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Under Siege
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by Jack Sommersby

"'If you resist us, we will kill you and the man next to you...'"
4 stars

It's nothing more than "'Die Hard' On a Battleship", but it's still awfully good for what it is.

Until 1992's Under Siege, the black-belt aikido action star Steven Seagal's previous films -- Hard to Kill and Out for Justice (both passable), Above the Law, Marked for Death (both pleasing) -- lacked memorable villains. As big a show as Seagal himself put on, with his lightening-fast moves and vivid, steely demeanor, he never managed to face an opponent worthy of sharing the same macho, two-fisted arena with him. This in turn lessened the sense of tension going into the final confrontations, because you knew its star could make mince meat out of his antagonists with nothing more than a backhanded slap. It's been said that a James Bond film is only as good as its villain (which I agree), but this also applies to action films in general, and it's perplexing why action stars are too often faced off against slim pickings from the Villain department. The main villain, of course, need not physically fight the hero to be truly memorable (as Joseph Maher in The Evil That Men Do, Louis Jordan in Octopussy, and Alan Rickman in Die Hard proved), but he or she should at least project enough in the way of charismatic menace to suitably fill the screen when the hero isn't present; this way, their passages don't come off as dead weight and pertinent to the film merely to provide plot points and filler material until the Knight and Shining Armor makes an appearance again. This cinematic malady hardly ever figured into the films starring Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, yet it seemed Seagal was doomed and destined to continue starring in films where he had to shoulder twice the weight of his cohorts in that he had to make up in star power (which, suffice to say, he doesn't have oodles of) on both sides of the hero/villain equation. Luckily, thanks to two spectacular villainous turns by Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey in the Andrew Davis-directed Under Siege, Seagal faces off against a couple of opponents who're so stalwart in their love-to-hate-'em kind of way you're sad when their inevitable demises finally arrive.

Jones' William Strannix, a former high-level covert CIA operative, and Busey's Commander Krill, a temperamental Navy officer, have taken over the soon-to-be-decommissioned USS Missouri Die Hard-style during its last Pacific voyage with a plan to remove its thirty-two Tomahawk missiles (eight of which are nuclear-tipped), unloading them onto a North Korean submarine, and selling them "like hotcakes" to the Middle East. Krill is bullying to those crew members under his command and resentful of the captain who's given him a far-from-praiseworthy review, which recommends a thorough psychological exam evaluation; when he and Strannix and about thirty others take over the ship and is "promoted" to captain, he's as elated as a teenager having stolen the keys to his father's off-limits '68 Mustang for the weekend, and Busey bites into the role with unbridled relish -- he convinces you Krill would sell his own mother out if it enabled him to fulfill a sinful wish. But it's the mastermind of the lot, Strannix, who's the real bee's knee. Clad in blue jeans, boots, wrap-around sunglasses, bandanna, and black leather jacket with eagle studs, he looks like a '60s hippie relic transposed to the modern era while occasionally riding an acid high; in between marveling at his well-planning ingenuity right after the ship is overtaken ("Four minutes ahead of schedule -- damn, I'm good.") and his dastardly plan for the Aloha State ("Make Honolulu glow in the dark."), Strannix finds himself more than a little bit peeved over Seagal's ex-Navy Seal/cook Casey Ryback steadily picking off his mercenaries with svelte precision. And Jones responds to his juicy role by giving a brilliant supporting performance, one that's teeming with imagination and technique and a quirkiness that gives Strannix a quintessential element of wild, dangerous unpredictability -- when he laughs, you're never sure if he's going to punctuate the moment with a pat on someone's back or a bullet to their head.

Ordinarily, having two wonderful, genuine actors playing opposite a non-actor of an action star would be detrimental, but thanks to Seagal's fine reserves of good humor (he even manages to inject some humorous irony into his line readings) and the solid craftsmanship of Davis' direction, it isn't. Sans his trademark ponytail, Seagal looks good in chef and dress whites, and he gets a good rapport going with the appealing Erika Eleniak as his drop-dead gorgeous partner-in-arms (who, mind you, bares a bodacious set of D-cup ta-tas during an early-on striptease session); he doesn't open himself up to the camera enough so we see him as human rather than superhuman, but he projects a sense of decency and some nicely underplayed cynicism in keeping with his character's downhill Navy career (both he and Strannix have been screwed by incompetents in the military and intelligence communities). And Davis, who directed Seagal in Above the Law, has staged the action sequences with flair and spatial cohesion (especially good is the climactic knife fight between Ryback and Strannix), though they don't quite boast the ingenuity and panache of those in his and Chuck Norris' best film, 1985's Code of Silence. There's also some unwise use of slow-motion where it's not really needed, and an overreliance on the sound of an object making contact with something as a scene-transition device. Still, the film has been excellently directed and given a luxurious sheen by Davis' usual cameraman, Frank Tidy, and is preferable to his overpraised The Fugitive (which I found impersonal and protracted) though is lacking in the dark moral duplicity that benefited his slightly underrated Chain Reaction (which gave Morgan Freeman one of his most interesting roles to date).

But make no mistake: Without the stalwart villains and wonderfully wacky humor, Under Siege would be recommendable as an efficient piece of entertainment but not much more. Watching Strannix on the phone with his stock broker while giving out orders to deal with Ryback is alone worth the price of admission. As is his bravura scene near the end where he truly flips his lid after seeing his plans go to hell and starts spouting gibberish over his lifelong affectation for Saturday morning cartoons ("Donald Duck, Porky Pig, little red fucker with the mustache..."). And you'll be hard-pressed to find anybody who won't bust a gut when he tells a cohort, "Why didn't you hire this man [Ryback]? I don't know what his price would have been, but it would've been worth it." There's a great deal of fun to be had in watching two villains who're psychologically unstable played by two risk-taking actors who appear to be having the time of their lives; it's only fitting that something resembling a truly intimate moment is shared between the two only when Krill suggests drowning his own crew by flooding a cargo compartment to draw Ryback into a trap, and Strannix puts on a faux-disapproving look and tone, calls him a maniac, and follows it up with a hearty, approving laugh. Strannix, who was holed up in Langley and Annapolis for so long by the CIA during his twenties, "missed out on the '60s," as he puts it; his attempt to embody that lost era with his retro garb and doing Jimi Hendrix riffs is sometimes comic, sometimes affecting -- affecting in that Jones manages to suggest how emotionally emptied-out a CIA operative's life can become after having unquestionably served one's country in top-secret operations most Americans would probably rather not know about, and also in that Strannix has learned to use humor to help make up for the soul that got burned out of him long ago. Jones burns a hole through the silver screen in Under Siege, and though I still hold quite the affectation for his Oscar-winning work in The Fugitive, his performance here is the superior work.

With Andrew Davis having blessed both Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal with their career-best films, it's a shame he's been relegated to the dubious likes of "Holes" and "Collateral Damage" so far this decade.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=848&reviewer=327
originally posted: 11/15/04 08:14:30
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User Comments

