3/27/2018

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995)

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995)- * * *

Directed by: Geoff Murphy

Starring: Steven Seagal, Eric Bogosian, Katherine Heigl, Morris Chestnut, Peter Greene, Jonathan Banks, and Everett McGill








Casey Ryback (Seagal) is (ry)back in this sequel where the ex-Navy SEAL chef has to save the day again. In the last outing, it was a ship. Now it’s a train. When Ryback and his niece Sarah (Heigl) board a train heading from Denver to L.A., they naturally think they’re going to take in the sights and relax. Unfortunately, a psychopathic techie named Travis Dane (Bogosian) and his cadre of goons has commandeered the train. They’re using it as a mobile command station so they can hijack a satellite named Grazer, and ask for a billion dollars or else the Pentagon, and perhaps the whole east coast, will be obliterated. But the baddies didn’t count on one thing: the guy who’s “just a cook”, Casey Ryback. Teaming up with one of the train’s porters, Bobby Zachs (Chestnut), the two unlikely allies then proceed to take down the goons, slowly making their way to Dane. But will they save the hostages, Ryback’s niece, and a large swath of America itself? Find out, as you relive the ultimate Kitchen Nightmare!


Much like how a young Kevin McCallister must have felt in Home Alone 2 (1992), Casey Ryback must have thought, “I’m under siege…again? What are the odds?” Or maybe he’s under siege all the time and these are just the two instances we know about. Maybe he’s tired of being under siege all the time. While we could go further into a discussion comparing Macaulay Culkin and Steven Seagal and all their surprising similarities, just think about how Speed (1994) was on a bus, and Speed 2 (1997) was on a ship. As hijacked train movies go, the good news is that Under Siege 2 is better than Derailed (2002). The bad news is that no movie can hope to compare with the majesty that is Hostage Train (1997).




Seagal is backed up with a nice ensemble cast – Bogosian gets to ham it up as the diabolical baddie with the sweet typing skills, a young Katherine Heigl looks a lot like a young Candace Cameron (it was the heyday of Full House, after all, although to our knowledge DJ never threw a grenade at anybody), and Morris Chestnut puts energy into his sidekick role. Other B-movie names that you know and love, such as Peter Greene, Kurtwood Smith, Nick Mancuso, Brenda Bakke, and Patrick Kilpatrick fill out the supporting cast well, and it was especially welcome to see a pre-Breaking Bad Jonathan Banks in there. But only Seagal gets a triumphant musical swell when he first shows up on screen. 



90’s fans will especially appreciate the fact that people smoke indoors, even the most high-tech government computers look like someone using Mario Paint, and Seagal is armed only with an Apple Newton. Well, that and several guns, knives, grenades, and his fists and feet. But the Newton does play an important role in the plot, and this was back when most people didn’t hold Apple in very high esteem. Of course, all this great 90’s nostalgia has a flipside. If it’s possible, the movie has gotten stupider over time. What you remember fondly from back then may have soured in the intervening years. The dialogue is so repetitive, you could start watching at any point because the characters are constantly recapping what went on before, or restating what’s happening at that moment. And never mind the fact that a group of baddies take time out of their busy hijacking schedules to shoot a bunch of luggage with their machine guns. Why they felt the need to do this remains puzzling.


Under Siege 2 was notoriously cut to ribbons in the UK, so make sure to never buy any UK DVDs of the film. Watching a Seagal movie with the violent bits taken out is a bit like eating unflavored mush. Although it must be noted that while we are against the censorship, the BBFC director at the time was quite prescient and perspicacious when he commented that he didn’t like the “sadism” of Seagal’s violence. We’re impressed that he picked up on Seagal’s sadism so early on. We can only wonder what he would have thought of out-and-out sadistic crud like Kill Switch (2008).


Seagal n’ Smallwood only contribute one song this time around (usually they do at least two), “After the Train Has Gone”, and they even managed to rope in Gregg Allman for it. As for the movie itself, it remains watchable, but darn stupid. But, then again, if you wanted to watch something that wasn’t stupid, you wouldn’t be watching Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. The cast, the silliness, and the 90’s nostalgia make this train coast for the first 80 minutes or so, but then it starts to run out of steam. 

