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The Steven Seagal Movie Review: Under Siege

By Samir | April 21, 2006

Under Siege, 1992
box cover under siege

In this movie, Steven Seagal plays Casey Ryback, a navy cook (but not just *any* cook as we’ll find out later). Like in most of his movies, Seagal’s character is a bit of an outsider, a cook who hangs out in the galley of his huge ship, the USS Missouri, hates putting on his uniform and doesn’t make his deckhands salute or call him “Chief Ryback”. Nope, down here everyone calls him “Casey”, or “Case” for short.

Casey is good friends with the Missouri’s Captain, and the only cook that the Captain likes. He is busy cooking this food for the Captain when a Hispanic guy and a Black Guy turn up the radio in his kitchen. We learn that the black guy’s name is “Cue Ball” because when Casey hears the music, instead of ordering his men to turn it down, he yells “Go Cue Ball”, which causes the black guy to dance. Remember, this is in 1992, and being a Seagal movie, that makes it stuck in 1982 (the 10-year delay) where black roles in Hollywood were limited to guys who spoke in Ebonics (”yo yo my man you’re coo…”), guys who murdered white women to move the plot along, guys who died in horror movies and guys who danced. So Cue Ball dances, and Casey bobs his head to pretend he’s hip. I’m loving it so far. This establishes that Casey is the anti-establishment navy cook.

The Missouri’s EXO (Commanding officer), Commander Krill sends one of his stooges to tell Ryback to report to the mess deck for the Captain’s surprise birthday party. The guy turns off the music, greatly angering Cue Ball and Casey. Of course, no one obeys the orders, so Commander Krill comes down himself and gets in Ryback’s face. Ryback appears to be cooking some Ukrainian Borsche, or it could be Spaghetti sauce, or it could be Ketchup Soup. Who knows? Krill then spits in Ryback’s borsche, and Ryback shoves him. When Krill’s flunky accuses Ryback of striking an officer, Ryback denies he struck Krill, just shoved him. Everything seems calm for a few seconds until Ryback utters “That’s striking an officer!” and he decks Krill with a right cross (don’t worry, the Aikido comes later).

After Krill gets up and re-composes himself, he has Ryback’s hands cuffed behind his back. He then instructs his gang of flunkies to “secure him in the meat locker.” That’s right, cuffing him isn’t enough, he has to be jailed inside a fridge.

Meanwhile, in conjunction with the Captain’s party, a transport Helicopter arrives. The contents of this chopper are the oddest assortment of characters you’d find on a chopper, like, ever: Tommy Lee Jones playing the lead singer of a band, Erika Eleniak playing Miss July 1992, some guys dressed as caterers and a bunch of army thugs. The entertainment has arrived as a gift for the Captain.

We cut to the mess deck where the crew is partying with Tommy Lee Jones. Into the room bursts Commander Krill (I should mention, who is played by the pock-marked B-list denizen Gary Busey), who for no explicable reason is dressed like a woman. He does some “teasing” of his crew before stating that he’s going up to the Captain’s Quarters to bring the captain to the party. If you wanted a visual that properly encapsulates this movie, it would be Gary Busey dressed up like Dame Edna.

Krill goes up to the C’sQ and shoots the Captain. The game is now afoot. In the Messdeck, all the caterers whip out automatic rifles and Tommy Lee Jones shoots a guy to show everyone he is taking over. He tells everyone to follow the men with the GUNS or else. This brave gambit allows over 100 navymen to be captured by a rock singer and 12 caterers. They begin hording the men in the forecastle of the vessel, to get them out of the way en execute their master plan.

Ryback, still in the meat locker, hears the gun shots. He tells Private Nash, who was assigned to guard the meat locker door and make sure Ryback stayed incarcerated, that he should call command to see what’s going on. After some witty repartée where the young, inexperienced Private initially refuses to call but then yields to Ryback’s superior argumentative skills. He calls command, where Krill, who is back in uniform, tells him that the noise was merely firecrackers. Nash relays the message to Ryback, who expresses his disagreement with that assessment (”You got s**t for brains, Private!”).

