Under Siege (1992)
Release Date: October 9th, 1992 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Andrew Davis Actors: Steven Seagal, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey, Erika Eleniak, Colm Meaney, Nick Mancuso, Damian Chapa, Troy Evans, Patrick O’Neal
Steven Seagal movie in the ‘90s marked a time when actioners could be incredibly mindless yet still altogether entertaining. Foreshadowing, character development, and plots are established while the opening credits roll – and then elaborate setups follow, showcasing shoot-‘em-up nonsense instead of careful acts of espionage. It was also a time when villains were more psychotic, idiosyncratic, over-exaggerated, and unique than the heroes that fought them.
Gary Busey is as demented as ever, intent on demonstrating physical and verbal insanity to outdo his turns in “Lethal Weapon” and “Predator 2.” Tommy Lee Jones is spot on as an evil mastermind, while even Colm Meaney is notable as a henchman. The ‘90s also denoted a time when the hero could speak bluntly and sarcastically to the love interest (here, an airheaded, chesty blonde Playmate, who gratuitously shows off her goods) as she cries over her helpless situation. Seagal appears genuinely irritated that he has to babysit a gorgeous broad while planning the impossible one-man re-seizure of his ship.
Casey Ryback (Steven Seagal), a highly decorated SEAL, now works as a laid-back cook on the U.S. battleship Missouri, cruising through the Pacific. Captain Adams (Patrick O’Neal) keeps Ryback around for his culinary skills, as well as to honor the Navy man’s longtime service. After a successful ceremonial decommissioning and disarming of the WWII vessel, attended by President Bush, an Admiral decides to throw a surprise party for the captain, which turns out to be an elaborate plot to overthrow the warship for the nuclear weaponry still aboard.
Commander Krill (Gary Busey) is the inside man who orchestrates the landing of a helicopter containing Jordan “Miss July” Tate (Erika Eleniak), along with a special team of gun-toting cooks, caterers, and musicians. Aside from the Playboy Bunny, the entire group is in on the plot to conquer the ship. During the party, Jordan is drugged and Ryback is stashed in a meat locker to ensure a smooth usurpation, wherein rogue Special Forces soldier William Stranix (Tommy Lee Jones) reveals himself to be the leader of the takeover – instead of a mere guitarist.
The standard, generic, misinformed government officials in charge of quelling the Missouri siege realize that Stranix’ plan is to use a crude railing system to unload the battlewagon’s warheads onto a submarine before selling to the highest bidder. They also become aware that Ryback is the only hope for recovering the craft – and perhaps a few survivors. The alternative is to use an airstrike to annihilate the entire boat. “Don’t worry about it. These guys are professionals. They can handle 20 marines and 100 cooks,” states Stranix, quite mistakenly, as he’s informed of Ryback’s escape and his martial arts specialties – which the unassuming chef proceeds to utilize against the unsuspecting hijackers.
Although the dated rock ‘n’ roll music chimes in at all the wrong times to disrupt the tone, the level of action and adventure is amusingly consistent. Seagal’s combat style (aikido) isn’t particularly flashy, instead attempting to be realistic with holds and chokes, which equates to short-lived knife fights and brief hand-to-hand skirmishes. It’s the exact opposite of the lengthy, theatric fistfights of Schwarzenegger or Stallone, or the complex, rapid maneuvers of Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee.
Humorously, Seagal’s projects tend not to focus on a romance (“Under Siege” features but a single kiss with Eleniak), while the juggernaut hero rarely takes a punch from the enemies, as if Seagal would be personally embarrassed to take a beating on film. He also stifles a full array of emotions and has almost no inflections in his dialogue delivery. Though many of his movies are ultimately indistinguishable, “Under Siege” is by far his best (likely, in part, due to director Andrew Davis’ experience with action projects); if you only see one Steven Seagal movie (and you really don’t even need to see one), be sure it’s this one.
– Mike Massie