A good seaborne action film isn’t easy to do: there’s a limited environment in which to pursue the action. However, unlike oceangoing thrillers such as “Juggernaut” (click here for my review), the Steven Seagal effort “Under Siege” has a U.S. Navy battleship as its stage and therefore gives this movie a boost from the beginning scenes. Seagal, while something of an oddity in real life (can I actually write that in the day and age of Kardashians?), does his arguably best action work here.
(1992; 103 minutes; rated R; directed by Andrew Davis and starring Steven Seagal, Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey)
GREAT ACTION FROM SEAGAL, ET AL
Steven Seagal is a step down in action films from Arnold Schwarzenegger since he isn’t as good relating to audiences through violence, but it isn’t a big step and he knows how to ring the cash register through honor, integrity and some serious kicking of bad guys’ butts. In “Under Siege” you get it all as he saves the day aboard a hijacked U.S. Navy battleship and it’s easy to watch and fun.
It’s easy for Seagal to have a commanding screen presence because of his 6-foot-4 frame, a Zen-like demeanor and the fact that the audience knows he’ll stomp the bad guy and not have to drop several f-bombs doing it. “Under Siege” is a great vehicle for him and he’s surrounded with a great supporting cast headed by a post-motorcycle crash Gary Busey and Tommy Lee Jones.
In “Under Siege,” Seagal plays “Chief Petty Officer Casey Ryback,” who’s aboard the U.S.S. Missouri as a cook for shadowy reasons that become clear as the film moves forward. The story happens at the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor where the ship takes part in ceremonies and is then headed off for decommissioning. So, this explains several plot issues about the ship and its mission still having nuclear armaments aboard.
Hijackers led by Jones as “William Strannix,” who is a former CIA agent marked for death by that agency and now a mercenary, take over the ship aided by Busey, who plays “Cmdr. Krill.” Busey, who is Seagal’s chief antagonist, believes he’s neutralized his nemesis before the hijacking, but Seagal gathers a ragtag group and manages to save the day. It’s a story about hijacking nuclear weapons and all the supporting cast put their best foot forward to press home the actual acting necessary to make this kind of movie watchable.
Seagal doesn’t do anything special here as he’s his usual screen self: calm, collected and speaks with a funeral home-tone of voice. He has the good looks that make you forget that his acting is quite wooden, but, like in an Arnie film, it isn’t really a problem. Seagal has also been in a string of action films including “Above the Law,” “Hard to Kill” and “The Glimmer Man.”
The other side of the acting coin is the Oscar-winning Jones (for “The Fugitive”), who also has three other nominations. He plays “Strannix” to the max: the former CIA dude acts off the wall crazy to throw the military off the scent of his true purpose and along the way manages a range of emotions only an actor of his caliber could attempt much less accomplish. He’s volcanic, edgy and motivated. Great work. Jones is most famously known for his roles in the “Men in Black” franchise as well as “No Country for Old Men” and “Man of the House.”
In an interesting note about Jones, he was one of Ryan O’Neal’s dormitory friends at Harvard in “Love Story” and in real life was a Harvard dorm buddy of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.
Busey is cast perfectly as “Cmdr. Krill,” who is a psychotic hiding in uniform and very convinced of his own competence and infallibility. Busey spins from one facet of his character to another with gleeful abandon and you wait to see what he’ll do next. His funniest scene is where he’s dressed up as woman with heavy makeup and after reading his fitness report says in exasperation to Jones, “Do I look like I need a psychological evaluation?” Busey was the title character in “The Buddy Holly Story” as well as the partner of Keanu Reeves in the surf-cop-action film “Point Break.”
The female lead here is Erika Eleniak as “Jordan Tate,” who is a former centerfold who does the best popping-out-of-a-cake scene in recent memory. Eleniak has a role that would stretch an actor of depth and she gives it a go, but isn’t just quite solid here. However, she’s endearing and is better than her better-known work on TV’s “Baywatch” and in movies such as “The Beverly Hillbillies” (she’s “Elly May Clampett”). Eleniak’s first movie appearance was in her pre-teen, pre-Playboy days as “Pretty Girl” in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
The sleazy good guy in “Under Siege” is Nick Mancuso as “Tom Breaker,” who was Jones’ control officer in the CIA and tried to have him killed. Mancuso is part of the military team around a conference table directing the effort to retake the Missouri. He tries to do a good job of being the bad-good guy (he even smokes), but Mancuso’s effort falls flat. His delivery is nothing special and he doesn’t convey anything but a series of muddled emotions. Mancuso was also in this one’s sequel, “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory” in a prolific career of more than 140 credits.
Both the good guys’ team as the bad guys’ squad have multiple good performances and offer too many nice turns to single out any one, two or even five. Just know that the foundation work by these actors help keep the film on track.
The showdown scene between Seagal and Jones is impressive for both Seagal’s fighting moves but Jones’ truly superior acting ability that comes through clearly even in an action scene when he’s fighting to the death.
“Under Siege” was the 13th ranked film at the box office in 1992 with $83.5 million in domestic ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. Worldwide, “Under Siege” made $156.5 million on a budget of $36 million, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film of the year was “Aladdin” at $217.3 million and the best-grossing military genre film was Tom Cruise’s “A Few Good Men” with Jack Nicholson (it brought in $141.3 million).
Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):
- Bernie Casey has a small role as “Cmdr. Harris” and is better known as “Bill and Ted’s” history teacher in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”
- Dale Dye as “Capt. Garza” and Andy Romano as “Adm. Bates” are the two ranking officers at headquarters. Both do such a great job that you know they could go onto any Navy base and start ordering sailors around and no one would question their authority. Dye has been in “Saving Private Ryan” while Romano was in “The Fugitive” with Jones.
- The U.S.S. Alabama, which has been a museum at dock at Mobile, Ala., was used for the action scenes, although the Missouri does appear in aerial views. In a side note: the Alabama is a South Dakota-class battleship, while the Missouri is an Iowa-class. Follow each link for a Wiki explanation of each class of ship.
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