Cut to Krill and Tommy Lee Jones, who we learn is called Doug Stranix. Stranix and Krill send down 2 guys to relieve Nash. The two men arrive in the Galley and summarily execute Private Nash, but not before making sure Ryback is still in the meat locker. Then, they bathe the meat locker in bullets, and break in, hoping to find cook Ryback’s perforated carcass. Of course, this just isn’t any cook they shot it, it’s Casey Ryback and he is nowhere to be seen.

So they move deeper into the Meat locker. An attic door opens one of the guys’ heads, and Ryback pops out of the meat locker’s attic. Who knew meat lockers have secret attics? I guess that is where they hide the filet mignon. Ryback deftly outmaneuvres them using that element of surprise and hauls ass out of the meat locker. Outside, he closes the door and locks it with a hunting knife, all the while remaining cuffed.

In a moment of clarity, he has an epiphany and slips off the cuffs effortlessly. A critical viewer may ask why he didn’t do this in the first place, but critical viewers are cordially asked to stop criticizing else they can go watch The English Patient for all Steven Seagal cares.

The two thugs shoot their way out of the meat locker, thus putting an end to the saga of the beleaguered meat locker. I swear I have never seen such extensive use of meat lockers as plot devices. Usually they are used to hide and/or preserve dead bodies, or preserve chemistry samples, but not to provide such a thrilling setting for action to unfold. Ryback kills the lights in the galley, and grabs a knife off a dartboard. He hides behind the kitchen counter waiting for the two thugs to emerge from the meat locker. When one does, he throws the knife at him killing him instantly. He then tangles with the other guy and somehow breaks his neck without getting shot. Arming himself with the thugs’ equipment, he hauls ass out of the galley but not before putting a grenade in the kitchen’s microwave (we will see why later).

Ryback is now moving around below the ship’s weather deck, leaving a wide swath of destruction. He uses a combination of guns, aikido and brute force to take down several of Stranix’s mercenary caterers. In a lucky twist of fate, he find himself below a grill on which Stranix is standing while observing his men. The caterers are busy cutting up the ship and welding together a huge impromptu railing system to offload the ship’s 9 nuclear-tipped tomohawk missles to a submarine somewhere so they can be sold to the highest bidder. It is here that Seagal’s acting talents shine, as he portrays a terrific, quiet, but strong inner rage when he hears the plan to rape America’s army. The scene has also been interpreted by some as the only expression that stonefaced Steven could actually pretend to make, but those people are also invited to go watch The English Patient.

Stranix’s crew has fully installed itself in the ship, and has taken control of the command center and the ship’s bridge. They are celebrating when someone reports that the two men sent to kill Ryback in the meat locker haven’t returned. Stranix and Krill decide to go down to the Galley to see what is going on. They flick on the lights, only to see the two dead men. Suddenly, the microwave in a moment of self-awareness that has shades of Skynet and Lt. Commander Data, goes on and explodes the grenade. Krill and Stranix are barely able to get cover. Krill is a bit lost but Stranix explains the situation: “He used the microwave as a detonator.”

This leads them to suspect that Ryback is in fact no ordinary cook. This suspicion occurs to them about 45 minutes later than it would occur to the slowest member of the movie audience, which makes them perfect foils for Casey Ryback. Krill finds Ryback’s file in the dead captain’s vault. The file reads like a military fanboy’s wet dream. Ryback is an ex-navy seal, the only survivor in his unit of a dangerous mission in Panama, an expert in explosives (and martial arts, because the navy keeps track of the fact that Seagal is a 7th Dan in Aikido). Ryback lost his security clearance for insubordination, therefore he became a ship’s cook to round out his 20 years of service and earn his unconditional discharge from the Navy.

The profile, by the way, is so typical of Seagal. That devil-may-care outsider who is a total hot shot but doesn’t follow the establishment, who is also exiled from his profession of choice. This theme recurs in all his movies, where he is an ex-cop, an ex-CIA agent, an ex-FBI agent, an ex-CSA agent, an ex-NSA agent or an ex-Seal as in this case. (Note that Seagal is divorced in real life, making him also an ex-husband.)

