We’re back in the era when Steven Seagal was a box office star, the influence of Die Hard was seeping onto every action movie coming out and the creation of a sub-genre of action imitators has taken hold.
The action genre had just gotten a facelift. Audiences were getting Die Hard-influenced stories of lone heroes fighting terrorists and saving hostages. The premise was becoming the norm and each new one is looking for a new setting and locale to have it take place in.
Mix those ingredients up and we have ‘Die Hard on a battleship’ with Seagal being the hero to save the day. It’s Under Siege, which would become one of Seagal’s most popular and successful films.
The deal is the U.S. Missouri is about to be decommissioned. The captain and crew are anticipating a very uneventful final voyage to dry dock, while a surprise birthday party for the Captain is being planned. Meanwhile, the ship’s cook Casey Rybeck (Seagal) is in his kitchen going about his duties.
After the arrival of caterers, a band and a Playboy Playmate, the duplicitous Commander Krill (Gary Busey) shows his hand, begins killing the crew and locks them up. This group of terrorists led by William Strannix (Tommy Lee Jones) are threatening to launch some nuclear missiles and auction off the rest to the highest bidders. With the crew out of the way and Washington leaders unable to do anything, the situation seems hopeless.
But wait! What about that cook! It turns out Rybeck is an ex-Navy Seal and he begins to disrupt the bad guys plans and starts killing them one-by-one. Hooray!
One good thing about Under Siege is that it knows it’s a Die Hard ripoff and doesn’t try to be anything else. It hits all the notes that you would suspect it would and thanks to director Andrew Davis it moves at a good clip, has some well-staged action and showcases some over-the-top, delightful villains and it all ends up being an entertaining actioner.
Seagal might be the most out of place element here. Yeah, he handles the action fine, but when it comes to acting…..it’s passable is the best I can describe it. Ever since first seeing this movie in theaters I’ve always been struck by certain moments and line readings by him that are so bad they’re unintentionally funny. There’s quite a few good parts like that.
Seagal’s Rybeck is meant to be a bit more lighthearted and likable character than he had played in the past. But when they try to show him clowning around with his buddies in the kitchen it looks incredibly forced and artificial. I don’t buy it for a minute.
That also goes for most of the required action one-liners he delivers. Where they’re meant to be humorous they’re more cringe-inducing thanks to Seagals monotone delivery of them.
There’s one exchange that I always found hilarious. After Rybeck frees a handful of pals he looks at one, I guess he’s meant to be one of his closer buddies and he asks him dramatically, “Are you ok?”
And the guy looks at Seagal and says, “Yeah. Are you ok?”
And Seagal replies, “Yeah.”
This exchange doesn’t read as goose-pimply embarrassing as how it comes off when it’s performed onscreen by Seagal and the actor. It’s so utterly ridiculous and awkward, it’s one of the moments of Seagal’s that I remember most from Under Siege -other than his action stuff.
Granted, Seagal fans are not looking for him to give an award-worthy acting performance, but when he doesn’t have a gun in his hand he’s about as interesting as a dried up mop.
His character of Rybeck is not as human or likable as say John McClane. There’s no appearance of vulnerability or fear by the guy. He gets a band-aid placed on his back, but that’s about it. He’s all a very matter-of-fact hero who is just going to go around and kill the bad guys without much worry and we don’t have to be too concerned for his safety.
Erika Elaniak shows up as a Playmate and is there to provide some eye-candy and to do a topless scene, which she’s successful with. A scene by the way that not surprisingly got a lot of attention by fans. So by those standards she played her role in this quite well.
Seagal being partnered up with a Playmate is meant to create some funny interactions between the stern Rybeck and the buxom blonde. Eh. Theres a few fleeting moments, but again they’re really stiff.
I always thought it was ludicrous how Seagal seems so aggravated with her for no knowing stuff. Like, how he sounds so condescending towards her as he teaches her about guns. She’s a Playmate dude! How is she supposed to know about this. Luckily, she becomes well versed in the art of shooting bad guys very quickly.
If your’e looking for some fun characters and genuinely funny lines, the place you really want to be is on the bad guy side. What Seagal lacks with his acting is more than made up by Busey and Jones who look like they’re just having a ball chewing up script pages and doing any and all things they can to play their parts in the most animated humorous ways.
As the Washington generals and big wigs at the Pentagon sit at their Dr. Stranglove giant table, Seagal goes about the battleship shooting the bad guys, giving them headaches and making Jones and Busey very angry. All of that is entertaining stuff. It’s all put together pretty well and looks like a nice big-screen action flick that doesn’t disappoint.
Under Siege sure was a hit when it came out. I remember seeing it opening weekend and fans were pretty satisfied with it. Today it’s still considered by most Seagal fans if not his best movie, definitely towards the top.
For me Seagal has never been a very charismatic actor. When he’s not punching, kicking or shooting he comes off extremely stiff. That’s just how I always feel about the guy. Like, when the climactic confrontation happens in the end and he’s talking to Jones I can’t help but shake my head the entire time. All this nonsense he says about, “we’re the same, we’re puppets” and all that….just get to the punching!
But when he does get to do his action the battleship becomes a fun playground for him to showcase it on. Under Siege is really helped along by Jones and Busey and being overseen by Davis, who I think are the big reasons why the movie has become one of Seagal’s best.
Oh, another one of my favorite lines Seagal gives is after being locked up in a freezer and the bad guys start shooting their guns. He tells his young novice guard, “Hey boy that’s gunfire. Now you let me out of here and I’ll take care of it.”
I always laugh at that line too. No worries mr. guard, Seagal will deal with that gunfire, just let him out of there.
Maybe Seagal is a master of comedy in his own way.