A good number of Steven Seagal’s films over the past half dozen years can be enjoyed as comedies by right-minded (and possibly intoxicated) genre fans, owing to their, umm… how to put it, streamlined production values, and penchant for hilarious ADR throw-aways during various bad guy beatdowns. Against the Dark, which actually holds some intrigue on a certain level — inserting its star into a supernatural genre that he’s thus far scrupulously avoided — unfortunately doesn’t even really offer much of a kick on that level. It’s just bad. Baaaaaaad…
The back cover of this straight-to-video release describes the film thusly: “Katana master Tao (Seagal) leads a special ops squad of ex-military vigilantes on a massacre mission. Their target: vampires. On the post-apocalyptic globe, sucked dry by bloodthirsty vampires, a few remaining survivors are trapped in an infected hospital. Tao is their only hope and he knows the only cure is execution. Now it’s time for the last stand against the flesh-eating vampires, and there’s nothing left to lose but the last of humanity.”
Yes, seriously, that’s exactly how it reads, “post-apocalyptic globe” and all. Now, for the specifics. Given how little he appears in the film, viewers wouldn’t necessarily know until late in the movie that Seagal’s character is named Tao, unless perhaps they’d read the back cover box. Most of the movie actually centers on two different groups of survivors, including Dylan (Daniel Percival, of Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj), Dorothy (Jenna Harrison), Morgan (Danny Midwinter) and young Charlotte (tyke Skye Bennett, looking baffled by the amateurishness around her), supposedly holed up in this “safe” hospital, which seems to house an awful lot of marauding vampires.
They all come together and then spend an inordinate amount of time talking about how they have to make it to an exit passageway “before the generator shuts down” and locks them in. (Nevermind that one couple has been chilling there for a couple weeks, just biding time.) Intercut with this main arc is a story strand — with Keith David and Linden Ashby — about an ordered military strike on the sector that houses the hospital, and Seagal’s Tao wandering about with his group of hunters.
Against the Dark was written by Matthew Klickstein (Dinner Time) and helmed by first-time director Richard Crudo, a seasoned cinematographer whose two most interesting credits — as director of photography on the original American Pie, and camera operator on Donnie Darko — are counterbalanced by the vast amount of cruddy straight-to-video product that otherwise litters his resumé. Neither scribe nor director shows much convincing imagination, and the dialogue is howlingly bad. In the “cold open” action sequence that kick-starts the movie, when there’s some modest bickering about the ensuing course of action, and where to next go, Seagal ends debate by growling, “We’re not here to decide what’s wrong or right, we’re here to decide who lives and dies.”
I’m not really sure what that means. But, worse, when they meet up, none of the other characters glom onto or even treat Tao as a heroic figure (or thank him for saving their lives, in the one or two instances he does), and even in scenes without Tao it seems as though large swatches of dialogue were assigned randomly, with no premium placed on the words spoken by other characters, either before or after it. Adding insult to injury, the film’s vampire hunting action is pretty lame, and even when Seagal is on screen most of the heavy lifting is left to Tanoai Reed, a cousin of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who previously smashed heads on TV’s American Gladiators. He plays a character named Tagart (a shout-out to Fire Down Below?), the sole member of Tao’s crew that could be defined as anything more than a glorified extra. The other two? Chicks who don’t speak (perhaps because they can’t speak English?), which leads to an awkward mock-emotional moment where a grimacing Seagal silently eulogizes a character the audience doesn’t really know.
Housed in a regular Amaray plastic case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover, Against the Dark is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language 5.1 Dolby digital audio track, and a French language Dolby surround track. Optional English and French subtitles are included, and the only supplemental material comes by way of a short featurette, “Fighting the Shadows: Behind the Scenes of Against the Dark,” that showcases much more production savvy than the actual film itself. Including interviews with a solid array of below-the-line players and a few cast members — Crudo talks authoritatively about having worked with Seagal before, never mentioning
that it was only as a cinematographer, while Seagal,
lounging in his trailer, coughs up a few monosyllabic plot-point recaps — this eight-minute-ish tidbit makes a convincing case that the in-house featurette folks should be given their own production fund. Oh, there’s also an amusing tidbit where the stunt coordinator talks about reworking action blocking with Seagal on the fly, and incorporating the producer-actor’s thoughts. There’s no bitterness or acrimony to his recollection, though; dude just seems to recognize it’s all part of the paycheck on a Seagal movie. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. F (Movie) D+ (Disc)