Under Siege – #1 in the U.S. (Oct. 9-12)
All-Time Domestic $83,563,139 | All-Time International $73,000,000
All-Time Worldwide $156,563,139
Under Siege is a Die Hard knockoff that delivers on action despite a terrible lead, saved by a manic performance by Tommy Lee Jones.
I’ve never understood the appeal of Steven Seagal. To say I have after watching Under Siege would be a lie. Seagal made his film debut in 1988’s Above the Law, mentioned in the same breath as Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Van Damme. Depending on who one’s asks, this is either a great moment for his ego or serves as a detriment to the other more capable stars. The only Seagal movie I’ve seen before this is Executive Decision, which (spoilers for a film from 1996) dies in the first ten to twenty minutes.
His legacy (or lack thereof) is in actioners that rank from mid to outright awful, being a Russian asset, and ruining his only time hosting Saturday Night Live. This is before mentioning the sexual assault allegations toward him from Jenny McCarthy, Juliana Marguiles, and Portia de Rossi. Tl;dr I wouldn’t say I like Steven Seagal. It clouds my judgment of this film. Yet, there is enough in Under Siege, a reteam with the director Andrew Davis, after Above the Law, helping the film be a joy ride carried by terrific action moments and the strength of one actor. And it isn’t Seagal by a long shot.
Casey Ryback (Seagal) is a simple cook on the USS Missouri. Commander Krill (Gary Busey) is arranging a surprise party for Captain Adams (Patrick O’Neal). Bringing along Miss July 199 Jordan Tate (Erika Eleniak) for the ride to strip for the Captain and her manager William Strannix (Tommy Lee Jones), the party goes off without a hitch. That is until Strannix shoots an officer and is revealed to be an ex-CIA operative turned terrorist. Ryback gets wind of the gunshots and takes action revealing himself as an ex-Navy SEAL. He teams with Tate to help take down terrorists across Missouri via explosions, knife fighting, and eventually saving the world from nuclear destruction.
Under Siege is a Die Hard knockoff that delivers on action despite a terrible lead, saved by a manic performance by Tommy Lee Jones. Jones might still be recovering from back pain for carrying this entire film. Strannix is a man nostalgic for the 60s and Looney Tunes that is insane and chaotic.
I love the look of him being this radical with the most fabulous salt-and-pepper mullet you’ve ever seen committed to celluloid. Jones is villainous as all get out from killing crews like wild game, using missiles to take out hets and helicopters, and being degraded, wanting the world to end before he dies. However, the mania he has is a tone-down version of his take on Two-Face in Batman Forever later on. I love when Jones takes a break from dramatic roles to have more fun. TLJ returns for Davis’ The Fugitive, earning him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
His right-hand man in Busey is also fun, if not the Busey performance one would expect. It’s closer to an evil version of his character from Point Break. While not given much to do in the way of being the Starscream to Jones’ Megatron, seeing Busey dress in drag and kill a man is a sight to behold. It makes sense in context to use him as a decoy, Miss July 1989. They make a great duo, with Busey as a traitor.
Speaking of traitors, Seagal sucks at acting. I’m surprised the sound designer heard dialogue with his whispers. I’m even more surprised that he might not have had a single good take of film in him. I could not buy him for a second throughout. When he whoops ass, it can be thrilling or an absolute laugh riot. There’s a moment the camera pans as he sets up to go toe-to-toe with a random goon, and seeing him flail about is hysterical. I don’t know how this man managed to be an action star. I know I could never be one, but wow, the 90s had a low bar if this man went through. The chemistry with Eleniak is non-existent, which is a shame as Eleniak is doing her best with the one-dimension the film decided to give her.
As for the action, if you come for Die Hard on a boat, It delivers on the premise wholesale. The USS Missouri for the film is a combo of a set, an actual Navy ship, the USS Alabama, and an authentic military sub makes it all the more real. There are incredible shots of missiles going off, mid-air blasts, and explosions, showing the ship’s compact nature. I appreciate the film also becomes a team film onward the third act finding some of Seagal’s old crew team becoming an ensemble action film. A small part of me wishes this was the movie from the beginning because it’s great to see a team work together to stop some terrorists. In a moment of real tension and excitement, the film’s main highlight is the disarming of a nuclear-tipped tomahawk missile. It has cuts between a Naval war room, the crew on Missouri, and a stellar POV shot from the rocket flying toward Hawaii. It is nail-biting and directed impactfully by Davis. When Seagal and Jones do finally meet for a scene, it’s perfect with Strannix on the edge of the end and Ryback ready to finish the job in a knife fight that rules.
Under Siege exceeds expectations and plays it to the letter at other points. But, again, Jones is the secret ingredient in the sauce, elevating it from a decent rip-off to something worth watching. It’s a breezy watch, too, at under two hours, with the only detriment being Seagal for being Seagal. Maybe I’m too harsh on him. But perhaps I’m not since he got everything every actor could want.
Revue Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Next time, look into the mirror, say his name three times, and he’ll be sure to make you his victim. October 1992 finally got a scare with one of my favorite horror films Candyman.