Under Siege (1992)

Under Siege (1992) - * * *

Directed by: Andrew Davis

Starring: Steven Seagal, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey and Erika Eleniak

When a team of baddies led by the diabolical William Strannix (Jones) takes over a battleship, the USS Missouri, with the goal of stealing the Tomahawk missiles contained onboard, things don’t look good for the crew of the ship or the stateside higher-ups. When a helicopter carrying SEAL Team 5 sent to save the ship doesn’t make it, Strannix appears to be on the verge of accomplishing his mission. He just didn’t count on one thing: Casey Ryback (Seagal). Ryback is the self-described “lowly, lowly cook” on the vessel, but the truth is that he’s a highly-trained SEAL himself with more than enough know-how to singlehandedly bring down the evil plans of the bad guys. Tagging along with Ryback is Jordan Tate (Eleniak), Playboy’s “Miss July ‘89” (which Eleniak was in real life as well). Hey, if you fall asleep in a giant cake you’re supposed to pop out of, strange things happen. Will Ryback stop Strannix and his plans for world domination? You probably already know the answer…

Under Siege is mainstream Hollywood action that even people who are not typically action movie fans have seen. It was wildly popular at the time, despite the fact that it’s the first Seagal movie to break with the “Three Word Title” tradition. Seagal re-teamed with Above the Law (1988) director Davis – who also directed Chuck Norris in Code of Silence (1985) – and the results have that glossy, professional Hollywood sheen to it that even action movie “noobs” will find palatable. The fact that Davis’s next film was The Fugitive (1993) makes sense; it’s a natural extension of the groundwork laid down with Under Siege.

Most of the street-level grit found in the early clutch of Seagal titles such as Out For Justice (1991) is missing here, presumably in a bid to garner a larger audience. It seems to have worked, even though Seagal’s viewing public was already pretty darn huge at the time. While the movie does lose a bit of steam towards the end because it doesn’t have to be as long as it is, all in all Under Siege is solid. It’s nothing to go wild about, but it’s like the USS Missouri itself: big, solidly built, steady, and professionally cared-for. To Under Siege’s eternal credit, it’s not a submarine slog, bogey slog, ship slog, or any other kind of slog, which it easily could have been. It’s simply what we call a “DieHardInA” movie, which were everywhere in the 90’s. It seemed every time you turned around, terrorist bad guys were taking over buildings, ships, nuclear plants, water treatment facilities, PathMarks, Waldenbookses, CompUSA’s or any other kind of structure that holds human beings. For a more in-depth look at the 90’s DieHardInA trend, please see our review of Sudden Death. In that case it was a hockey rink, in case anyone needed reminding.

One of the main reasons Under Siege stays afloat (sorry) is the cast. First off, we have our old buddy Seagal, who is actually pretty likable here and you do root for him. He’s backed up by the spunky Eleniak as his sidekick, and on the baddie side we have Tommy Lee Jones, who of course is excellent as the evil Strannix, and he has Gary Busey as his sidekick. Now that’s a power-team if there ever was one. Colm Meaney as another bad guy adds color, as do other incidental characters played by familiar faces such as Bernie Casey, George Cheung, Nick Mancuso, Andy Romano, and Dale Dye, among many others. Interestingly, Tommy Lee Jones gets into a knife fight with Seagal in the climactic battle, and Jones also played a knife expert in The Hunted (2003), and those to date are the only two TLJ movies on Comeuppance. Overall, by our standards at least, the violence is relatively toned-down. Sure, Seagal tears somebody’s throat out and shoves another guy into a circular saw, but somehow it all feels more muted than usual.

Under Siege was perhaps the peak of Seagal’s Hollywood career and is not bad by any means. It’s a bit mainstream for our personal taste but if you’re trying to get a non-action fan into action movies, this is a good and easy way to break them in to the genre.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Marked For Death (1990)

Marked For Death (1990)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Dwight H. Little

Starring: Steven Seagal, Basil Wallace, Tom Wright, Joanna Pacula, and Keith David

John Hatcher (Seagal) is a retired DEA agent and now police “troubleshooter” who doesn’t like the fact that a ruthless Jamaican gang is now selling drugs to children at the local schools and getting into violent turf wars. (We’re helpfully informed that these gangs are called “posses”). Deciding to clean up the streets, he teams up with old buddy Max (David) and a Jamaican cop named Charles (Wright). But a psychotic, violent, pure evil baddie named Screwface (Wallace) is the head of the snake, as it were. It seems that these Jamaicans are not irie. Not irie at all. When members of Screwface’s gang – sorry, posse – target Hatcher’s sister and her young daughter, Hatcher gets really mad and decides to eliminate the posse for good. He even gets to travel to Jamaica, which seems like a delightful perk during your vengeance-obsessed rampage. Will Hatcher and the gang get Screwface…or will the fact that he’s MARKED FOR DEATH get in his way? Find out today!

Ah, to go back to those golden years when action movies were violent, bone-crunching affairs that delivered the goods with a nice, simple revenge plot, some nudity, a few car chases, shootouts, Martial Arts scenes, and a minimum of dilly-dallying; when Seagal movies had quality, the good guys were good and the bad guys were evil. This is exactly what Marked For Death encompasses, and we couldn’t be happier about it. The initial Seagal “three-word title” era was clearly the best time in his career, and here is a prime example from those glory years. It seems he actually cares, and all he wants to do is take drugs off the streets – WAY off. If that means some baddies have a rough time of it, so be it. Comes with the territory.

Because Seagal was embraced by Hollywood at the time, it has good production values and is shot well. Perhaps one of the all-time best Seagal action sequences is in Marked For Death – the car chase/mall fight. It’s truly excellent and Seagal at his best. Teaming him up with Keith David so they can go bust some heads was the right choice and pays off well. Opposite them is a tour-de-force performance by Basil Wallace as Screwface – Wallace goes “all in” as a truly scary and unhinged bad guy. Action movies need a bad baddie, as we always say, and here you get a doozy. It would have been nice to see more of Joanna Pacula, but something had to give, because this movie really moves – great pacing is another plus here. There’s really not much fat to speak of. That would come in later Seagal vehicles.

Right before Hatcher and Max go on their final “revenge vacation” to Jamaica, there’s a nice “making the weapons” montage that we always love to see. These guys don’t do off-the-rack bullets. They take the time to craft their own. If Seagal’s career as a Lawman ever ends (we hope it doesn’t), he could always move back to Brooklyn – where he was in Out For Justice – and sell artisanal ammunition. That even has a nice ring to it. And, in what is perhaps the opposite of Burt Reynolds in Malone (1987), everybody already knows Hatcher. From the local hoodlums to the police higher-ups, it seems everybody is always saying something like, “oh, it’s you, Hatcher” – everyone in Chicago has had prior experience with the guy. Someone else that knows Hatcher (well, Seagal, really)? Jimmy Cliff. Seagal insisted he perform in the movie, and he even does so with the musical backing of Seagal himself. He also co-wrote the song “John Crow”, which makes sense as it directly mentions the name Screwface in the lyrics. You never see movies nowadays that reference the characters in song. It’s really a shame we’ve lost that.

Marked For Death represents the middle of an action-movie trifecta for director Dwight Little. Previous to this, he directed Getting Even (1986) of “Kenderson!!!!” fame, and after it he came up with another winner – Rapid Fire (1992). Clearly the guy knows his stuff, which would explain why Marked For Death delivers the goods. Too bad he had to go into TV work because Hollywood sucks so much now. He should have continued making enjoyable action movies like the three mentioned above – imagine what he could have done had he continued on that path? Well, let’s be thankful for what we’ve got.

Perhaps not wanting to seem insensitive to the Jamaican community, there is a credit at the end of the  movie that informs us that – and I’m paraphrasing here – “bad Jamaicans” represent less than one percent of the total Jamaican population in the U.S., and that the evils of posses were blown out of proportion for entertainment purposes only. I’m sure immigrant communities that saw Marked For Death and then waited until the end of the end credits appreciated this. In other words, relax, people, Screwface isn’t going to be coming to a community near you. However, due to the popularity of then-current In Living Color sketch “Hey Mon!” and its hardworking ethos, this may have been rendered unnecessary. But we digress. Sometimes pretty far.

Marked For Death is prime early-90’s video store action, prime Seagal, and a darn fine time in front of your TV screen. Crack open a cold one and enjoy.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett