Belly of the Beast (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

It is almost film heresy to say this, but this Steven Seagal movie is watchable.

A couple of years ago, it looked like the plus-sized warrior was headed for a future as a fishing guide. He made four abysmal movies in a row (links to IMDb)

But this one is a pretty solid example of straight-to-vid entertainment. Now don't jump all over me for praising the guy. This film is not Raiders of the Lost Ark, by any means, but it does represent a marked improvement over those previous efforts. Seagal is also credited as a writer on this film, so he benefited from taking more control of his projects.

In this one, Big Steve is a retired CIA operative whose daughter is kidnapped in Thailand. The bad guys weren't actually after Steve's kid, but her traveling companion, a senator's daughter. The plot workings are complicated, with various American factions bickering and various Thai factions maneuvering slyly. Everyone wants to blame some Muslim terrorists for the kidnapping, but Seagal's local knowledge tells him that is a cover story, and that something stinks of corruption and betrayal at the highest levels, probably among the people he used to trust the most.

Here's a tip for you youngsters: before kidnapping any innocent bystanders, make sure they are not related to Bruce Willis or Steven Seagal. Steve and his former CIA partner, now a Buddhist monk willing to toss off the robes and do what it takes to help the Weighty Warrior, double-handedly defeat a small army of what must be more than 100 men. In fact, the monk defeats the entire army by himself, while Segal is upstairs going one-on-one with one guy who styles himself as the ultimate fighting machine.

Well, as you might guess, Mr Ultimate is now Mr Penultimate, having been casually dismissed by Big Steve's Meaty Mitts.

The action is not realistic, the plot is too muddled, the exaggerated faux-respect for Thai culture is grating, and the respect and loyalty themes are played out with way too much schmaltz, but the film has some cool fight scenes, good production values, and some exotic locales photographed well. The substitutions between Steven and his stunt man were done much more smoothly than in the last few Seagal pictures. Overall, it is a tolerable STV watch.

Here's another tip for you youngsters: do not show disrespect for Asian cultures in the presence of the Stout Sensai. At one point Ol' Steve is just bowin' and prayin' to beat the band, with some arcane Asian rituals. He has three little bamboo sticks with red ink on the tips, and he takes these sticks, and places them with the red tip downward, in a half-glass of water in front of a picture of his late wife. (Does Seagal always have a "late wife" in these things? ) He's really into the ritual, and he's arrangin' the angle of the little stickies just so, and I'm laughin', and you know what happened? He jumped right out of my computer and kicked my ass. Well, actually, it was his stunt double, but it hurt just the same. And then he made me whittle some little stickies and paint the tips red and arrange them in front of his wife's picture, but I accidentally got one of the sticks kind of a red-orange instead of red, so he had his stunt double kick my ass again, while he emptied out my refrigerator.

Boy is he strict about those rituals.

I was about to type "about those phony-baloney rituals", but I deleted the "phony-baloney" part. I suppose you think I changed my mind because I am a pussy and didn't want to get my ass kicked and my refrigerator raided again by Steve and his stunt double. But that's not the reason. I have an anti-ninja firewall now. The real reason I changed my mind is that I realized those rituals must have been genuine, because whenever he did them, the musical score would be some Susie Wong music followed by a resounding gong. A gong! You just don't get any more authentic Asian than that.

There was one thing that didn't work in the fight scenes. Too many of the fighting effects were created during post-editing. Look at the scene below, for example. The Thai stuntman did an absolutely brilliant leap off a pile of lumber. Look at the way he's poised with his swords arranged in a perfect balletic line. Of course, it is obvious that Seagal was not really there at the time, but was simply striking a pose in front of a blue screen against an imaginary opponent who was to approach him on the ground. The two scenes must have been combined in post-production. Look at Seagal's head and eyes. He is obviously looking nowhere near the attacker.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic, 1.85


In the opening credits, a woman (Malin Moberg) is seen skinny-dipping. Only her backside is seen, and nothing is very clear.

Later in the film, a beautiful Thai woman shows her perfect breasts to Seagal as a way to give him a message written on her skin.  

The Critics Vote ...

  • No reviews online.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. It's no masterpiece, but it's satisfactory for a straight-to-vid martial arts actioner.

Return to the Movie House home page