a critiQal film review Under Siege (1992)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Lead by a rogue CIA agent (Jones) and posing as a rock band, killer-elite commandos get themselves hired for a party aboard the USS Missouri, a battleship en route to Pearl Harbor for decommissioning. They plan to steal the ship's nuclear arsenal but haven't reckoned on the intervention of the ship's chef (Seagal), a decorated former Navy SEAL.

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When trying to find an older movie to review, the choices on NetFlix® didn’t seem to appeal this time around.  Instead, I delved into my Vudu® account, hoping to come up with something I hadn’t seen in awhile.  I found that with Under Siege.

Starring Steven Seagal, Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey (yes the crazy one), I remembered this movie as being the best of Seagal.  Unfortunately, due to his other movies (Hard to Kill (1990)Above the Law (1988), etc.), that wasn’t really saying much.  Would Under Siege stand the test of time and still be worth watching?  Or was Die Hard (1988) on a boat not quite as spectacular nowadays?

For those of a younger generation, Steven Seagal is nothing more than a cop with his own reality show.  But for those of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, Seagal was one of the biggest action stars around.  Unlike fellow actioneers Stallone, Schwarzenegger and even Van Damme (on occasion), Seagal’s films all tended to blend together.  Except one, that is:  Under Siege.

With this film, he was at the top of his game.  Actually on point with his wisecrack humor for once, his martial art fighting style was enhanced in Under Siege.  While his fellow actioneers seemed to be on point with the humor in film after film, Seagal usually wasn’t, making this film his turn to shine.  Unfortunately, his stoicism in his acting meant he never expressed very much emotion, and that drawback remains true here as well.  Never cracking a smile (even when spouting funny lines), he’s got his “determined” face on the entire time.  While it may fit at times, watching him stoically watching over his fellow crewmen as they perform a dance-off is a bit off-putting, and makes him a bit unlikable, right from the start.

Tommy Lee Jones, as the bad guy of Under Siege, gives a decent, if underwhelming, performance.  He seems to fit into the odd character rather well,  but he never really gives the villain his own spin.  That makes him rather predictable and somewhat dull.  If he’s on the wrong side, he’s better at playing the ambiguous villain – one the hero fights, but not the true villain of the pic (see his star turn in The Fugitive (1993) as a prime example).  Thankfully, Under Siege has another bad guy waiting in line to take up Tommy’s slack.

Gary Busey seems to thrive on the eccentricities of his character, bringing some great moments of his own to Under Siege.  He lets a bit of the crazy (that he would later be known for) show through.  He steals scenes from Tommy Lee Jones (who just sits there, and watches him with a bemused smile).  Gary Busey crazy (as most people now know) is kinda fun to watch, and Under Siege lets the viewer revel a bit in it.

For action films of the 90’s, Die Hard (1988) was a film that created loads of copycats.  Among these, a few imitators earned a place in film history themselves.  Whether it was Wesley Snipes in Passenger 57 (1992) (Die Hard (1988) on a plane), Jean-Claude Van Damme in Sudden Death (1995) (Die Hard (1988) in a hockey stadium) or Steven Seagal in Under Siege (Die Hard (1988) on a battleship), fans saw something in these imitators and popularized the Die Hard (1988) scenario: a one-man army, in a confined space, takes on a mess of bad guys (and one master villain) – wise-cracking as he goes – and saves the day.  In fact, these films so popularized the idea, films today still use the same scenario to draw in viewers – and it still works.

There’s a reason for that.  Honestly, watching one guy (or girl these days) take on a whole mess of bad guys and come out on top is fun to watch.  All sorts of twists and turns can be thrown at the hero, and if the dialogue isn’t cringe-worthy, people will enjoy it.

While Under Siege does toss a few groaners in the mix, and Tommy Lee Jones is a rather bland bad guy, the film still manages to come off as enjoyable.  Not perfect, by any means, but a far cry from most of Seagal’s other pics.  While Sudden Death (1995) may edge it out as best Die Hard (1988) imitator (thanks to Powers Boothe playing a villain viewers love to hate), it’s still fun to watch today.

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