Under Siege (1992)

*. There was a time when Steven Seagal wasn’t a joke. His career got off to a good start, and he seemed like something a bit different from the usual run of ’80s action stars. Maybe it was because he was a big guy but not totally buff like Stallone or Van Damme. Maybe it was the quiet voice. In any event, he was fun to watch.
*. Under Siege would prove to be his biggest hit, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s actually a pretty good action flick. Formulaic as all hell, but not too badly done.
*. Did I say formula? As soon as it came out it was labeled, not without reason, “Die Hard on a battleship.” And indeed its release actually threw a monkey wrench into the Die Hard franchise because the next Die Hard movie was going to be set on a cruise ship so they had to change the script.
*. The characters are familiar. Gary Busey had the part of obnoxious heel down pat, after having just played similar parts in Lethal Weapon and Predator 2. Tommy Lee Jones was in a groove as the threatening and not quite balanced villain. Erika Eleniak, the real-life Playboy Playmate for July 1989, was typecast.
*. Of course Eleniak is best known for her turn bursting out of the birthday cake. You couldn’t rent this movie on VHS in the ’90s without the tape being damaged at this point from the number of times people had been trying to freeze it and advance it frame by frame. I mean, everybody did this.
*. Aside from this star turn, her part is terribly written, even for comic relief. The way she has to behave and the lines she has to deliver are cringe inducing. In fact, her character had not been included in the original screenplay and Seagal says that he made the suggestion to add her only because he thought he needed a sidekick.
*. The politics are the usual boo-yah stuff. Notice how the one bad guy dresses up like a rocker and the other like a woman. The heroes, meanwhile, are squares. Seagal’s Casey Ryback even had to lose his ponytail. Men are soldiers and women are strippers and villains are psycho punks. That’s all you need to know.
*. I sure as hell wouldn’t call this one of the best action films of the period. Jones is dispatched far too quickly at the end, and when you get down to it there really aren’t any good fights at all. The idea that Ryback is communicating with the Dr. Strangelove gathering of the joint chiefs of staff via satellite uplink the whole time is awkward to say the least. I don’t think the plot throws us a single surprise or moment of originality. But it moves along at a snappy pace and I was impressed at how well it’s managed to hold up lo these many years later.
*. For Seagal, however, it was all downhill from this modest elevation. All aboard for Under Siege 2: Dark Territory!

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