This revelation has Krill and Stranux worried. They thought all they had to do is kill a cook. Now, this decorated navy seal is roving around below the ship’s weather deck killing all the caterers he encounters. If he kills enough men, or worse, finds a way to call home, he can ruin all their plans. Tommy Lee Jones is pissed at this point.

Meanwhile, Ryback is busy skulking around the ship. He arrives at the Mess hall only to find it empty with a giant birthday cake in the middle. He nudges the cake and it pops open, revealing Erika Eleniak wearing a thong and a sailor’s jacket. Unaware of the situation, she begins stripping to some horribly cheesy music. Seagal stops her before she has a chance to demonstrate her Hepburn-like acting skills.

Inside the locker room, he explains to her that the ship is being commandeered by some rogue mercenaries. He then tells her to stay inside a locker where she will be safe. See, if I was a nude model with no training whatsoever, and my choices were :

  1. Stay inside a locker hiding out from all the thugs
  2. Roam around the ship and risk getting shot

… it wouldn’t be a hard decision. It isn’t for Erika Eleniak either, as she chooses the latter. Now that the female lead is implanted into the plot line with a contrived decision, we can move on.

The first order of business is for Ryback to “Call home”. Using a seal phone (”it’s an MMX-2020, a direct satellite uplink”), he calls the Pentagon. There, he informs Admiral Bates of why the Missouri is deviating from course and acting like a rogue ship. “No worries,” figures the Admiral, since the Missouri was to be decommissioned after this voyage and has already been stripped of most of its armaments. He is quickly corrected by Captain Garza, who reminds him that the Missouri still has nine “specials” (nuclear-tipped tomahawk missiles). Ryback hangs up before Tommy Lee Jones can pick up his call.

Ryback also throws a grenade under the transport helicopter on the flight deck which of course explodes with such sheer force that the chopper, which carried Erika Eleniak, Tommy Lee Jones and over 30 mercenary caterers, is propelled overboard, thus removing all escape possibilities.

Ryback and Jordan Tate (Eleniak) then walk directly to the one room out of the thousands on the Missouri where a ragtag of the crew happen to have been hiding behind a locked hatch. Ryback is drawn to the room because of the morse code pounding he hears on its hatch.

“What are they saying?” asks Boobs Eleniak.

“They’re saying ‘get me the fuck outta here’,” responds Seagal in typical Laurence Olivier-like fashion.

We meet Fruitboy, a laundry guy on the college program who has no guts, we meet a fat guy with a lot of guts and courage to give us the likeability factor, a black guy to provide the disposable casualty and “Calloway, Gunner’s mate,” an octogenarian soldier who by the looks of things should have received his honourable discharged about 156 years ago. This motley crue of, well, crewmen, is the only thing standing between Tommy Lee Jones and nuclear winter.

Speaking of Tommy, he is getting really pissed because he not only lost his chooper, but now Ryback is running around killing his men and making them panic. After some brief tensions in the command room, Gary Busey (Krill) has a moment of brilliance and declares he has a plan to get rid of Ryback. The plan: Flood the Forecastle using the sprinklers and show Ryback the crew drowning on the ship monitors. Ooooh, you’re so bad Gary Busey.

“His insanity is so logical,” muses Krill, “he will kill himself trying to save them.” Krill then smiles like a kid who just got the Nintendo Power Glove for Christmas.

In the motley crue’s hideout, Casey Ryback realizes he has to save them.

“It’s a trap,” says one of his buddies.

Casey reminds them that Krill et al., are expecting just Casey. They are not expecting a whole group of people, including a fat guy, a coward, an octogenarian and a disposable casualty, oh, and Miss July. RIGHT. I don’t know who wrote this, but it’s like that person didn’t realize just how patently absurd this script was getting, and unintentionally just pressed on making it more and more absurd. Anyways! Anyway, they shoot their way to the Forecastle, the black guy dies (I told you!) and Casey turns off the sprinklers. I kind of wish the college kid would have died though, because he was more annoying.

It’s time for Stranix to call the Pentagon now, where CIA Tom has joined Admiral Bates at the table. In a scene rich in exposure, we learn the motivations of the movie’s main villain. Doug Stranix was a former CIA operative, whose speciality was commandeering hostile navy ships (well isn’t that convenient?). The CIA realized that he was using this speciality to start amassing a private army and decided to terminate him. The CIA failed, but Stranix is now pissed at the fact that CIA decided to cancel “Operation Cleopatra” and tried to “cancel me along with it!”. Before CIA Tom can begin to negotiate with Stranix, he hangs up.

