standpoint is really no way to rate a movie. However in that respect this film is good in one respect: Seagal kicks ass! He does all his own fights, aside from an opening fight probably needlessly added in post production using his double, as naturally Seagal shoots these things and moves on to other things.
Shadow Man though marks an upturn in quality for Seagal. In most respects it’s his typical DTV dreck, but this film at least has Seagal half interested and also has a good pace. At least Seagal is IN the movie. Some of his previous DTV films have seen him actually only appear in about 75% of the film (in Mercenary Seagal doesn’t even properly appear until 12 minutes in.). What we have in Shadow Man is Seagal in most scenes, albeit with the use of a stand in for a lot of reverse shots and far off shots. But this is favourable to him disappearing for huge gaps, and since he’s the main draw some films where Seagal disappears from proceedings, suffer immensely (MFJ, Black Dawn). Seagal also does his own fights, and what’s more he has a lot of action in this film. Shadow Man does feature some vintage Seagal moments, including a great fight against a group of Russian gangsters. Also this has a classically violent climax worthy of the Seagal of old. Seagal too is ably supported by a good cast, something missing in some of his previous films. Alex Ferns, Imelda Staunton (surprisingly) and the lovely Eva Pope, all appear to give fine support.
The plot is quite simple but as usual in some of these movies the storytelling is poor, with Seagal travelling from scene to scene with little indication as to why. There is no cohesion in the narrative but at the same time Seagal is essentially going from action scene to action scene and as such the pace is brisk. Shadow Man at least isn’t a trial to sit through like his last few films were, which suffered terribly from dull patches. There’s enough carnage, bone breaking and car chases to keep things moving briskly. Essentially this film gets by on the nostalgic value with some classic Seagal moments that seem vintage. Some moments bring a sudden breezy memory from his glory days, while you still of course acknowledge that these are not nearly as well made as say Nico or Under Siege. It’s all competently done though from the crew, and Barry Taylor in particular produces a decent musical score that although mimicking John Powell’s Bourne scores, is simple and effective. At the same time director Michael Keucsh is okay. It seems that there could be a brighter next year or so for Seagal fans as he’s got another 2 films with more or less the same crew, working with Keusch both times. However the real turning point is likely to be Prince Of Pistol’s which seems to at least have Seagal’s undivided interest and enthusiasm. Anyway Shadow Man is by no means a very good film, but it is still pretty good fun. **1/2