Artisan // 1999 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // April 12th, 2002
One track to terror...
(Unfortunately, the horror is of the unintentional variety.)
Otherwise known as a low budget "Die Hard on a train" flick, The Last Siege (formerly known as Hijack) is an uninspired paint-by-numbers action film with B-grade actors, C-grade production values, and a contemptible half-hearted presentation on DVD. Artisan, hang your head in shame!
ATF Agent Eddie Lyman (Jeff Fahey) is a loose-cannon sort of agent whose career prognosis is poor. With nothing better to do besides moping around his apartment and waiting for a pink slip, Eddie decides to take up an offer from his girlfriend, Valerie Miller (Beth Toussaint), to tag along on her business trip. Valerie is the press aide for Senator Douglas Wilson (Ernie Hudson), who is dragging his chief of staff, Thomas Grady (Larry Manetti) and an assortment of press types along on a whistle-stop anti-gun extravaganza.
Complicating matters is David Anderson (Brent Huff), a vaguely anti-government fanatic who has decided to take a stand against the Senator's efforts by hijacking the train and vowing to incinerate it and all aboard with a nuclear device. Lyman naturally takes exception to Anderson's plan, and a lot of gunplay, neck-snapping, explosive fun stands between them and the inevitable mano-a-mano confrontation, all while a nuclear weapon counts down to disaster.
A train can be a great setting for a movie, whether for the whole film or merely for memorable scenes. Equally well suited to mystery (Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train), action/drama (From Russia With Love), or comedy (Silver Streak), or most any genre, trains appeal to the travel fan, a boy's love of big machines going fast, those nostalgic for a civilized, romantic way to travel, and others. Then again, setting a film on a train is no guarantee of success, as Under Siege 2: Dark Territory amply demonstrates. Lone cowboy federal/military man, innocent hostages, a nuclear threat, a "hidden" train, psychotic bad guys, gunplay, neck-snapping fun...Saaaayyy...Now why does that sound familiar? Oh, never mind, back to my review of Under Siege 3: The Next Generation. Where was I?
Ah, yes. I love trains, and always give a movie bonus points when a train is involved, but, sadly, it can't make up for more fundamental problems. Even a big, dumb action flick like Under Siege 2 is entertaining on an action level, but The Last Siege can't muster even that minimal popcorn level of enjoyment. Vaguely written villains without much style, charm, or menace hardly are worth our time to hate or stimulate a vicarious thrill, and their grand threat of a nuclear device hardly seems scary at all.
The same six-pack terrorists who have the skill to plan a hijacking and conjure a nuclear weapon out of thin air turn Taliban brain-dead the moment they control the train. Need to even the odds for our beleaguered hero? Send out gunmen one by one so they can be killed easier. (Check!) Neglect to do a thorough search of the area. (Check!) Get so annoyed at your own men that you kill them. (Check!) Make your bomb so simple that Helen Keller could disarm it. (Check!)
Jeff Fahey (Silverado, The Lawnmower Man) and his hairpiece don't help matters, either. (Now, in the event someone tells me that he has a natural, full head of hair, then I apologize to Mr. Fahey. However, I might suggest that he not employ a blind hairdresser.) He had some promise back in his Silverado days, but the addition of years has not been kind. He has a suitably heroic physical appearance, but skip the torturous sensitive girlfriend and don't expect more than epoxied emoting.
Apologies as well to Larry Manetti, who is well known for his role on the long running show Magnum, P.I. If this is meant to stretch your acting skills, or make me forget about Rick, well, sorry, it didn't work. Thomas Grady is set up to be an annoying person, but despite the costumer's efforts (bow tie, suspenders), Manetti does little to assist the weak characterization. Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle) shows some glimmer of skill, but the limply written script gives him only shallow politics and banalities for dialogue.
Hey, what do you know? Patrick Kilpatrick, playing terrorist Carl Howard, was in Under Siege 2 in the memorable role of Merc #2. Maybe The Last Siege is all his fault?
Please, no more lame train movies, at least until my favorite Silver Streak is released!
The video transfer is passable, but underwhelming for a modern release. Digital artifacting via edge enhancement and "noisy" backgrounds are only the beginning, with only mildly saturated colors and the occasional video defect. At one point, a top-to-bottom line shows up in the left third of the screen, making me wonder just how cheaply the transfer was made.
Not every modern film can be a 5.1 powerhouse, but when you aspire to be an action flick, even a surround track has certain expectations. The Last Siege comes up short here. The center channel is a fine place for dialogue, but not for special effects and all other sound. Panning across the front soundstage is weak at best, creating a soundtrack that does its best to rob the film of excitement and drama. Don't expect any help from rear surrounds or the subwoofer, either, but that's par for the course.
Ah, Artisan, I am sure I am neither the first or last, but I have to bring it up again and flog you mercilessly. I am speaking of the unbelievably stupid graphic on the back of the box which says at the top "Formatted From Its Original Version to Fit Your Screen," and at the bottom "Presented in the original 1.33:1 format in which the film was shot." I suspect that The Last Siege was not full-frame when filmed, so the tragedy of a hack and slash release is compounded by stupidity in graphic design. Honestly, who approved this?
For a bad movie night, MST3K or drinking-game style, or maybe for a Jeff Fahey groupie, The Last Siege might fit the bill. Otherwise, I can't imagine being so bereft of options that I would want to pay even a rental fee for this dreck, and for $20 list price, who'd want to buy?
Guilty as a film, guilty as a DVD release, I cannot find any mitigating evidence here. Off with its head!
Review content copyright © 2002 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R