What do you get when you team up the cinematographer from the Brian Bosworth classic, Stone Cold, put him in the director's chair, and cast the one and only Steven Seagal as a rogue CIA operative out to save the world? Black Dawn, that's what. Pay attention.
When we first meet Jonathan Cold (Steven Seagal), a former CIA agent who was thought to be dead after an incident in which he was responsible for killing five federal agents, he's busting a criminal mastermind out of a prison hospital. How does he do this? He has his generic team members Photoshop his head onto a security badge, puts on a lab coat, and wanders on in through all the security check points and armed guards. You see, Seagal is so cool that he can make stuff like this look easy. He's the man.
At any rate, once the guy is out of prison we find out that he's an arms dealer and that his brother has hired Cold to spring him from the big house. The arms dealer is so impressed with Cold's work that he hires him on as one of his men, offering him big bucks once he finds out that he's not only apt at busting people out of jail but also an expert in nuclear weapons. This comes in really handy when it turns out that this guy is in the middle of negotiating a deal with some Eastern European terrorists – he plans on trading them a nuke for a big bag of stolen diamonds.
Meanwhile, a CIA agent named Amanda (lovely soap opera starlet Tamara Davies), who was once Cold's protégé when he was still working for the feds, is on the case. She's been busy snapping pictures of everything showing a real talent for hiding behind cars and on rooftops without being spotted despite her noisy camera. When she sees and recognizes Cold, she figures something is up, even though he superiors instantly suspect that he's turned evil. She's not so sure – she knows he was a good man at one point and hopes that he's still got a little bit of that deep down inside his seemingly sinister heart.
Eventually, Amanda gets found out and it comes to pass that Cold isn't evil after all, he's actually working as an operative for a super secret part of the American government and has been involved in this all along because he's the only man who can stop the terrorists from blowing Los Angeles off of the map. Cold and Amanda team up to stop them, but will they be able to prevent the disaster before it's too late? And more importantly, will he get a chance to bang Amanda before the movie ends?
Black Dawn is pretty bad. While it's fun to see Seagal reprise the Jonathan Cold role from 2003's The Foreigner, there's really nothing redeeming about the film. The action scenes, aside from a genuinely good chase scene, are generic and poorly edited to hide the fact that most of the combat is being done not by Seagal but by his very obvious stunt double (made quite apparent by the fact that this guy is in way better shape than our slightly pudgy star). Seagal appears to be trying to channel some sort of DeNiro-Eastwood thing through his performance here, what with the mannerisms and penchant for soft speaking but it only makes him look goofy and uninterested in the material. This is made very obvious when he's forced to deliver lines like 'If you ain't got that, you ain't got shit' and 'That's what I'm talking about!' in some vein attempt to make his character seem hip. It doesn't work. None of it works.
That being said, Tamara Davies is alright in her supporting role and she's certainly fun to look at. While you'll constantly find yourself asking 'what does she see in him' as their relationship blossoms, she's at least able to deliver her lines with enough sincerity that you don't feel the need to laugh at her. The guys who plays the terrorists, sporting such generic names as Sergey and Nicholi, are about as cookie cutter as you can get but they at least attempt to bring some evil and sinister tones to their performances, even if they go over the top a little bit in a few scene (possibly in an attempt to make up for Seagal's complete and utter lack of excitement).
The direction and cinematography is decent enough and Black Dawn looks alright for the most part, though the finale is so laughably bad and so obviously shot against a poorly rendered green screen that it's hard not to snicker at what is supposed to be a serious and intense moment of action and suspense and when Seagal waddles off into the sunset at the end of the film, the tortured hero to the end, it's just the icing on a really crappy cake.
Black Dawn is presented in a nice 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that, according to the packaging, has been mastered in high definition. Overall, things do look pretty good on this release. The colors appear to be intentionally muted in a few scenes, likely a stylistic choice on the part of the director or cinematographer, but the black levels are strong and deep. There's a decent level of both foreground and background detail present in the image and there aren't any mpeg compression artifacts. Edge enhancement is present here and there but is never overpowering and while you'll note some aliasing in a couple of spots, it's hardly a big issue.
The primary audio track on this release comes at you in a fairly aggressive English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix that makes good use of the rear channels during the shoot out and action scenes but still manages to bring the quieter moments to life quite naturally as well. Dialogue is clean and clear and easy to understand, save for a few spots where Steve is mumbling, and the levels are well balanced. Background music and sound effects rarely overpower the performers and bass levels are fairly strong. An alternate Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix is provided in French, and optional subtitles are available in English and French. Closed captioning is available for the feature in English only.
The last few Sony issued Steven Seagal DVDs have been more or less barebones but this one has a couple of little treats for fans tucked away beneath the menus. First up is a Behind The Scenes segment. Clocking in at five minutes, it doesn't get that in depth but we do get some talking head interviews with the director and one of the female stars, both of whom praise Seagal to no end. The highlight is seeing some of the stunt footage and getting a look at how some of the fight scenes were choreographed. The man himself is up next as we're treated to a six and a half minute interview with ol' Steve, who sits in front of the camera looking like a little Buddha, dressed in his Asian style suit and trying to look contemplative. In between clips from most of the films of his that are owned by Sony we're treated to some strange rants about how he knew he'd really made it as a martial artist the first time he actually lost a fight, as it had taken him so long to get there that he knew he must be good. Say what you will about the man and his work, he's entertaining in his own right.
Rounding out the extra features are trailers for The Net 2.0 (which looks awful) and Stealth (which also looks awful). Chapter selection is available off of the menu as is a language setting option and there's an insert tucked inside the keepcase that advertises more Sony DVD releases that you can spend your hard earned money on if you so choose.
Black Dawn has a few 'so bad they're good' moments, but it isn't an action movie masterpiece by any stretch. There are a few decent action set pieces and a couple of laugh out loud at Steven Seagal moments in here, but not enough to give it a whole lot of replay value. The movie looks and sounds pretty decent though the extras are nothing to write home about. A decent rental for action movie/Seagal die-hards is about as good a rating as this one is worth of…
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.