My relationship with Steven Seagal is strange. Even I don’t entirely understand it. While Seagal is very much laughable now (yet still enjoyable), I genuinely love his early films – and that’s a mostly irony-free love. Above the Law (1988), Out for Justice (1991), Marked for Death (1990) and, to a lesser extent, Hard to Kill (1990) are rough and raw action flicks, and back then Seagal, while not a good actor by any stretch of the imagination, actually put some energy into his performances. These are violent, straightforward films where Seagal usually plays a psychopathic and indestructible character. It all changed with Under Siege (1992). Don’t get me wrong, Under Siege is a genuinely good action film, but Seagal’s characters from this point on (at least up until his current DTV stupidity) were presented with a little more restraint. With the exception, that is, of Seagal’s singular directorial effort, the mighty On Deadly Ground.


USA, 1994, Steve Seagal

Before you attempt to read this shambolic review, please take the time to listen this monologue that is irrelevantly spewed from Seagal’s mouth in the final scene of On Deadly Ground.

Yes, On Deadly Ground is a vanity piece of the best worst kind.

Seagal blows some shit up

Steven Seagal is Forrest Taft. (Even for an actor with character credits like “Mason Storm” in his filmography, “Forrest Taft” is impressively silly.) Forrest Taft works for an evil oil company putting out fires on oil rigs. Forrest seems to prefer to blow them up rather than simply put the fire out. Anyway, Forrest is a jaded guy with lapsing morals, but eventually his boss, oil tycoon Michael Jennings (Michael Caine), pushes things too far. Jennings is desperately trying to finish construction on an Alaskan oil rig before the land rights revert back to the native Inuit people. By rushing the work, Jennings is building an unsafe rig. And Forrest does not like unsafe rigs. Jennings decides to cut some loose ends. Forrest’s pal, an old oil rig worker who has information that could destroy the corporation, is tortured and killed under orders from Jennings, and Forrest himself is nearly murdered. After surviving an explosive trap set by Jennings, Forrest recovers with help from the local Inuits, including the oddly Chinese-looking Masu (Joan Chen). One hallucination sequence later and Forrest is ready to take on the motherfuckin’ villains. Cue copious amounts of violence and environmental gibbering.

Along with Jaws: The Revenge, On Deadly Ground was clearly the highlight of Michael Caine’s career

Joan Chen wishing she was back on the set of Twin Peaks

Seagal puts on his “acting face”

Seagal almost exclusively plays smug and obnoxious characters, with perhaps Above the Law being the only exception. Forrest Taft takes the cake. Now let’s keep in mind that Steven Seagal directed this, because it makes Forrest Taft all the more hysterical. Seagal clearly intended to portray Forrest as the ultimate hero. Seagal gives us a character that is super tough with super fighting skills, super smart with super explosives skills and super tolerant with super friend-making skills. Forrest is the savior of the weak little primitive natives, leading them to inevitable victory. Hell, Forrest is so awesome, he even beats the racism out of a man:

Yes, we’re supposed to see Seagal’s Forrest Taft as the ultimate hero, but, instead, he comes across as a complete fucking lunatic. Very early on in On Deadly Ground, it becomes disturbingly apparent that Forrest is an eco-terrorist. Taft kills whoever the fuck he wants. He shoots dudes in the dick, stabs motherfuckers in the face and blows shit up left, right and centre. This could well be Seagal’s most graphic film. Worst of all, most of Forrest’s victims are reasonably innocent and weak lackeys! Towards the end of the film, Forrest is flat out murdering lowly oil rig security guards. And he does it with serious venom. At one point, Joan Chen calmly tries to talk Forrest out of blowing up the oil rig. I assumed Forrest would succumb to reason, but no, instead he gives Chen a threatening lecture, which is essentially about the awesome power of violence:

Now, you’d hope that a psychopath like Forrest Taft would finish this film out in prison. He doesn’t. In fact, at the end of the film, Forrest is heralded as a hero and is allowed to make that absurd speech I posted at the beginning of this article while he shows images of dying animals. This is a man who has killed ridiculous amounts of men! He has left wives as widows! Children fatherless! Just check out some of the outrageous violence in this film:

Even more offensive than the film’s relentless slaughter is its environmental message. Who knows if Seagal actually cares about this stuff or if it’s pure narcissism – I’d opt for the latter – either way, it’s buffoonery. An episode of Captain Planet is executed with more subtlety than On Deadly Ground. The fun thing about this wildly simplistic approach is that it allows Michael Caine and his sidekicks (one of which is TV’s John C. McGinley) to be outrageously cartoonish villains. Like all Seagal films, the villains are without any depth and that’s exactly what you want from a big, stupid film like this. While the cast is mostly pretty good (R. Lee Ermey is a blast and Billy Bob Thornton does wonders with his tiny role), the casting of Joan Chen as an Inuit is horrifying. As a bonus piece of in-your-face do-goodery, Seagal tackles the plight of the Inuit people. He does this in a terribly hammy way and utterly annihilates any point he’s attempting to make by throwing Chen into the mix. I like Joan Chen, but having her play an Inuit is about as offensive as a white guy in blackface.

John C. McGinley = quality villain

R. Lee Ermey makes any movie worth watching

Seagal and Eskimo-Chen on horseback

On Deadly Ground is amazing stuff. It’s an electric mix of fun, dumb action and unintentional, offensive laughs. In my idiotic universe, it is a perfect movie. We can only pray that Seagal one day returns to the director’s chair. And if he does, let’s hope he puts in another dream sequence like this:

Wow. Just wow.