One of the great modern action filmmaking teams is back at it, ably aided by the inimitable Mario Van Peebles.
Mexico. The present. Richard (Scott Adkins, Avengement) is a security consultant and single dad. He’s struggling to connect with his son Taylor (Matthew Garbacz), a young teenager chafing against school bullies and his dad’s well-meant but ineffectual advice. And then someone snipes Richard with a tranquilizer dart. When he wakes up, Taylor is gone, and Richard’s phone is ringing.
The voice on the other end of the line belongs to the amiable drug lord and stupendous cowboy hat owner Mzamo (Mario Van Peebles, Baadasssss!). He tells Richard two things. One: he has Richard’s son. Two: he knows that Richard wasn’t always Richard. Not so long ago, he was Nero – a legendary black ops assassin. If Nero wants to save Taylor, he’ll need to kill the men Mzamo needs dead. Determined to save his kid, Nero dons the body-cam-equipped bullet-proof vest and boards the weapon-stuffed bulletproof SUV Mzamo generously left for him. A long, bloody night awaits.
Seized’s story is a familiar one for action-heads. A badass with a mysterious past must resurrect their lethal skills to protect someone they love. Violence ensues. When told poorly, these stories are about as tasty as soggy, horseradish-flavored cardboard. When told well, they’re songs that weave a tremendous variety of thrills into a well-loved tune. And Seized, directed by Adkins’ longtime collaborator Isaac Florentine (Undisputed 3: Redemption, Ninja: Shadow of a Tear) tells its tale very, very well.
Where Jesse V. Johnson (Debt Collectors)’s collaborations with Adkins push his range as an actor, Florentine’s films with Adkins focus his performances on his abilities as a martial artist. Nero’s a likable character with a compelling motivation, and Adkins does good work with him. His story’s first and foremost a vehicle for Adkins to demonstrate that he’s one of the best action stars currently working. And oh, he demonstrates. He demonstrates marvelously.
Adkins, Florentine, fight coordinator Art Camacho (Banshee), and action director Travis Caverhill (Bill & Ted Face the Music) render Nero the most dangerous man alive. Whether he’s wielding firearms with deadly accuracy or taking on a gaggle of goons with naught but his fists, feet, and a convenient plate, almost nothing can stop Nero once he goes to work. Adkins is not playing a fighter – a la the Debt Collector films’ French or the Undisputed series’ Yuri Boyka – he’s playing a destroyer. His enthralling, brutal grace is without peer.
Nero’s mid-film attack on a slimy strip club owned by an even slimier crime lord (Rolando Gonzalez) is Seized’s highlight. Adkins tries to move in subtly. When that fails, he engages the crime lord’s security. He moves floor by floor, laying waste to all who’d try to stop him. Florentine and cinematographer Ivan Vastov (Boyka: Undisputed) capture the carnage in style. They zoom in to focus on the more elaborate moments of choreography, highlighting Adkins’ skill. They step back to take stock of the fighters in motion, highlighting Adkins’ power.
Adkins’ action work in Seized is thoroughly exciting to watch, both in-universe and out. The body cam Mzamo insists Nero wear gives the crime lord a first-person view of the havoc being wreaked. And he’s loving it. Van Peebles delights as Mzamo, whether he’s coolly laying out Nero’s mission or literally munching on popcorn while the killer plies his trade. It’s a buoyant, energetic performance that never fails to light up the screen.
[Adkins’] enthralling, brutal grace is without peer.
It’s thanks to Van Peebles that Seized offers pleasures in addition to Adkins’ beautiful pummeling. Mzamo’s a ruthless drug lord. But that’s not the whole of who he is. He’s disappointed by the total amorality of the rivals he sends Nero after, and by the dull, callous ruthlessness of his own allies. He’s fond of twisting Trumpian rhetoric back on those who tacitly endorse it for their own gain.
And while Mzamo has no illusions about his own morality, he’d like to see something good come from the money he’s made. Van Peebles gives him depth and makes him compelling, both when he’s reveling in Nero’s mayhem and when he’s ruminating on the future with his partner Alanza (Karlee Perez, Lucha Underground). And, when the time comes, he throws down pretty damn well too.
Seized sees Adkins doing best-in-class work as a fighter and reliably good work as an actor. Florentine and his collaborators craft enjoyable varied set pieces for Adkins and skillfully capture him in action. Van Peebles does awesome work with Mzamo, and his hat really is stupendous. It’s a quick, clean blast of a movie. For Adkins fans and action lovers, it’s essential viewing.
Seized is currently available on demand.