On Deadly Ground (1994)

screenshot from On Deadly Ground

Directed by: Steven Seagal
Screenwriter(s): Ed Horowitz, Robin U Russin
Starring: Steven Seagal, Michael Caine, Joan Chen, John C McGinley, Billy Bob Thornton, R Lee Ermey
Genre: Action / Thriller
Country: USA
Running time: 1h 34m
Rating: 3 out of 10

Director Kevin Reynolds once commented on his former friend Kevin Costner: ‘He should only star in movies he directs himself, then he can work with his favourite director and his favourite actor at the same time.’ No matter how big Costner’s ego may get, he’ll still have to go some to rival Seagal in terms of sheer vanity per square foot of film. And, let’s face it, Costner is an Oscar-winning director, while Seagal is... How shall I put this? Seagal is a better actor than he is a director.

But Steven Seagal is a deeply serious man. If you don’t believe me, check out his official website which tells us that 'he believes that what he does in his life is about leading people into contemplation to wake them up and enlighten them in some manner'. On Deadly Ground is, to Steven Seagal (if no-one else), a deeply serious film about the plight of the environment and, in a bit of real cultural appropriation, the Inuit people. The last reel of the film features a grandstanding monologue – with a slide show, no less! – so we can tell just how deeply serious Steven is about the future of our planet. Supposedly it runs to only four minutes. It feels like forty.

Of course, Steven Seagal knows that the movie-going – or, in his case, DVD-buying – public don’t want to sit through a 90 minute cinematic lecture about the environment, so he has prefaced this his own unique brand of action flick, this time concerning a maverick ex-Special Forces troubleshooter (Steven, of course) who comes to realise that the problems at Aegis Oil’s refineries are not as simple as they first seem.

No, in fact, corrupt CEO Michael Jennings (Caine, as a cartoon villain with dyed black hair) is bullying the native Inuit because he wants to steal their land and pollute it with his nasty chemical waste. Surely that’s the job of the US government and not something private companies should be muscling in on? Clearly just here for the pay cheque, Sir Michael camps it up in enjoyable fashion. The scene where he’s making a commercial to persuade the world just how deeply Aegis care about the environment – reminiscent of Bill Murray’s ’staples’ scene in Scrooged – is probably worth the price of the video alone.

But, overall, you’re presented with a barely competent actioneer, albeit with plenty of A-Team-style fun, like Steven’s preposterously small bunker housing a huge weapons arsenal which he cannibalises to explosive effect. Joan Chen must be relieved that most of her part appears to have been left on the cutting room floor, as must everyone else, including a beefy Billy Bob Thornton in an early role as a henchman.

Unnecessary distractions such as other characters, plotting and script have been ditched by the great Steven to allow himself and his message more screen time. But his attempts at integration of an environmental message into this utterly ponderous waste of time are about as convincing and subtle as an infomercial: ‘Knee deep in toxic waste? Try Seagal, the humour-free solution to unsightly oil deposits.’ And am I the only one who thinks that it’s more than somewhat ironic to try to preserve the unspoilt Alaskan environment by littering it with bullets (who’s going to be going round picking them up before they choke small animals to death?) and blowing up an oil rig?

But, then again, let’s remember that this is a Steven Seagal film and that no-one but The Ego himself takes anything he says remotely seriously. Just wallow in Sir Mike’s pantomime villain and then rejoice that it features a John C McGinley supporting role.