For the longest time, I thought that something terrible would happen to Steve Seagal if he lost his ponytail. Like Samson at the hands of Delilah, he’d lose his strength and his ability to kick people and/or grab people ruthlessly in the balls. Luckily, 1992’s Under Siege proved that all my worry was for naught. Seagal, sans ponytail, was alive and well.
Under Siege was marketed as Die Hard on a boat, basically, and that’s pretty much what this thing is. It is easily Seagal’s most successful and popular motion picture. It even received a couple of Oscar nominations (sound-related) and was generally well-liked by critics. It solidified Seagal as a bankable action star and he went on to…well, you know where he went.
The film opens with the USS Missouri, an impressive battleship that will be decommissioned by President George H. W. Bush (playing himself). The ship is on its final voyage and the Captain (Patrick O’Neal) is having a birthday. This means that Casey Ryback (Seagal), a Chief Petty Officer now working as a cook to finish his tour of duty, is making some good eats in the mess hall. It also means that terrorists are planning to take over and steal the ship’s subsonic cruise missiles.
With the help of Commander Krill (Gary Busey), Bill Strannix (Tommy Lee Jones) and the rest of the bad guys take the ship in no time under the guise of holding a surprise party for the Captain. This means that a Playboy Playmate (Erika Eleniak) has come along for the ride and is unknowingly swept up in the proceedings. Ryback, initially locked in the freezer, is the ship’s only hope.
The casting of Under Siege is really something – and I’m not just talking about Eleniak. Busey is nutty as hell, which is perfect for when he has to dress up like a woman and crow about a psych evaluation. Jones is every bit as nutty, but his is a more gradual approach to the road of insanity. He doesn’t completely lose his marbles until he gets his ears blown out by the firing of the ship’s guns.
Seagal is, well, Seagal. He has some quick zingers and more personality than the average beefcake hero. He also has good chemistry with Eleniak, but his propensity for the cheesy lines is still intact. The action sequences are good and somewhat sleeker than what fans were used to thus far. This is no Out for Justice and it lacks some of the hard-boiled ass-kicking that made that film really something.
Davis, who directed Seagal in Above the Law and went on to direct Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, ably handles the elements. The action sequences are more precise and the movie seems very particular and specific about what’s going on. The takeover of the ship is impressively captured by Davis’ cinematographer Frank Tidy and the overall flow of the picture is brisk and concise. There aren’t many wasted scenes, if any, and the action has the sort of spatial clarity is requires.
Under Siege is a fun movie, make no mistake about it, but I’m not quite convinced it’s Seagal’s best. It isn’t ambitious in the slightest and lounges in its probable plot to an almost irrational degree, but the actors and the action pull it out of routine and into an accomplished, glossy, well-organized venture.