Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel


Directed by Geoff Murphy. Written by Richard Hatem and Matt Reeves. Photography, Robbie Greenberg. Editing, Michael Tronick. Music, Basil Poledouris. Production design, Albert Brenner. Cast: Steven Seagal, Eric Bogosian, Katherine Heigl, Morris Chestnut, Everett McGill. A Warners release. 99 minutes. Rated R . (Most graphic violence)
How goeth the dumbing of America? Splendidly thank you. In this movie it goes one step further to the stupidizing of America. The1992 "Under Siege" (and under director Andrew Davis, a UIUC graduate) was a pretty good nautical "Die Hard" with Steven Seagal as a battleship's cook and martial arts expert who vanquishes hijackers led by Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey. The new "Under Siege" (under Geoff Murphy who had made the gratuitously violent "Utu" in New Zealand) is "Die Hard" in a Colorado choo-choo, with bits in a Mission Control. Seagal (also co-producing) is the same mucho macho, in an totally idiotic story. "Under Siege 3" will have to be on an airplane.

In short, a bunch of disgusting criminals hijack super-bloodily some U.S. Army helicopters and vehicles, then take over a fancy train going from Denver to L.A. The leader and brains is tech-genius Travis Dane (Bogosian), a scientist who had been fired by the government. The master brawn is Penn (McGill), a natural born killer out of James Bond villainy. Casey Ryback (Seagal) and his niece Sarah (Heigl) happen to be aboard. Casey will shoot, stab, kick, eviscerate, crush, and defeat all the villains almost single-handed -- almost, because he gets a bit of help from teen-age Sarah and from young train attendant Morris. The political correctness of the film has Morris, the only charming male around, first flirt with Sarah then learn from Casey so lightning-fast that he could make a fine Chief of Staff. There is also a pretty, deadly efficient black girl among the bad 'uns.

The criminals have brought in Dane-created equipment that will somehow capture a new military satellite that does wonders, and sell it to unseen Middle-Easterners for one billion dollars. Dane also intends to blow up the Pentagon and Washington.

The us vs. them duels take up the whole film, with escalating nonsense and gore, overkill in every department, from graphic killing, to running on top of the train, to a literal cliff-hanger. Plus Seagal making a bomb from kitchen ingredients; Seagal as the master of high-tech (product placement: Apple's Newton pad); Seagal on the ground stealing a truck and catching up with the train by driving furiously on a narrow mountainside dirt road, then jumping; Seagal's perfect score in shooting or knifing while the heavy fire of bullets misses him; an impossible helicopter sequence; a contradictory train collision; and so on, ludicrously, ad nauseam and ad absurdum.

The holes in logic, continuity and elementary good sense rival the bomb craters of Stalingrad in WWII. There is really nothing except action, and even this is Hamburger Helper. This is also unfunny Road Runner stuff that makes it impossible to suspend disbelief or to feel suspense, as in a good film where you know the outcome but still feel suspense. The only suspense is : "How long is this movie?"

Outside crazy action there is nothing. The characters are equally unbelievable and not even one-dimensional. The excellent Bogosian ("Talk Radio") is wrong for the part, feels too witty for it, too smart to be convinced, not to mention convincing. In "Under Siege" villains Jones and Busey were infinitely more natural and effective in their madness.

Seagal may well be the champion of action stars who can surpass that catty, early remark about Katharine Hepburn running "the gamut of emotions from A to B." He's strictly an A to A man : one expression, one voice, one style, and a vocabulary below that of a first-grader.

But then that's just my opinion. The major Chicago dailies gave this flick three stars. The audience I saw it with kept laughing loudly each time a villain was undone (though not when "good" victims' throats were cut). It's disturbing. So is the fact that there were many youngsters, including little kids, in the audience.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel