Friday Fisticuffs: On Deadly Ground (1994)

Usually, when I choose a movie for Friday Fisticuffs, it’s because it’s something light and punch-filled that I can have on in the background while I get some work done and watch Lucy. When I saw On Deadly Ground on the Netflix Instant list, I figured it would fit the bill, knowing nothing about it other than the fact that Steven Seagal starred in the flick. Should be pretty mindless, right? I wish.

See, much like an episode of Captain Planet, ODG has a message about the environment that it desperately wants to get across to you in the most ham fisted way imaginable. The movie even ends with a long speech by Seagal’s character about how big oil is hurting the land. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was literally standing on a soap box behind the podium.

Anyway, the plot involves Seagal working for a big oil company owned by Michael Caine. He’s a trouble shooter of some kind, but he also happens to be a guy that the military calls in when they  need to train their baddest assed soldiers for missions (huh?). Turns out that Caine’s new Alaskan oil rig is a disaster waiting to happen. He needs to open it by a certain day or else he’ll lose the rights to drill there. So of course, being the badguy, he hires people like John C. McGinley, Sven-Ole Thorsen, R. Lee Ermey and Billy Bob Thornton to make sure it happens, which translates into killing whoever gets in their way. Of course, that includes Seagal, but, according to one of his other movies, dude’s pretty hard to kill. Once they piss him off, he and Joan Chen decide to get revenge.

I appreciate everyone involved–Seagal agreed to do Under Siege 2 if he could direct this movie, his first foray into that field–trying to raise public consciousness on the effects of drilling on an area, but there’s absolutely no finesse whatsoever to the proceedings. As I Tweeted, Captain Planet himself would be like “We get it already, the environment’s important, CHILL OUT BRO!” by the end of the movie. Plus, it’s kind of strange to have a movie preaching about living in peace with Mother Nature while Seagal is running around killing practically everyone he sees at the end of the movie. Why not try peace talks or going to the media? Nah, let’s just shoot everyone. Normally I don’t have a problem with and even celebrate these kinds of ridiculous moments, but when you’re doing them while trying to be serious, it’s too much.

The real question, as it pertains to Friday Fisticuffs, however is whether the fight scenes are any good. Thankfully, they are, though they’re pretty much relegated to the beginning and end of the movie with a lot of boring stuff in the middle. There’s a gnarly bar fight early on which you can see above. I was surprised with how brutal the fight wound up being. It’s your typical “mean guy and all his friends go after the hero, who winds up teaching them a lesson with his fists” kind of scene, but Seagal really lays into these guys. The sound effects guys should get a good deal of praise because their bone-breaking sounds weren’t too cartoony and always made me cringe a little. Good stuff.

After getting blown up, finding himself in an Alaskan village and having a crazy dream with a bear and an old ghost woman, Seagal get’s his head on straight and does that classic action movie thing that I love: visiting the guy with all the weapons. Dude gets himself all set and goes to essentially destroy the rig with the help of Joan Chen. I’m not sure how getting an oil rig blasted to hell will help the environment, but it turned into a pretty fun final battle. It’s mostly gun play, which is fine, but there’s also a scene in a room filled with highly flammable stuff which means the knucklehead hired guards have to go at Seagal with weapons. He makes short work of them, but there’s enough quantity of ass kickings to overcome something of a lack of quality. By that I mean that the scene and the movie as a whole doesn’t really have anyone up to Seagal’s skill level trying to get him.

Overall, I’d put On Deadly Ground pretty low on my list of favorite Seagal movies (though, honestly, how can you tell the difference?) thanks to a boring midsection and nuclear bomb levels of environmental subtlety. It was fine to watch once, but I won’t be watching it again. On purpose at least. All his movie posters look alike!

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