“In 1992, a battleship’s been sabotaged by nuclear pirates out to steal its warheads. Now, surrounded by terrorists, a lone man stands with a deadly plan of attack.”
Released on October 9th, 1992, Under Siege arguably is one of the best–if not the best–of the forty billion or so movies starring Steven Seagal released beginning in the late 1980s. Steven Seagal films are like fucking Mad Libs, with pretty much every one of them following some version of the same plot: “When bad guys gear up to do crazy shit, one man with a mysterious past and mad fighting skillz is all that stands in their way.” Most of the resulting movies are one degree or flavor of suckage, but others manage to rise above the formula and are enjoyable to watch for what they are: lightweight action faire with plenty of chaos, mayhem, and stuff blowing up real good.
Under Siege is one such flick, giving us a two-fer not only as a decent Seagal action party but also by being one of the better Die Hard-esque clones which cluttered movie houses and direct-to-video shelves in the late 80s and early 1990s. What’s up this time? Seagal is Chief Petty Officer Casey Ryback, the “captain’s personal chef” on the U.S.S. Missouri, the famed World War II-era battleship which is set to embark on its final cruise from Hawaii to San Francisco prior to its eventual decommissioning. But hey, Ryback’s got a mysterious past that only the ship’s captain seems to know about.
A group of bad guys, posing as musicians, caterers, and other entertainment-related folk and led by a disgruntled CIA operative with visions of vengeance, under the guise of throwing the Missouri‘s crew a big farewell party, board the ship and take control of it and the crew. They’re aided by a turncoat on the inside, the ship’s executive officer. In short order, with the crew locked up and with a threat of retaliation against any attempt to retake the ship, the bad guys begin the process of unloading the Missouri‘s nuclear-tipped Tomahawk missiles to a submarine they’ll rendezvous with in just a few short hours.
The one thing they didn’t count on? Casey Ryback, ship’s cook, who just so happens to also be a former Navy SEAL. Cue asshole puckering in 3…2…1….
As action thrillers go, Under Siege is above average, with a plot that has a few holes defying easy explanation. For example, how the hell did an armed force possessing such firepower and other equipment manage to get aboard a U.S. Navy warship, or how or even why an elaborate off-loading system for the nuclear missiles needs to be constructed? I mean, the missiles have to get on and off of there just in the regular course of being loaded or unloaded for maintenance or replacement, right? The whole deal with Ryback’s assignment as a cook after being court-martialed and drummed out of the SEAL teams rings more than a bit hollow, too, as is the notion that the ship’s executive officer would not be familiar with or have access to the personnel file of any member of the ship’s crew. And those are just the ones off the top of my head.
Then there’s the little stuff that always makes me grit my teeth, like who does a movie like this, with its military flavor, and doesn’t take care of things like getting Marine haircuts and uniforms right? Didn’t this movie have a technical advisor? I mean, Dale Dye, actor, former Marine and military advisor on films going back to Platoon, is right there on your movie set. Feel free to take him aside and allow him to tell you how you’re fucking up this sort of stuff.
Ah well, there’s plenty of bombs, bullets, and boobies to keep us from dwelling on such things. It’s fun, in that cheesy 80s/90s action flick way that you either love or hate for what it is.
Under Siege features a few notable performances, such as those of the two main bad guys: Tommy Lee Jones as the angry Agency rogue, William Stranix, and Gary Busey as ship’s executive officer turned mercenary douche nozzle Commander Krill. Jones in particular seems to milk the opportunity to play the villain for all it’s worth, walking the line between mania and menace. Other fun folks include Nick Mancuso as the resident CIA weasel, and the ever-dependable Glenn Morshower turning in yet another in a long series of favorable performances. Before and after this movie, Morshower has been seen, well, everywhere, having built a solid career as a popular character actor, and he holds the distinction of playing the only character other than Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer (in this case, incorruptible Secret Service agent Aaron Pierce) to appear in the first seven seasons of 24.
But, it’s all about Steven Seagal, of course. As I was reminded the other day when ruminating about this film, nobody is more bad-ass than Seagal in a Seagal flick. Nobody ever lands a decent shot on him during any hand-to-hand combat (though Tommy Lee nicks him with a knife in their final showdown here). He always wins, and appears to do so with relative ease. When this movie was new, that sort of thing wasn’t so noticeable, but now? Watching Seagal fight in any movie has to have drinking game rules, right?
Under Siege did pretty decent box office back in the day, and was followed three years later with a sequel, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, which I remember mostly for Eric Bogosian and a near-jailbait Katherine Heigl. I just watched the original tonight after not having seen it for several years, and it still does its job in the finest late 80s/early 90s actionfest tradition. I’m sure a remake starring someone from Twilight is coming soon.
For now, though? Happy 20th Anniversary, Under Siege. Show me a move, Case.