Their grace is sufficient
When kidnapping a man’s progeny, it’s best to ensure said man doesn’t have a “special set of skills”. Come on, Mario Van Peebles… have movies taught you nothing?!
Alas, Mario Van Peebles’ drug cartel boss and kidnapping perpetrator Mzamo does indeed know that Scott Adkins’ Nero is a rip-roaring killer (aka ex-special forces guy) now living the peaceful life of a retiree and single dad of an uppity teenager in Mexico. It’s WHY he kidnapped this particular pubescent lad (Taylor, played by Matthew Garbacz): to set Nero on the destructive path to kill all of his cartel rivals in one glorious, live-broadcasted night of assassination. If Nero succeeds, he gets Taylor back. He’ll just have to follow every order Mzamo gives and live through the ordeal first.
Obviously cast from the Taken mold, Seized comes to us from writer Richard Lowry, putting an internet-age, live-streamed video game twist on the now packed dad-action subgenre. Mzamo forces Nero to wear a body cam-equipped bullet proof vest while he and his cartel cohorts watch in first person bliss as Nero decimates Mzamo’s rivals. It’s basically like the world’s deadliest Super Bowl party, complete with finger sandwiches. (I’m serious… there are finger sandwiches). As a set up for an action movie, this is all pretty effective. Nero snarls and threatens certain death for Mzamo as he ransacks various clubs, executes bad guys, and searches desperately for a way out of his situation… all while the villains laugh and cheer him on, certain that Nero’s spree will result in their cartel dominance, and positive that he’ll die at some point before the mission is complete, ridding them of the threat he poses to them.
But the set up of this premise isn’t executed as well as I’d have hoped, playing out like an on-rails video game shooter in which the outcome is absolutely pre-determined and we’re never once even remotely worried that our hero won’t absolutely wreck our villains and emerge victorious. It is, perhaps, an odd complaint from a die hard fan of action cinema. After all, our heroes in this genre virtually ALWAYS win. But it’s the million details that get our hero to victory where the entertainment of an action film comes into focus. What is absolutely true of any pairing of director Isaac Florentine and star Scott Adkins is that you’re going to get fluid, beautiful action sequences that could always teach big budget Hollywood films a thing or two. Nero lays waste to a bunch of bad guys in glorious fashion here, no doubt. A few bone crunches and neck kicks will almost certainly get actionites’ blood pumping. But little from Lowry’s script will compel you to care about the surrounding story.
It took me a few days thinking about it to figure out what bugged me about the interplay between the great action and the lackluster story in Seized, but ultimately it’s the very on-rails nature that kills the momentum. Mzamo tells Nero to go kill someone, and he does. Rinse and repeat. Sure the situations get hairier and the tension somewhat escalates as a result. But unfortunately, a great opportunity for Nero to be a thinking-man’s hero never materializes. I kept watching and waiting for the moment when Nero thinks up a way to outsmart the kidnappers and beat them at their own game. With this live-stream vest on, how will he escape the cartel’s watchful eyes? Turns out a total fluke allows the cartel to let their guard down and Nero just kind of makes Mzamo’s place the next stop on his rampage.
Which brings us to the wonderful Mario Van Peebles. Van Peebles brings some fresh blooded star power to this Florentine/Adkins teaming and he’s chewing up the scenery left and right. Mzamo is charismatic and playful, toying with Nero throughout, and displaying quirks that genuinely do make you wonder: who is this guy? It’s a fun turn, which was probably very easy to film in just a few short days on set because Mzamo just about never leaves his single location villa (the one well-stocked with finger sandwiches). I’m warning readers now that the rest of this paragraph will be spoiler heavy for Mzamo’s character and the ending of the movie. But despite the fun that Van Peebles is having, Lowry’s script and the likely realities of production scheduling don’t allow for Mzamo to prove a menacing villain. Despite his murderous plan and the kidnapping of Nero’s son, and despite Nero’s raging threats of murder, the movie spends most of its runtime working on overdrive to show us that Mzamo is… kind of a nice guy? When he literally makes a sandwich, cuts off the crusts (so much sandwich content here), and brings it to Nero’s kidnapped son, you realize something is going on. Ultimately, there will be no badass final extended fight between action legends Scott Adkins and Mario Van Peebles. Hell, Nero won’t even make good on his many threats of murder. Because Mzamo finds a way to save Taylor’s life at some point in the final assault on Mzamo’s villa, the two men come to a gentleman’s agreement and just kind of… walk away. It is as though the film was so risk averse that they couldn’t even make their villain an actual villain (nevermind the dozens of actual characters who he does have executed… they were all bad guys).
No matter how good Florentine and Adkins are at crafting killer action sequences, it’s frustrating when the story feels like it takes no chances, offers no surprises, and plays out with a sense of inevitability more than ingenuity. That sounds like a harsh assessment, and ultimately I am somewhat disappointed in Seized only because when Florentine and Adkins pair up, I’m always chasing that high of first discovering them with the one-two punches of Undisputed II & III. But honestly this is a fun movie for action fans to enjoy. If you want to see Scott Adkins punch, kick, and shoot things… as I do… Seized will have a little something for you. It’s just probably not as nasty or compelling as even Close Range (their last team up), and certainly doesn’t achieve the heights of some of their earlier collaborations largely due to the weaknesses of the script and story more than anything else. With a movie like Seized… you probably already know if you’re going to watch it (if you’re even aware it exists), and that target audience will most likely find this to comfortably fit in among the Scott Adkins pantheon of direct to video action films that are better than the vast majority of their competitors. It just may not rank among the very best of his own oeuvre.
The state of physical media is dire at this point. Seized did not get a Blu-ray release. The DVD image quality is not great. The packaging is the flimsiest of DVD cases, and even the disc itself is just white with black lettering. This physical media release is paltry. There are no special features at all, and not even an offer of a digital (and presumably HD?) copy is made available to purchasers of the DVD. As a physical media lover, I hate to say this, but it’s clear that a digital HD purchase of this film would be the superior choice. It’s clear that Lionsgate tossed a bone to Walmart endcap shoppers with this DVD release and spared every possible expense.
And I’m Out.
Seized is now available on DVD and Digital HD from Lionsgate