Judge Dennis Prince was once under siege, but a bit of medicated talc cleared up his below-deck outbreak in a hurry.
Our review of Under Siege (HD DVD), published December 8th, 2006, is also available.
"You're not a cook."
After the tremendous commercial success of films like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, studios large and small scrambled to deliver more of the same white-knuckled adventures that pitted the underdog hero against the organized oppressors (choose your favorite oppressor; they were rather interchangeable in these scenarios). But beyond the soulless villain eager to stage an overwhelming crisis that put many in harm's way, these pictures needed a solid hero, one who had the stature and stamina to save the day not to mention box office appeal that could be recycled in sequel after sequel after sequel after…
Facts of the Case
The U.S.S. Missouri is readying for its final button-up, its pending decommission marking an end to its celebrated 48-year career. The crew onboard is readying for a voyage to a final port; Commander Krill (Gary Busey, Predator 2) is preparing a surprise birthday party for the esteemed Captain Adams (Patrick O'Neal, For the Boys). To properly set up the surprise, Krill orders relaxed security over the Missouri's cargo, an arsenal of 32 Tomahawk missiles, eight nuclear-tipped. Most seem to go along with the idea—save for a brooding cook, Casey Ryback (Steven Seagal, Out to Kill), who seemingly knows as much about military protocol as he does about preparing the captain's favorite bouillabaisse. When the surprise comes, it's not in the form of a birthday bash, but rather a brutal hijacking of the ship at the hands of the treacherous Krill and a former U.S. operative-turned-revolutionary, William Stranix (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive). Having avoided the bloody siege, and now accompanied by an unwitting party dancer (Erika Eleniak, July '89 Playboy Playmate, Baywatch), Ryback must find a way to either work with the military powers that are assessing the situation or take matters into his own hands to thwart a black-market sale of the nuclear weapons and stop the maniac, who is pursuing a personal vendetta.
Although Under Siege wasn't a sequel, it was a successor to other similar exploits of Steven Seagal, martial artist-turned-Hollywood actor. Blending his aikido training with shoot-'em-up excess, Seagal became quickly recognizable to action film fans—and profit-minded filmmakers. His imposing looks and piercing eyes made him a natural in the genre, although he certainly was not a top-tier actor. Engaging, yet unable to fully break into the ranks of Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger, Seagal managed a respectable showing amid below-the-line peers including Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, and Dolph Lundgren. Although his less-than-stellar achievements aren't to be construed as a mark of shame or embarrassment, it's nonetheless clear that his action forays are, well, modest in their intellectual aspirations.
Under Siege is a popcorn movie, yet isn't worthy of the "blockbuster" moniker. In fact, it's the sort of film that easily fills small auditoriums of the local mega-plex and dutifully entertains patrons as they munch merrily on overpriced concession fare. But the film remains true to its promise, that being to deliver a harrowing situation that will make one beleaguered man a hero and countless others his victims. The film, by its 'R' rating, promises adult action fare, and here Under Siege succeeds. There are plenty of gruesome dispatchings to witness, the victims being easily recognizable when they're introduced simply as "Thug1" and "Thug2" and so on. Who cares what their names are, since we haven't plans to shed a tear for them but, rather, raucously "ooh!" and "owww!" and cheer as their serviceably mutilated for our viewing delight.
They're not all no-names in the film. You'll easily recognize on-screen (and often off-screen) baddie Gary Busey as the two-faced traitor, Cmdr. Krill, who is properly hiss-worthy and who also deserves a special acknowledgement for a hideous appearance in drag as he begins the gunplay. Tommy Lee Jones is also on hand as the lead louse. Though he can act circles around his co-stars, he is needlessly burdened by the wardrobe of a too-old rock band frontman. Erika Eleniak is presumably cast for two obvious reasons; she's the prototypical neophyte slowing down the hero, and she's also present to provide female viewers a quasi-heroine to cheer. Oh, and, yes, she has two other qualities, those being her God-given "arsenals" that seem to have girth equal to those Tomahawk missiles.
Don't expect many—if any—surprises from Under Siege (outside of Eleniak's entrance), since it's a film that follows the terror-plot formula faithfully. You'll see the easy setup of the unwary, the quick composure of the hero on the loose, the bumbling attempts by the military's finest, the baddies' mock victory, and the good guy's blazing triumph. Outside of the main actors named, the rest of the cast is a collective of standby players who fulfill their duty appropriately, but whom you'll likely forget after the credits begin to roll. But, by the end of the picture, you'll likely say, "that wasn't so bad." In the lower ranks of action pictures, that's a sign of success.
Under Siege emerged as a curious early-release title on the Blu-ray format, causing most who are familiar with it to wink and chuckle and chide, "yeah, I know why they decided to do that one in high-def" (see: Eleniak, Erika). Whatever the reason, it came along to populate Blu-ray libraries. Unfortunately, it, too, was under siege, accosted by very uneven mastering. Although the 1080p / VC-1 encoding has yielded spectacular HD results on other titles, here it provides only occasional high-def goodness. On the positive side, many of the sea vistas look quite impressive, with excellent wave detail. Some interiors look similarly crisp and clear. Gunfire, sparks, and fiery explosions are also well-rendered and have a dimensionality like fireworks exploding in a nighttime sky. Some skin and clothing textures look good—and, yes, Ms. Eleniak's dual delights are also well represented. On the bad side, though, is the too-frequent presence of distracting grain and speckled artifacts that dance hyperactively thorough the darker scenes. Below-deck scenes often have such a bad graininess to them you'll swear you're looking a poorly enlarged 16mm print. As for the audio, the onboard Dolby Digital 5.1 track seems true the film's original sound design, but, alas, that comes across as heavily compressed and constrained. Surround usage is rather minimal, with most activity being front-anchored. The low-end channel is summoned on occasion, but never gets truly engaged. As for extras, you'll won't be tasked to endure too long of a tour of duty, the film's original theatrical trailer being the only bonus feature available.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Even though Seagal's films haven't garnered any resemblance to "blockbuster" efforts, it's only fair to note that Under Siege has been the actor's best showing to date, earning a very respectable $83 million in 1992. If you're up for a mental night off and looking for a bit of flash and action, then this picture is certainly not a waste of time, given those job requirements.
Action films are destined to copy one another, providing audiences with a varied but consistent selection of true chart toppers along with plenty of spin-offs, knock-offs, and rip-offs. For those who want to enjoy the theme park but don't need the extravagance of the best of the best, then Under Siege sails in as a budget-minded accommodation that will get you many of the same thrills at half the mental cost of the high-end endeavors. On Blu-ray, though, you're advised to rent, not buy—one visit may be plenty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical Trailer
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