In mainstream cinema, Scott Adkins is a background player in blockbusters like Doctor Strange and The Bourne Ultimatum. But in the world of direct-to-video action, Adkins is a superstar, churning out no-frills thrillers with largely interchangeable titles and plots that showcase his intimidating screen presence and skills as a martial artist. Seized is Adkins’ third movie of 2020 and his eighth overall collaboration with director Isaac Florentine, who has his own substantial cult following among direct-to-video action fans. It’s not necessarily the best example of their work, but it’s an efficient delivery system for what Adkins does best, and a fun, undemanding way to pass 85 minutes.
The title is an obvious nod to the Taken movies, and Adkins’ character, known only as Nero, is a bit of a John Wick analog, although the retired assassin who’s drawn back into the underworld against his will is a longtime action-movie staple. A former special forces operative with a long list of kills, Nero now lives a quiet life under an assumed name in Mexico, where he works as a security consultant and raises his son Taylor (Matthew Garbacz) following his wife’s death. As soon as Nero starts telling Taylor, who’s being bullied at school, that violence is never the answer, it’s obvious that the onetime assassin is going to be doing a lot more killing before the movie is over. In a Scott Adkins movie, violence is always the answer.
Sure enough, a tranquilizer dart whizzes through Nero’s window, knocking him out, and when he wakes up, he discovers that Taylor has been taken (er, seized), and he’s now expected to follow orders from a mysterious villain (Mario Van Peebles). The bad guy promises to release Taylor if Nero will take out some rival bad guys, and he has helpfully provided a bunch of weapons and a bulletproof SUV to accomplish this task. The plot follows the structure of a rudimentary video game, as Nero defeats the smaller bosses before taking on the big boss, and there’s only as much narrative as needed to carry Adkins from one action sequence to the next.
Those action sequences are Adkins’ and Florentine’s specialty, and here they mostly deliver, especially during a Wickian fight in a neon-lit strip club, and in a particularly graceful brawl in which Nero prevails with his hands tied behind his back. The obvious budget limitations occasionally hinder the excitement thanks to some distractingly dodgy CGI, but Florentine has plenty of experience with stretching his resources, and the fluid action choreography usually makes up for the visual shortcomings. Florentine shoots with fewer quick cuts than other action directors, allowing Adkins to show off his genuine skills without the camera looking away. Adkins has often been compared to early Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme, and he’s far livelier onscreen than either of those two legends have been in quite some time.
Adkins is also a decent if limited actor, conveying the requisite anguish over Taylor’s kidnapping, and effectively delivering menacing quips. With his big black cowboy hat and his perpetually half-open shirt, Van Peebles is clearly having fun as the villain, who straps a bodycam to Nero’s bulletproof vest so that he and his henchmen can watch the action on TV, cheering Nero on like he’s their favorite MMA fighter.
Unlike Jesse V. Johnson, Adkins’ other go-to director, Florentine doesn’t have much of a sense of humor, and Seized lacks the playfulness of Adkins/Johnson collaborations like Avengement and the Debt Collector movies. But it makes a good case for Adkins as an action star with the potential for wider success. (At bare minimum, he deserves a career on par with someone like Gerard Butler.) Seized is just good enough to make you wonder what Adkins and Florentine could pull off with a decent script and a decent budget. They make the most of what they’re given, and that should afford them the opportunity to be given a little more.
“Seized” is out today on DVD and VOD.