Belly of the Beast (2003)
Starring: Steven Seagal, Byron Mann, Monica Lo, Tom Wu, and Sara Malakul Lane
Director: Tony Ching
Rating: Four of Ten Stars
One-time CIA operative Jake Hopper (Seagal) travels to Thailand to rescue his daughter (Lane) who is being held for ransom by militants. He runs head-long into intrigues involving rogue military officers, corrupt CIA agents, and an evil sorcerer.
"Belly of the Beast" is a paint-by-numbers action flick that borrows and steals from any number of superior films. I'm not sure there's a single frame in it that isn't cribbed from somewhere, except perhaps the bit where a monastery full of Buddhist monks get together to unite their spiritual force and attempt to slay the evil Thai voodoo priest who is targeting their good buddy Jake Hooper with his voodoo dolls and chants. (It also happens to be one of the dumber moments in the movie. I know Buddhism is a big tent, but does it really have room for an entire monastery of monks who violate one of the most basic preciepts of Buddhism, that being "you will not take a human life"?)
Being unoriginal isn't necessarily bad. The recent hit movie "Machete"--which features Steven Seagal in a supporting role as the main villain--owes everything to 1970s blacksploitation films, and it's a great deal of fun. Sometimes, turning off the brain and just watching things explode isn't all that bad.
"Belly of the Beast" had the potential to be a movie like that, but that potential is sapped away by the presence of a weak, overweight, and generally unhealthly looking Steven Seagal. The fact that he is past his physical prime and out of shape--perhaps even ill--is made all the more obvious by the scenes he shares with sidekick Byron Mann. Mann is the young, physically fit actor that Seagal USED to be twenty years ago, and Mann doesn't need stand-ins and creative camera angles to make it look like he is doing his fight scenes, because he actually is doing his fight scenes.
Actually, this film would have been a far-sight more watchable if Mann had been the hero on a quest to free his kidnapped daughter and Seagal being the sidekick recruited out of retirement in a Buddhist monastery. Mann in the lead and Seagal as the sidekick would have fixed this film's worst problems. It might even have made the plot line with the barmaid falling head-over-heels in love with the dashing hero who rescues her believable. (Of course, the different casting would not have allowed broken down old fat guys like me to imagine us in Steven Seagal's shoes... "wow, if he can get a hot chick, then so can I!" Nor would we have been treated to teenaged girls in short-shorts and bikini tops, as any daugther Mann's character might have would be entirely too young for such displays. But I think it would have been a fair trade-off to avoid yet another sad spectacle of Steven Seagal humiliating himself.)
With a new decade upon us, I think maybe that Steven Seagal has FINALLY taken the hard look at himself and his career that he should have taken back in 2000. The role his plays in "Machete" is far more suitable for his physical condition and appearance these days--even if he had to play at being the bad-ass there, too. Maybe now, he will start settling into supporting roles and stop making those of us who liked his films in the early 1990s look upon him with pity.