Apparently, Stranix teaches Ryback a lot about being a former CIA operative, because it’s a role Seagal himself will assume at least 30 times in his upcoming movies.

Meanwhile, a Korean submarine draws near the Missouri. Ryback, who is back on the weather deck, notices it and tells his men that that’s where the nukes are going to be offloaded to! Oh nos, but fear not, Ryback has a plan. He points to the ships cannons, and tells the octogenarian: “CALLOWAY! GUNNER’S MATE! WE STILL GOT SHELLS FOR THOSE!”. Poor Krill, unaware of the machinations working against him, actually gets on the Korean sub. To my surprise, and I guess to Krill’s also, the entire crew only speaks Italian. Krill doesn’t speak a word of it, ostensibly because he probably learned Korean for this mission.

So they go inside the ship and start loading the Cannon. Seagal, using the periscope, gives Calloway the targetting instructions. “Down, 12 degrees!”, etc., etc. “FIRE IN THE HOLE!” First shot misses, but serves to provide a hilarious visual, because Tommy Lee Jones happens to be standing right beside the Cannon at the time and is decked by the sound waves.

The Italians realize they don’t have much time and need to submerge, only one of their planes that helps them submerge is broken. So Krill decides to fix it himself with a hammer. So he fixes it, in a mad race agains time, while we cut to Ryback & Co., reloading the Missouri’s cannons. “FIRE IN THE HOLE!… DIRECT HIT!” it’s a success. The Korean sub, run by Italians, with Krill aboard, has been exploded.

Now that his flunkie Krill has been killed, Tommy Lee Jones has a fit. He tells his guys to call all his investors and sell off everything on the ship. “This stock is going to shit once they find out what’s going on here,” he notes, in another one of those great lines of his. Ryback has finally managed to work his way to the command room, leaving yet more destruction and death in his wake, where he finally confronts Stranix.

“It’s been a long time,” says Stranix.

Oh, so they know each other too. Wow, the series of coincidences in this movie is just staggering. They engage in some witty repartée in which Stranix informs Ryback that they are pretty much the same guy except for one thing: Stranix no longer has faith.

This point is where we can reap the fruits of Seagal’s labor. All the mindless killing, the miss July popping out of a cake, the black guy dying, the Italians on a Korean sub, it was all pieces of a vast existential puzzle, which when put together give us the clear picture of the philosophy that permeates a great thinker and thespian like Seagal. He replies, catatonically, that “We are all puppets,” to the same sick master, or something to that effect. The movie has now come full circle, and has touched the human soul in that way only cinema can.

At the artistic summit of the movie, the only natural conclusion is for Seagal to stick his thumb in Stranix’s eye, kill Stranix with his own knife and call off the nukes which Stranix, in desperation, had fired towards a US base in Honolulu. Some mock tension with some US Bombers bearing down on the Missouri as a last resort leads us to the final scene of the movie.

At the Missouri’s decomissioning ceremony, Ryback appears in full uniform as a band plays. After the ceremony, he hangs tight with his ragtag crew and French kisses Jordan Date. Roll the credits, and she’s done.

Overall, I would have to say this is Steven Seagal’s best film ever. Though it was not exactly Schindler’s List, it still had some nice subtext on imperialism and the military establishment. This is a recurring theme with Seagal, who tends to favor these sorts of characters-in-exile from some sort of establishment or order. The acting sucked, but the fights were top-notch. This movie has Seagal in his best form, and most of his fights unfold with a gruesome realism to them, where he breaks a guy’s neck or rips out his adam’s apple or puts him through a giant saw. This is different than the marathon prance fights you’d see in a Kung Fu movie.

Overall I’d give this movie a 6/10, but on the Seagal scale that’s basically a 10/10.

Topics: Misc. / Divers |

One Response to “The Steven Seagal Movie Review: Under Siege”

  1. theo Says:
    April 21st, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    you are a brave, brave soul.