The trailer for sci-fi actioner Dark Asset didn’t exactly blow me away, but it had some things going in its favor that at least got me interested. The first of these was the fact that it featured the underrated Byron Mann in a leading role. Another factor was that the great Robert Patrick co-starring in a supporting role. Patrick has a habit of livening up any production he’s involved with, so even if the film was disappointing, hopefully it wouldn’t be a complete loss.
Mann portrays John Doe, a relatively normal soldier who finds himself propelled into the secretive world of espionage and assassinations. Approached by a clandestine organization, John becomes involved in an experimental program where his brain is fitted with a prototype microchip. Said microchip makes him much more than what he was before, with it transforming him into an unstoppable killing machine.
Escaping the facility he is being held in, John begins to uncover the truth behind the program which brings him into contact with the beautiful Jane (Helena Mattsson), where he proceeds to tell this supposed stranger of his past. At the same time Dr Cain (Robert Patrick) is tasked with bringing in John at all cost.
Director Michael Winnick’s name may not be instantly identifiable, but he has a handful of DTV films behind him. Of these films, I have actually only seen two. The first was action comedy Guns, Girls and Gambling (2012), a film that didn’t exactly set the world alight. Even so, Winnick had assembled an impressive cast for what was essentially a throwaway DTV movie. The likes of Gary Oldman, Christian Slater, Jeff Fahey and the late Powers Boothe at least made the film entertaining if not wholly memorable.
The second was the Steven Seagal vehicle Code of Honor (2016). Admittedly this is another film that would never be considered a classic, however in comparison to some of Seagal’s more recent output it is certainly a cut above, with some later story developments in the film making it more interesting than initially expected. It also didn’t hurt the film that it co-starred the always excellent Louis Mandylor.
With this in mind, I hoped Dark Asset would be better than some recent DTV fodder but at the same time made sure not to heighten my expectations. This turned out to be the best approach to take, as while Dark Asset’s opening grabs your attention, the remainder of the film ends up becoming a drag, with the only hints of excitement being some well executed fight scenes that are peppered throughout the film.
The majority of the film is told in a series of flashbacks, with Mann almost becoming Basil Exposition, filling you in with some previously unknown information. Clearly Dark Asset was a low budget affair, with the sets and cats being limited. The majority of the film takes place in one of two locations, either that of a secret laboratory and the hotel where Mann tells his story. Both locations seem lifeless, especially the hotel where it would appear that the only guests are Mann and Mattsson’s characters. The budget limitations obviously didn’t allow for much in the way of extras.
Winnick, who also worked on the script, works hard in trying to keep proceedings interesting. Telling the plot in a non-linear fashion slightly helps in covering up how simple the plot actually is, but for the most part Dark Asset is hampered by poor dialogue and even poorer plot developments. It doesn’t help that the film is lacking in pace for long stretches. The inclusion of some action would perhaps have helped with the drawbacks of the script, but unfortunately this doesn’t seem to have been possible with the financial resources Winnick had at hand.
At least Winnick had a worthwhile leading man at his disposal. Byron Mann always brings a sense of class to proceedings, and it was great to see him be the lead after the numerous supporting roles he has played in the past. Even in these supporting roles, Mann always managed to make an impression. My first memory of him was when he co-starred in the movie adaptation of Street Fighter (1995), where he portrayed the games most iconic character Ryu. Now, no one would ever consider Street Fighter to be a classic, but Mann certainly managed to make an impression, even when acting alongside an action superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Even more recent productions like Wu Assassins (2019) and The Recruit (2022) were elevated by his presence, with the actor oozing class. He does the same here, bringing much more to his character than what is in the pedestrian script. His character doesn’t offer much in the way of back story, with you learning very little about John as the film progresses other than the fact he is quite an adept soldier. This fact allows Mann to display his action skills in the film’s few bright spots, with his fight scenes being considerably well done.
The action highlight’s for Mann are the opening sequence when he escapes the facility. Other than having some extremely poor CGI (honestly, would it have been that expensive to smash a real pane of glass?), the action is quite well done with clear and crisp choreography that allows you to see what is going on rather than relying on shoddy shakycam.
The other standout set piece has Mann taking on a roomful of prototypes, all of which have an earlier version of the microchip implanted. The three of them put Mann through his paces, with him having to use all his skills to beat them.
Of the supporting cast, only Helena Mattsson gets a considerable amount of screen time. There are attempts to make her character more mysterious but it doesn’t come as much of a surprise when it’s revealed how she fits into the plot. Like Mann, she does well enough with the character that she is given, although considering Mattsson is apparently trained in martial arts, it would have been nice to see some of this on display. Other than a few punches and kicks late in the day, she doesn’t really get involved in the action.
With the focus mainly being on Mann and Mattsson, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that Robert Patrick’s role would essentially amount to an extended cameo. There is literally nothing here for Patrick to sink his teeth into, with his villainous Dr Cain mainly used to keep the plot moving rather than being a fully developed character. Patrick doesn’t embarrass himself, doing what he can with such a limited role. Unfortunately there’s not enough here for him to make a proper impression and I would be more than surprised if Patrick spent more than a day on set.
Patrick at least gets more to do than the woefully underused Truong Ngoc Anh who has a fleeting appearance as a previous agent during one of the film’s flashbacks. Considering she had previously shown off her action credentials in the likes of Tracer (2016), I was really surprised how little she appeared in the completed film.
It’s a shame that Dark Asset is less the sum of its parts. I would have loved nothing more than Byron Mann to have a worthy starring vehicle, as he certainly deserves it. Even here he proves to be a more than worthy leading man, putting in a better performance than many of his more famous contemporaries. Even in his handful of action scenes he shows he still has the moves, with a great deal of the fight action being carried out by himself. Admittedly some more elaborate moves are carried out by a stunt double, but show me a Hollywood star (other than Tom Cruise) where this isn’t the case.
While I can’t fully recommend Dark Asset, there is still enough here to entertain less choosy audience members. Personally I would like to see it do well enough if for nothing else to allow Mann to feature in more starring roles.
Plot: 1.5/5 Acting: 2.5/5 Action: 2.5/5 Overall: 2.1/5