Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Under Siege 2: Dark Territory" (1995)

Starring Steven Seagal, Katherine Heigl, and Morris Chestnut
Written by Richard Hatem
Directed by Geoff Murphy
Rated R - Violence, language, nudity
Running Time: 199 Minutes

As a fan of ludicrous, implausible action films, Steven Seagal has proven a veritable treasure trove of material for me. "Under Siege 2" has Seagal returning as Casey Ryback, Navy SEAL-turned-Chef and terrorist fighter extraordinaire. Retired from the Navy, Ryback is now a chef at his friend's restaurant. When he receives news of his brother's death, he reconnects with his niece and the two head cross-country by train to visit the grave.

Meanwhile, a secret military satellite weapon capable of causing earthquakes from orbit has been successfully deployed. The designer of this weapon, an eccentric genius named Travis Dane, hires a group of mercenaries to hijack Ryback's train and use it as a mobile command post to seize control of the satellite weapon and sell its services to the highest bidder.

What follows is a series of "Die Hard"-esque chases and encounters as Ryback attempts to retake the train from the hijackers and stop Dane from destroying Washington DC. These encounters are, of course, ludicrous. None of the mercenaries prove any match for Seagal in any fashion whatsoever, and he tears through them like they were evil Boy Scouts instead of highly-trained soldiers for hire. It's a good thing, then, that there are nearly thirty of them so that Seagal won't tear through the whole group in such short order that the movie is only a few minutes long.

Seagal's attempts at acting are, of course, terrible. Katherine Heigl, future "Grey's Anatomy" hottie, is equally bad as Ryback's niece. Morris Chestnut as the hip-hop train porter who helps out Seagal is the only one with any kind of real personality. Eric Bogosian as Travis Dane is a completely ineffectual villain, a computer nerd who tries to be intimidating and fails miserably (though he does get a few genuinely humorous one-liners in).

The problem with "Under Siege 2" is not in low budget nonsense, or really even the fact that it's premise is just plain idiotic. The action is well directed, and Basil Pouledoris provides a simple but effective action score. No, the problem is that Seagal as Ryback is completely infallible through the entire movie. He rarely seems to be in any real danger from the terrorists, and even more rarely seems to run into any trouble at all. Even his Apple Newton functions perfectly to send a distress signal to the outside world when the mercenaries destroy the wireless phone on the train.

And yet, because it's a wholly stupid Steven Seagal movie, it's just as entertaining BECAUSE of these problems, instead of in spite of them. His deadpan delivery of every single line in the movie is hilarious, and watching him flail about in front of blue screens just as fun. The "Dark Territory" aspect of the title is barely explained in the film (it has something to do with an area of Colorado the train is traveling through that will prevent radio communication... or something). Dialogue is minimal, and there's no such thing as character development.

Take this movie seriously, and I guarantee, you'll have a terrible time with it. But go in with the idea that it's going to be bad, and you'll be surprised at just how good it really is.