Just Keep Swimming

REVIEW: Under Siege


 When action movies were at their peak, the two box office dominating talents were Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.  In the late 80s, Bruce Willis entered the action hero club with Die Hard.  The next tier down would have been names like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and Chuck Norris.  Action flicks were massive for a while, and they all had bad ass heroes who would kill anyone who got in their way.  They were either muscle bound, or were martial artists.  Out of all of these names, I would have to say that my least favourite was Steven Seagal.

A lot of people I knew would get very excited about whatever the latest Seagal film was, but never was there any excitement for me.  I could say the same for Chuck Norris, but at least his films seemed such a low overall quality that there was some cheesy entertainment.  When it came to Seagal, I just found myself bored to painful extremes.

Part of the issue I have with Seagal is his complete lack of charisma.  He is just a blank face saying lines, punching people, and running in the most horrible of ways (seriously, check out videos of him running on Youtube).  The other problem is that his ego seems so big that nobody is ever allowed any kind of offence on him during fight scenes.  What made Bruce Willis so great in Die Hard was that while he did get beat up, he kept pushing forward.  Stallone would get hit in fights, and the same with all of the other people mentioned in this piece.  Seagal, however, never let that happen, which made the action sequences pointless and boring.

But, there is at least one Seagal film I can recommend.  Under Siege may be full of flaws, but there are some outlandish performances that really elevate the film.  As well, there are moments where Seagal's character actually has charisma.  As the cook on an old navy warship, he interacts with his underlings in a fun way.  There will be no Oscar talk about this performance, but it is at least effort on Seagal's part, and it works.  This really makes it more painful and unfortunate that his characters in other films are generally too cool for school and serious, showing no emotion at all.

Life on the ship gets pretty crazy when it gets hijacked by the dastardly Commander Krill (Gary Busey), and William Strannix (Tommy Lee Jones).  These are the outlandish performances I referred to.  Both actors are going all in on their characters.  While they may be cartoony, they are entertaining and help liven the film.  Also in the mix is a woman, played by Erika Eleniak.

I'm not trying to be dismissive by referring to the character as 'a woman.'  A ton of action films from this period had a tacked on female role to perform at least one of three tasks.  First, to show their breasts, because pretty much all R-rated action films had a boob shot.  Secondly, they are a tag-along for the hero to explain things to, so us as the audience would understand what was happening.  Thirdly, they would kiss the male hero at the end of the film, even though there was seldom any actual romance or chemistry between the two.  Oh, and they sometimes have a scene where they stitch up the hero when he's wounded. Eleniak's character ticked all four of those boxes, and even managed to have her character some how level up to the point of not being completely useless.

There is a lot that happens in the film that doesn't seem at all logical.  This world is not one of seriousness, which is part of the fun.  I think that is why Under Siege gets a pass, because it's filmed in a breezy style by director Andrew Davis.  The standard ultra grim-faced Seagal character doesn't show up, and it illustrates that perhaps more of his films should have been about just having fun and not taking themselves too seriously.

While I recommend Under Siege, there is a big caveat that goes along with it.  My enjoyment comes from context of having a good understanding of action movies during this time, as well as knowing what other Seagal movies are like.  This is more of a recommendation based off the quality of the alternatives.  There is enough here to have an enjoyable time, and is easily the best Seagal film I have seen, especially compared to the disasters he has been in during the last few years.  Grab some popcorn, crack a beer, and watch the absurdity that is Under Siege.

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