Under Siege

This morning on Sirius Satellite Radio, according to Mark Mercer of MarksFriggin.com, Howard Stern was talking about a straight-to-video Steven Seagal movie that he enjoyed watching over the holiday weekend.  (Unfortunately, either Stern or Mercer got the title wrong.  It’s called Flight Of Fury, not In Flight.) 
That got me thinking about Seagal and how far his film career has fallen.  Did you know that he hasn’t appeared on the big screen in 5 years?  (The critically pummelled Half Past Dead was his last movie to get a theatrical release.  That was in late 2002.)  It was only 6 years ago that his so-so offering, Exit Wounds, opened with a 30-million dollar weekend take.  True, Seagal is in his mid-50s now and not in the best of shape but if Sylvester Stallone can make a Rocky sequel that doesn’t get any Razzie nominations then anything is possible.  Besides, everybody loves a good comeback story.
It wasn’t always this way.  From 1988 to 1996, the former sensai (who once lived in Japan and got into the film business because he was former Hollywood Superagent Michael Ovitz’ martial arts teacher) appeared in a string of hit films like Above The Law, Hard To Kill, and Out For Justice.  For me, his greatest achievement remains his 1992 blockbuster, Under Siege, one of the great action pictures of the 1990s.  It is still the only 4-star movie he’s ever appeared in.  It was co-produced by Arnon Milchan (Ovitz’ former art dealer).
My old friend, Shane Willson, and I went to the Jackson Square Cinemas sometime in October 1992.  The original plan was to see this George Strait film, Pure Country.  (Shane had already seen Under Siege.)  But by the time we got there, our plans changed.  We decided to see Steven Seagal kick some serious ass instead.  (Shane must’ve really enjoyed the movie to wanna see it twice in the theatre.)  To this day, I still haven’t seen Pure Country.
At the time, I was failing miserably as Delta Secondary’s Student Council President.  The movies were my shelter from the endless stresses of student politics.  Seeing great pictures like Under Siege got me through one of the worst periods of my life.
This review has never been seen before.  It was originally part of my unpublished book of cinematic critiques, The Movie Critic:  Book One.  (It was review number 105.)  However, this is not the original version.  Like Batman Returns, The Silence Of The Lambs and Housesitter, it required extensive revisions.  Some lines were tweaked here and there, some were relocated and others were kept intact.  Plus, it was tightened up a bit in order to make it flow a little better.  In the end, it’s a far better assessment than the original.
By the way, there was a sequel to this movie in 1995.  But unfortunately for me, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory was a disappointment.  There’s some cool action in it but Eric Bogosian is no Tommy Lee Jones.  Nor is he Gary Busey.  It remains the only time Steven Seagal played the same character in two different films.  Remember, Under Siege is the one to see.  Howard Stern should re-screen it again sometime soon.  He’ll be immediately reminded of its greatness.
U N D E R   S I E G E
Adult Accompaniment
103 minutes, 1992
Steven Seagal–Casey Ryback
Tommy Lee Jones–William Strannix
Gary Busey–Commander Krill
Erika Eleniak–Jordan Tate
Produced by Arnon Milchan, Steven Reuther and Steven Seagal
Screenplay by J.F. Lawton
Music by Gary Chang
Directed by Andrew Davis
Under Siege is an excellent action yarn that manages to make every second exciting.  It is more than just a Die Hard-style thriller.  In fact, it’s one of the best films of the year.
Steven Seagal stars as Casey Ryback, a former Navy Seal turned chef (one of many) on the U.S.S. Missouri (a real-life battleship that was called into service during the first Persian Gulf War).  The famous warship is on its way back to port since it has completed all of its missions successfully.
Casey is a likeable character who gets along nicely with all of his shipmates except Commander Krill (the magnificently evil Gary Busey in one of his best performances).  This guy hates him because he thinks he’s a show-off and doesn’t listen to his superior officers.
We learn that Casey and Krill have hated each other for a long time.  Their longtime feud is about to take a dramatic turn.
The pivotal scene in the movie is a surprise birthday party for the ship’s elderly admiral.  It’s Commander Krill’s idea but he has a hidden agenda.  He arranges the entire affair but notifies the admiral about his plans beforehand in order to avoid a possible courtmartial.  The admiral welcomes the celebration in his honour and agrees to wait in his chambers until Krill picks him up on his special day. 
A band led by a leather-clad Tommy Lee Jones and Playboy Magazine’s July 1989 Playmate, Jordan Tate (the beautiful Erika Eleniak who really was Miss July 1989 in real life), who’s hiding topless in a big birthday cake, provide the entertainment.  From the start of the proceedings, everything seems to go smoothly.  Then, out of nowhere, Jones kills the highest ranking officer at the party.  Chaos ensues with even more killings.  The unsuspecting naval officers of the U.S.S. Missouri have no idea what’s happening.  They’re soon rounded up by the bad guys and quarantined.  As for the birthday boy, it’s unlikely he ever expected to be offed by one of his own officers.  In drag, no less.
It turns out Jones isn’t a dinosaur rock singer.  He’s a real nasty piece of work named William Strannix, a notorious terrorist and Commander Krill’s co-conspirator.  Their diabolical scheme involves selling the Missouri’s extremely valuable nuclear missiles for a whopping billon dollars to people you don’t want to sell nuclear missiles to.  The only people standing in their way are Casey and Jordan.
Under Siege was directed by Andrew Davis who also worked with Steven Seagal on his debut project, Above The Law.  He manages to inspire outstanding performances from not only Seagal but also the movie’s terrific villains, Gary Busey and Tommy Lee Jones.  The biggest surprise of the film has to be Erika Eleniak who is, thankfully, not used primarily as eye candy (although she is quite fetching).  She’s a vital and exceptional heroine with terrific comic timing.  She helps elevate the work of Seagal who’s never been better.  They make a formidable team together.  You’re rooting for them every step of the way.
The movie contains stimulating scenes of intelligently written dialogue (screenwriter J.F. Lawton knows how to write a good quip and the actors reward his efforts by getting strong laughs here) as well as awesome sights of violence.  This is a truly satisfying Steven Seagal action flick that nicely restrains from the usually gory deaths we routinely see in his films.  The sounds of necks, arms and legs being broken in direct, exciting confrontations are brutally effective without being too bloody.
Considering the recent flock of dopey, uninspired and unconvincing action pictures, it’s a real pleasure to watch a film like this made by professionals who know exactly how to make a great movie.  There are plenty of invigorating action sequences and surprisingly well-timed comedic moments to hook even the casual moviegoer.
Here’s a Steven Seagal movie worth recommending.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, April 9, 2007
10:48 p.m.
Published in: on April 9, 2007 at 11:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

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