Steven Seagal is a mystery to me, as the few films I have seen starring him have been horrendously awful. The era of the action hero he came to prominence in had him going up against such other remarkable performers as Van Damme and the ultra Z-grade Billy Blanks. Thankfully though there is one shining light in the turd pile that is Seagal’s career and that is the astoundingly brilliant On Deadly Ground. Any film that has a 0% rating from Rotten Tomatoes must have something going for it, right?
Following the mega smash hit Under Siege (Die Hard on a boat), Seagal’s stock with moronic Hollywood executives was obviously sky high. Every great star needs a moment when vanity takes over everything and this is that moment for our hero Mr Seagal. On Deadly Ground stars the man himself as Forrest Taft (yep that’s his name in it) an ecologically minded oil roughneck having to chose between the big pay-cheque and the ethical way of life.
Naturally our hero chooses the path of enlightenment that allows him the freedom to carry on wearing as many ridiculous tasseled outfits as is humanly possible. Once he decides to become an eco-warrior he sets a course to go head-to-head with his old boss Michael Jennings (Michael Caine). Caine has a proud history of turning up in horrendous films such as The Swarm, Jaws the Revenge and Bullseye. Attempting to add extra menace to his oil tycoon character, the makeup department seem to have decided to boot polish his head black. Couple this with his bad interpretation of his own performance from Mona Lisa and you have something to remember.
The casting department went into overdrive when it decided on the love interest for our ponytailed hero. Needing to cast the role of the native Alaskan Eskimo they naturally went for the Chinese American actress Joan Chen. The absolutely ridiculous sight of Chen with the tribe is nothing short of comic gold and her actual lack of acting chops on top is the final straw. Add to this an early role for an equally awful Billy Bob Thornton as a hired killer and you really have reached the depths of despair.
The saving grace of this astoundingly bad film is the never ending and wonderfully disturbing violence. People get staked, shot in the face and just randomly blown up as one-man wrecking crew Forrest goes on the rampage. The use of extreme violence in large Hollywood action epics has become a thing of the past with only Stallone’s Rambo having the guts to deliver in today’s ultra weak market.
The second highlight of the film comes when Forrest, having been badly injured in an explosion, is rescued by the natives. During his rehab he is made to undertake a vision quest which involves several Jim Morrsion-esque adventures in the wild, culminating in a trip to a mythical cave where he must choose between taking advice from a naked pole dancer or an old woman. Our hero knows the game and not wanting to look bad opts for the old woman. She’s the one who lectures him on the raping of the world by the bad people of the oil company, highlighting the fact that Forest is simply too stupid to work this out for himself.
On Deadly Ground is now a staple of cult late night screenings due to its hysterical awfulness combined with superb slabs of extreme violence. Seagal delivers his usual non-performance from the “seen one, seen ‘em all” school of acting. Under Siege may be the best film he ever starred in due to its superb action direction, but this is the classic he will be remembered for. The actor’s vanity project has found many a great name hung out to dry – remember Tom Hanks in Cast Away and Kevin Costner in Waterworld? Seagal decides to tell us all about his love of ecology by making a massive action picture with huge crews and enormous explosions that most probably created no end of damage to the surrounding eco system. Anyone in the market for a film that will make you laugh from the first minute till the last is in for a total treat with On Deadly Ground. That’s not what Seagal was going for but, oh well.