Lisa Schwarzbaum
March 04, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

On Deadly Ground

Current Status
In Season
Steven Seagal, Michael Caine, Joan Chen, Billy Bob Thornton
Steven Seagal
Julius Nasso

We gave it a F

Steven Seagal, the exceedingly bankable action-movie star and exceedingly limited actor, wanted to direct. He wanted to express his profound conviction that the environment and the spiritually advanced tribes of Alaska are good, and pollution and the spiritually bankrupt oil companies of the lower 48 are bad. Warner Bros., the studio that has made a zillion dollars off Seagal in such spirituality-lite head-busters as Above the Law, Hard to Kill, and, most recently and successfully, Under Siege, wanted its star to be happy. The result is On Deadly Ground (R). The best modern action thrillers combine two elements: the excitement of escalating kerpow! episodes and a sense of ironic humor. Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard franchises know this. Andrew Davis knew this directing Seagal in Under Siege-he moved his lumbering leading man so deftly that the actor didn’t notice he was being given a personality transfusion. But Seagal the director is witless in this preachy story of an eco-warrior who, having finally gotten it into his thick, ponytailed head that the oil-company megalomaniac he works for (a rouged, dyed, and waxen Michael Caine in a waxen performance) is walking evil, takes it upon himself to shut down the monstrous Alaskan oil refinery Caine is building. (He takes the assignment seriously enough to put Joan Chen to work as his Beautiful Alaskan Woman Sidekick, although she has none of the spark Erika Eleniak brought to the job in Under Siege.) ”I didn’t want to resort to violence. I didn’t have a choice,” he says; a greater man might have said, ”Make my day.” What is there to do but laugh in self-defense at such pompous self-regard when blood gushes, fuses pop, and Seagal scowls in a series of snappy, embroidered buckskin jackets? I predict that in the very near future, midnight showings of On Deadly Ground will have audience participation, with stagings of the dream sequence in which Seagal accepts his spiritual mission to resort to violence, imitations of his delivery of such gems as ”What does it take to change the essence of a man?” (spoken after he sparks a gigantic bar brawl), and group recitations of the harangue about alternative energy sources he delivers to unnecessarily patient Alaskan natives at the close of the film. I’m personally fondest of the moment when Seagal tells Chen, ”Stay out of sight! I’m gonna blow the generator!” But then, I’m a sucker for a doughy, take-charge kind of Rainbow Warrior. F

You May Like