After “Under Siege” and with a string of successful films under his belt it looked as if Steven Seagal had the Midas touch of action cinema. “On Deadly Ground” however proved quite the opposite yet still remains an entertaining explosive romp through the Alaskan wilderness.
Steven Seagal as Forrest Taft, an Environmental agent defending Alaska’s native Inuit and the environment from the greedy machinations of corrupt oil magnate Michael Jennings played by Michael Caine. Joining Seagal is Joan Chen as Inuit activist and love interest Masu.
John C McGinley plays MacGruder, essentially Jennings’ associate and enforcer. Helping MacGruder in his efforts to stop Taft is the Great Dane stuntman and thug for hire Sven Ole-Thorsen (“Lethal Weapon”, “Running Man”). Lee Ermey makes an appearance as Stone, a professional mercenary leader charged with leading a team to hunt down Taft but realises he has bitten off more than he can chew.
When Environmental agent Forrest Taft learns of his boss, Michael Jennings’ attempt to cover up the fact that his latest Alaskan oil rig was built with defective parts, he sets about trying to expose the truth. After a failed attempt on his life and hunted by Jennings’ enforcer MacGruder and a team of mercenaries, Taft faces a race against time to stop the oil rig going online.
Seagal’s directorial debut promised much in terms of bringing his unique brand of martial arts action cinema to this environmentally themed plot from first time writers Ed Horowitz and Robin Russin. Instead “On Deadly Ground” turns out to be a standard action film with lots of explosions. The stunt work courtesy of Conrad Palmisano (“Under Siege”, “Out for Justice”) and legendary stunt co-ordinator Glenn Randall (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) makes for entertaining viewing. Whether it’s a bar room brawl, or the explosive results of Taft’s booby traps, the action is professionally staged and executed. One literally outstanding moment is Seagal standing unflinchingly as the rig behind him explodes.
The film does pause occasionally to capture many moments of Seagal sporting his now familiar steely gaze whilst bad guy Michael Caine chews the scenery like a bag of toffee. What seems to be lacking most however is the sense of danger to Seagal’s hero, not helped by him being described as “someone who would drink a gallon of gasoline just so he can p*** in your campfire”! Still the entertainment factor is there watching the big man do what he does best, and one can’t help but appreciate the effort put into all the action and explosive pyrotechnics.
Of all of Seagal’s films this has the least amount of his crowd-pleasing rough and tumble martial arts fights. There is the bar brawl in which after throwing around some burly barflies, he gives a lesson in humility to Big Mike (Mike Starr) with an extreme form of the hand slap game. Before it descends into a pseudo-philosophical statement about change, there is much to enjoy in seeing a bully get a taste of his own medicine. Seagal’s martial handiwork does get a look in for the film’s finale. A punch and kick thrown here, and a knife embedded in an attacker’s head promise a big fight to follow which although disappoints in scale still entertains with Seagal using an iron bar like a Jo staff sending henchmen to the ground with a hearty crunch.
“On Deadly Ground” should have been Seagal’s magnum opus, an epic adventure with a serious message. Yet it failed to resonate with audiences, probably due to its pantomime script and a distinct imbalance of all the qualities expected from Seagal especially his own brand of martial arts choreography. However it scrapes into being a worthy addition to the Seagal collection for sheer entertainment value largely down to Michael Caine’s seething villain, some impressive set pieces, explosive action and Seagal’s ever present star quality.
- Mike Starr’s connections to martial arts action include “The Bushido Blade” with Toshiro Mifune and Sonny Chiba, and “The Last Dragon” with Taimak.
- Danish stuntman/actor Sven Ole Thorsen also played The Demon taunting Bruce Lee’s visions in the biopic “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story”.