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 




3/20/2018

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 

3/13/2018

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 

3/06/2018

Out For Justice (1991)

Out For Justice (1991) - * * *1\2

Directed by: John Flynn

Starring: Steven Seagal, William Forsythe, Nick Corello, Joe Spataro, Robert LaSardo, Gina Gershon, and Jerry Orbach








Detective Gino Felino (Seagal) is Brooklyn born and bred, and Brooklyn to the bone. While he and some of his buddies from the old neighborhood such as Bobby Lupo (Spataro) became cops, others became wiseguys and took up the Italian gangster lifestyle. When psychotic, drug-abusing thug Richie Madano (Forsythe) guns down Lupo in broad daylight and in front of his family, Gino, to use Brooklyn slang…isn’t happy. (Keep in mind we’re not from Brooklyn). Having disappeared, Gino is certain Richie is still somewhere in Brooklyn and won’t leave its confines, so he turns the borough upside down looking for him. Gino has his foot in two worlds, as he utilizes police compatriots such as Captain Donziger (Orbach), as well as gangsters such as Joey Dogs (Corello) in order to find him. Throughout his search, he encounters many characters, everyone from Richie’s sister Patti (Gershon) to gangster Bochi (Lasardo), but is anyone safe as Gino goes….OUT FOR JUSTICE?


Out for Justice is Seagal at his absolute best and has proven itself over time to be a classic of 90’s action. Lest you think we’re a bunch of Seagal haters, we’re not; we’re just disappointed by the way his career trajectory went in later years. If he had maintained the high quality put forth here, we’d be some of his biggest cheerleaders. It’s a mainstream Hollywood production, so everything is lit and shot well, and all the technical aspects are very professional, as you might expect. Anyone only familiar with Seagal’s output from the latter third of his career will be shocked by what they see here: he’s actually ACTING, i.e., playing a character other than himself. And he does a fine job as Gino, even speaking Italian in many scenes. He gets a nice intro to his character as befits an action star, and it’s all just a modern updating of the time-honored “some kids from the neighborhood became cops and some became gangsters” plot we’ve seen since the early days of Hollywood. But it’s done well, with verve and excitement.




John Flynn is one of the most underrated and underappreciated directors of his era, having consistently turned in tough movies such as this, Nails (1992), and the all-time classic Rolling Thunder (1977). As our society became more and more wussified, the style of directors like Flynn fell out of favor in Hollywood, and that may explain why his name isn’t mentioned more often. According to our research, Warner Brothers insisted this movie have a three-word title, and the formula held true – Out for Justice was Seagal’s third straight number one at the box office. Needless to say, in the late 80’s/early 90’s Seagal was hot property, and this is the result of that clout – a well-produced tough-guy movie with a lot of beatings and shootings, that isn’t overlong and moves at a nice clip. The whole package works.



Seagal is backed up with a great cast as well – Jerry Orbach plays a character identical to the beloved Lenny on Law & Order, so this is the closest we’ll get to seeing Seagal as a cast member. Fan favorite William Forsythe plays the baddie with a deranged strength, making him sort of a 1991 version of James Cagney as Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949). Gershon puts in an energetic performance, and all the cops, gangsters, and family members help to complete the picture. Future Skinemax stars Shannon Whirry, Athena Massey, and Julie Strain also make brief appearances. It’s also fascinating to see the Brooklyn of 1991 compared with the Brooklyn of today. Back then it was gritty, unpretentious and unglamorous, a perfect setting for an action movie. It’s hard to imagine Seagal and Forsythe battling their way through young hipsters with skintight jeans and tattoos wandering around playing Pokemon GO on their iPhones. It’s no wonder we continually retreat back to the age when Seagal was cracking heads with pool balls and throwing people out of windows.


As for the music, Seagal co-wrote two of the songs on the soundtrack, “Bad Side of Town” and “Don’t Stand in My Way”, along with Todd Smallwood. Smallwood did some of the other songs without Seagal, which may have led to his working on the soundtrack of Street Knight (1993) with Jeff Speakman. It must be a nice life, being an action movie song composer. In the end, Out for Justice remains a highlight of Seagal’s career and 90’s action as a whole.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett