Ruslan (2009)
By: Captain Red Eye on April 11, 2010  | 
DVD
Paramount | Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 99 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Jeff King
Starring: Steven Seagal, Dmitry Chepovetsky, Igor Jijikine, Robert Wisden, Inna Korobkina
Screenplay: Jeff King
Country: USA
External Links
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During a recent interview on the set of his post-apocalyptic horror flick Against the Dark, aging martial arts maestro Steven Seagal was asked whether the mutants depicted in the film were vampires, or zombies, or what. He said he didn't know, then spent the next several minutes talking about how he once beat up Van Damme. The man is living in Cloud Cuckoo Land, a lovely magical realm where he's still the biggest action star on the planet. In terms of girth, if in no other regard, he may well be correct.

Known to much of the rest of the world as Driven to Kill, Ruslan was the indefatigable Seagal's second straight-to-DVD release of 2009. Clad in a hairpiece borrowed from a primary school production of Dracula, the feature showed the portly action star in fine fettle, at least by the standards of recent fare like Flight of Fury and Kill Switch.

As far as storyline goes this film can, like many of the actor's later efforts, be summarised in a single sentence: when his daughter is brutally assaulted just hours before her wedding, Seagal must find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. As the eponymous Ruslan, a former Russian mobster turned crime novelist, his preferred method of interrogation is quickly revealed to be muttered invective followed by a flurry of gunfire. Whilst far from subtle the technique does get results, and as the bodies pile up the grizzled Ruslan comes ever closer to revealing the motives behind his daughter's attack.

Seagal, as is his custom, conveys such emotion as he is able primarily by squinting like a sunburnt lizard and spouting the odd monosyllable. He only really comes alive during the film's numerous fight scenes, which like his manner of address are, for the most part, cursory in the extreme. Whereas early films such as On Deadly Ground featured protracted action sequences in which Seagal sermonised as he slapped, kicked and chopped his opponents into submission, these days he favours the more direct approach of a metal pipe or boot applied vigorously to an enemy's face. Needless to say this engenders such scenes with a certain savagery, but you know what you're signing up for when you take a Seagal movie off the shelf – broken bones and lots of them.

In this regard and several others Ruslan does not disappoint. While not exactly breaking new ground (every second movie of Seagal's these days seems to involve seeking revenge for a kidnapped or otherwise abused family member) the truncated fights mean he can at least perform the requisite manoeuvres himself, unlike previous efforts in which footage of stunt doubles was clumsily cut in for roundhouse kicks and the like. As ever the supporting cast deliver performances that vary widely in terms of quality, but Igor Jijikine (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) is suitably menacing as the head of a rival mobster clan, and Robert Wisden is likewise convincing as a sleazy lawyer with a chequered past.

Kudos is also due the roly-poly star for somewhat ambitiously attempting a Russian accent. His rudimentary talents as a thespian mean he doesn't come close to pulling it off, but at least the old dog's trying a few new tricks. There are the usual idiosyncrasies of casting and production (the actress who plays Ruslan's ex-wife, Inna Korobkina, is actually a year younger than the actress who portrays his daughter, and shots of the sausage-fingered Ruslan supposedly working on his novel show him clumsily mashing keys together as though encountering a keyboard for the first time) but even these prove less distracting than on previous outings. Ruslan is actually quite entertaining. The hand-held camera work lends a certain urgency to fight sequences, the violence is gritty and special effects realistic. His straight to video oeuvre might be expanding almost as rapidly as his waistline, but as this effort shows Seagal can still, if only on occasion, come up with the goods.
Video
The cinematography is effective, colours vibrant and overall the picture quality is as crisp as the fibres in Seagal's jet-black wig.
Audio
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is eminently respectable and gets the job done on both the explosive action sequences and the quieter, more introspective scenes. Still have to strain to hear what the fuck he's saying, but that isn't the fault of the audio mix.
Extra Features
As usual special features are rather light on the ground. For someone whose bread and butter are DVD-only releases, Seagal's films sure are light on incentives. Even Black Dawn had a self-aggrandizing interview and 'making of' featurette. Here all that's on offer is a trailer for the film.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Moviegoers in search of an emotionally complex study of the Russian crime world might be better served by Brother or Eastern Promises. Those who prefer their action stars with a shred of acting range will probably want to re-watch The Bourne Identity or the like. But the many diehard fans of Seagal's straight-to-DVD fare will likely find Ruslan his most cohesive and accomplished effort of recent years.

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