8/12/11 art segal was WOODEN,jones was HAMMY,eleniak was PATHETIC,need i say more? 2 stars
11/14/10 Tweeter & the Monkeyman Worth watching just to see Seagal in a chef's hat 4 stars
4/09/10 Jeff Wilder Seagal's best. Good action and Jones and Busey are great villains. 4 stars
6/22/09 Aaron Smith Seagal's style of action is my personal favorite. Tommy Lee is hilarious. 4 stars
1/26/08 Pamela White Segal is his usual controlled fury but this one gets long 3 stars
7/08/07 Eddy I would've just shot that whiny blond bitch 4 stars
2/13/07 johnnyfog Jones and Busey are much cooler than Segal. I wanted them to win 3 stars
1/12/07 Phil M. Aficionado It's a fun fireworks packed ride, thanks largely to Jones, and also Busey. 3 stars
1/09/07 layton59 Great Summary and Review from JS. I agree with everything JS says here. Under Siege rocks 5 stars
12/08/06 cindy l truitt steven seagal is a very good actor and martial artist,i love him so much 5 stars
3/27/06 Brian Meyer Segal may be typecast, but his Aikido style is #1!!!! 5 stars
1/02/06 Anthony Feor Steven Segal cant act whatsoever, but when he fights, now that grabed my attention 4 stars
9/25/05 tony Was not as good as i thought it would be! I was dissapointed, i hope #2 is better! 3 stars
9/16/05 Michael All The Right Stuff 4 stars
8/18/05 ES forty highly trained, armed men are no match for an unarmed cook, ah hollywood 1 stars
4/14/05 Raymond Montoya Great Seaqal over comes all odds theme. love em 4 stars
3/22/05 Cheryl Free I love anything with Seagal in it! 5 stars
3/15/05 Chris Stephens standard Segall crap 3 stars
2/04/05 Jeff Anderson SEAGAL'S BEST OF ALL TIME, PERIOD! Jones & Busey ROCK! TAKE MY PIES OUTTA THE OVEN!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
1/21/05 Tjalda L. Schiel I love this movie even though I can't stand Steven Segal. Go Tommy, Go Gary, and Go Erika 5 stars
10/31/04 Charles S. Lewis spork-girl I suggest you go back to playing with your barbie dolls!! Both 1 & 2 are AWESOME 5 stars
5/15/04 John Segal is cheesy - movie is a pathetic DIE HARD rip off with none of its charm 1 stars
5/05/04 J.Peckerfoot i have never been keen on Steven 'straight to video' Segal 2 stars
5/02/04 Martin Segal is pathetic. 1 stars
2/01/04 Wendy Cool film, great action, great actors, even Steven Segal is ok in this! 4 stars
1/21/04 Jerome Under seige is my favorite move 5 stars
8/08/03 Pam Bereza Guess What....I don't have to see this film to know that Steven Segal Sucks!!!! 1 stars
8/06/03 P.Rodriguez Segal at his best,.........thats not saying much though 3 stars
7/25/03 3man Decent action movie on a unique enviroment. Jones was excellent. 4 stars
7/19/03 Leoperd if SNL says segal sucks, and spork-girl says segal sucks.. segal probably does really suck. 2 stars
7/11/03 Stefan Halka Seagal's only finest, quality film to date. 4 stars
4/11/03 Jack Sommersby A great action pic. Performances, dialogue, fight scenes -- all wonderful. 4 stars
2/19/03 Matthew Jones Got Steven Seagal, kick-ass fight scenes, and a famous U.S. battleship. What more is there? 5 stars
1/30/03 Sugarfoot Enjoyable, But Seagal is about as believeable as a cook as George W. Bush is as Einstein 3 stars
10/14/02 Charles Tatum The boat turns in a better performance than Seagal 3 stars
8/08/02 STEVE THIS MOVIE STINKS! the sequal is better and gets an awsome 1 stars
3/07/02 Marcia Lartz Steven Seagal goes more mainstream in his first movie without a three-word title. 4 stars
2/16/02 R.W. Welch Not bad for a Seagal flick; Jones provides some interest. 3 stars
1/18/02 Andrew Carden It Was OK...but In Most Point Of View...It Was Very Bland. 3 stars
10/05/01 Jake Very impressive. Die Hard on a ship. Thats a compliment. 4 stars
8/08/01 Mr. Hat Pretty damn cool. 3 stars
12/25/00 Ro Only worth it for Tommy Lee Jones (who's a babe). 1 stars
12/02/00 Phil One of Tommy Lee Jones' greatest performances + Seagal breaking bones = AWESOME FLICK! 5 stars
11/27/00 Cristopher Revilla it all worked out for me, but, yeah, he's lucky of pulling this one out 4 stars
3/19/00 arnold best segal flick which is not saying much 3 stars
12/05/99 Bill Strannix Hey, man, I should have lived. Little Segal fucker's a wuss. 3 stars
7/04/99 Ben Leostein Rating: ** (out of ****) Category: "Above Average" 4 stars
11/26/98 little jerry At least you'll never have to watch Seagal again 'cause this is as good as he'll get. 3 stars
10/27/98 Silent Rob At least Willis and Arnie are fun to watch...... 2 stars
10/24/98 Johny Even if it was a ripoff of Die Hard it's enjoyable 4 stars
9/04/98 pooky the bald Dude, this is worth two stars just for Erika Elaniak's perfect perfect perfect titties. 2 stars
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  09-Oct-1992 (R)



Directed by
  Andrew Davis

Written by
  J.F. Lawton

  Steven Seagal
  Tommy Lee Jones
  Erika Elaniak
  Lee Hinton
  Gary Busey
  Patrick O'Neal

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