My expectations entering a Steven Seagal movie are so abysmally low that when something good stands out, I immediately take notice. I don’t mean to imply in any way that Shadow Man is actually good or that its even tolerable to sit through. Seagal continues his path of suck with this 2006 straight-to-DVD movie, but I have to give credit where credit is due and that credit goes to the film’s beautiful cinematography and the fact that the producers managed the Herculean feat of casting an Academy Award-nominated actor, namely Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge of the Harry Potter movies and the critically acclaimed Vera Drake).

Shadow Man gives us a slightly different shade of Steven Seagal but one which we Seagalites are well familiar with. This time, Seagal plays an ex-CIA operative whose daughter is kidnapped by people who think Seagal possesses some sort of secret biological weapon or formula (I forget which, but does it really matter?). There are many players involved who want to get their hands on the weapon and they are all out to get Seagal. You have the police, the Russian mob, and the U.S. government and everyone seems to be double-crossing everyone. Of course, because Steven Seagal is so badass, nothing confuses him and he’s able to figure out all of these myriad connections so he can find his daughter.

I’ve grown to like and respect Steven Seagal over the past year. This is clearly not because I like his movies, but mainly because of his A&E reality show, Steven Seagal Lawman. From what I’ve seen on that show and the interviews he’s done to promote it (as well as the many charities and humanitarian work he’s been doing for many years), I have the feeling that Seagal is far more comfortable hanging out with cops and taking on real bad guys than making movies. I think he continues to make films solely to make an income and be able to pay his bills. You can see this in his recent films. Its not like he was a good actor in his early movies, but now he looks almost comatose. I’ve already said many of these things in my review of Today You Die, but Seagal mumbles the majority of his lines and he never emotes anything other than draw his eyebrows down further when he’s pissed or give a wan smile when he’s happy. I don’t know in how good a shape he is physically, but many of his action scenes contain a lot of cuts instead of being continuous takes, which indicates to me that he didn’t or couldn’t perform his moves like the way he used to.

I can’t entirely fault Steven Seagal for how bad his movies are. You’re only as good as your script. As great an actress as Imelda Staunton is, her dialogue and character here were so horrible that it made her seem like a bad actress. I’m sure the writer of this movie had pretty ambitious plans for his story and perhaps he even intended this to be the great comeback movie for Steven Seagal. I definitely sensed this vibe from watching Shadow Man. Unless you were born with Tarantino-esque talents, however, a beginning writer attempting a scope of this magnitude for a straight-to-video, low budget action movie is going to crash and burn and he’ll be taking his audience with him. You can tell the writer also didn’t do any research in how the Russian mob operates, hacking computer systems, biological weaponry, etc. The dialogue is cliché and simplistic and there is a noticeable lack of detail in the things people say (i.e. “Did you get the stuff?,” “If this gets into the wrong hands, it will kill many people.”).

At the beginning of this review, I remarked on how good looking Shadow Man is. If there is anything good to be said about this movie, it’s the look. Shooting your film in medieval looking Eastern European locales certainly helps toward the look of your film. The movie contains soft, warm colors and overexposed lighting that helps toward the frenetic style of the story. And although I’m not a huge fan of the shaky cam technique for action shooting (see my review of The A-Team), the director uses it in a non-annoying manner and, as a result, it works effectively.

Shadow Man is yet another black mark in Steven Seagal’s career. He’s going to be starring in Robert Rodriguez’s Machete later this fall and I’m curious to see if he’s actually going to attempt acting this time. Its difficult to watch Seagal in these direct-to-DVD movies because he makes it SO obvious that he’s there for nothing more than to collect a paycheck. Watch a single episode of Steven Seagal Lawman and you’ll see a hell of a lot more exuberance than you do here.