In the history of cinema, there have been director / actor partnerships that reliably produce legendary results: John Woo and Chow Yun Fat, Scorsese and DeNiro, Scorsese and DiCaprio, Martin Campbell and whoever happens to be playing James Bond at the time, etc. For over a decade, if you were in a video store and saw the names Isaac Florentine and Scott Adkins on a DVD, then you just knew you were in for a great time.
From 2003’s Special Forces to 2015’s Close Range, these two would almost single-handedly elevate DTV action cinema in ways that would put it above its theatrical competition (budget be damned). Now, after a five year hiatus they’re collaborating on the new actioner, Seized. This is exciting for so many reasons but is absolutely terrifying for one big reason…
That lingering question: What if the magic is gone?
Long story short, bad guys kidnap Scott Adkins’s son and force him to take out their competition if he ever wants to get him back. You’ve seen this story before. It’s about as interesting as it sounds. A serviceable story that gives Adkins an excuse to punch, kick, and shoot his way through waves of bad people.
Adkins is relegated to playing the kind of bland, po-faced action hero that we all thought he’d grown beyond and the less said about the character’s kidnapped son, the better. The fact is, this story has been done better many times before and is hardly worth discussing further.
In the five years between Close Range and Seized, Florentine and Adkins have seen their careers run parallel to each other. Adkins would find a new creative partner in Jesse V. Johnson and the two would create six movies in the span of three years. These collaborations would serve to push Adkins not just as an action star, but as an actor and a creative force in his own movies, often serving as executive producer and having a say in the writing. In many ways, these movies would prove to be some of the best of his career (with Avengement possibly being THE best).
While Adkins was cranking out a new batch of action classics, Florentine was also attempting to grow as an artist. 2017’s Acts Of Vengeance, starring Antonio Banderas and Karl Urban, had all the makings of an artist striving to grow beyond the confines of his past work. Gone were the campy elements of ninjas and over the top fighter personas, replaced by a somber story about a grieving father who takes a vow of silence until he has avenged his family. The action was every bit as impressive as fans had come to expect, but with a gravitas that Florentine’s previous films rarely achieved. Growth is often painful, but Florentine managed to create a worthwhile film that showed he was more than his Power Rangers roots would suggest. Acts Of Violence would be the ONLY film he’d direct between 2015 and 2020.
Unfortunately, the majority of Florentine’s films have been ravaged by piracy and often struggled to break even financially; something that would make it harder for him to get projects greenlit with budgets that were up to par. This would similarly kneecap Adkins’ career, but not to the extent of what it would do to Florentine.
This brings us back to the topic at hand: Is Seized worthy of standing alongside the legendary filmography of these two men? The short answer is No. Seized is almost unrecognizable as a Florentine/Adkins collaboration. From start to finish, this film is a far cry from the immaculate work we’ve come to expect from these two; it’s currently in the running with The Shepherd: Border Patrol as the worst film to have their names attached to it. As for the long answer…
From the very first shot, it’s obvious that something is amiss. What should be a beautiful aerial shot of the ocean is ruined almost immediately by awkward camera adjustments that point to an inexperienced drone operator. It might seem like a minor complaint, but it gives the film an air of amateurishness right off the bat; like something you’d see from an ultra low budget High Voltage release. If it were just this one instance, it’s something that could be overlooked. But the entire film has a shoddiness to it that frequently takes you out of the experience.
Florentine is an A-game kind of filmmaker, but there’s only so much you can do with the B-team behind you. The beautiful cinematography of DPs like Ross Clarkson in Ninja 2 give way to the muddy and cheap look created by Ivan Vatsov. The tight cuts of Florentine’s go-to editor, Irit Raz, give way to the sloppy and uninspired edits of Alain Jakubowicz. Adkins’ frequent action coordinator, Tim Man, is on-hand for stunt coordination duty but fight choreography inexplicably falls to Art Camacho of PM Entertainment fame. Camacho has a long history in DTV action, but his style makes it feel like Adkins is doing fight choreography meant for someone else. Not that it matters much, as hand to hand fights are pretty rare in this film. There is only a single one-on-one fight scene that comes in the film’s finale (against UFC fighter Uriah Hall) that’s in the running for Adkins’ worst fight scene EVER.
If there is one bright spot in all this, it has to be the film’s villain; a “Mexican” drug lord played by Mario Van Peebles (who will henceforth be referred to as “MVP”). More than any other actor, MVP actually seems to be enjoying himself; growling out his lines and chewing scenery as only an aggrandizing villain could. Somehow, he manages to give the character a level of depth and personality that no one else in the film has and the movie comes alive any time he’s on screen. There’s a perverse pleasure in watching him repurpose some of Donald Trump’s most iconic (i.e. racist) quotes, gleefully throwing them in the faces of corrupt white guys who clearly underestimate him.
There really is no way to recommend this movie. Even if it drops onto Netflix, there are better Scott Adkins movies to watch on the service. It really is a shame. One can only imagine what could have been if Florentine had a team and a budget that was worthy of his still-considerable talents. Instead, we have to watch in horror as one of the most important voices in action cinema gets left behind, forced to work with scraps. I personally hope that this isn’t the last collaboration between these two men, and that the future will provide them with the teams and budgets they need to achieve their vision.
Otherwise, and it pains me to say this… the magic is really truly gone.