After the success of Under Seige – the Die Hard on a battleship action extravaganza that saw Steven Seagal bitch-slap his way through a healthy contingent of Hollywood character actor while getting an eyeful of Erika Eleniak’s sizable chest – it seems that the frowning aikido practicer had almost scaled to the pinnacle of the action hero mountain without breaking a sweat. However, after his infamous eco friendly vanity project, On Deadly Ground, slowed his rolled substantially, the powers that be decided that the best and quickest way for some much needed damage control was to hit the big red button marked “sequel” and give former Navy SEAL/current cook Casey Ryback more terrorists to massacre.
Of course, we now know that Seagal ultimately lost his foothold and tumbled all the way back down to spend the rest of his career languishing in direct to DVD hell – but could have Under Seige 2 the catalyst?
Casey Ryback is now retired and is running a restaurant in Denver, Colorado and his hopes to reconnect with his 16 year old niece, Sarah, after his estranged brother dies in a helicopter crash. They aim to do this by travelling to L.A. for his funeral on the Grand Continental, a big-ass train that gets to its destination by chugging through the Rocky Mountains, but it soon becomes apparent that his niece-bonding skills come a distant third to his cooking and ass-kicking skills. However, the need for awkward conversation is neutralised by the appearance of a gaggle of domestic terrorists who hijack the train so that Travis Dane – their psycho, keyboard tapping boss – has an untraceable, moving base from which to hack into a secret government satellite which has the ability to cause earthquakes. Hoping to score some serious coin from middle eastern terrorists who will pay to have the entire eastern seaboard slam dunked into the ocean, Dane’s goons spread out and secure the train, but just like Gary Busey, Tommy Lee Jones and Colm Meany before them, they’re about to find out that Casey Ryback cannot be contained and after securing some questionable help from a terrified porter, he starts to systemically murder his way through the bad guys in order to free his niece, the other passengers and the American way of life as we know it.
To scupper Dane’s plans Ryback will have to on, in, off, back on again and under the clanking locomotive to be the most effective fly in the ointment he can and when stealing vital discs and leaking info out to the Pentagon gets to be too bland, he’ll just decimate his would-be hunters with his bare hands until there’s no more motherfuckers left to “bad-guy” any more.
So, for a lot of reasons, Under Seige 2: Dark Territory is a noticable step down from the original, but before I inflict a verbal palm strike to the movie in general, let me tell you a quick story first. I first saw Under Seige 2 on its original release and wasn’t particularly enthused at the idea as at the time I didn’t exactly hold Seagal in high regard. However, whether it was down to the insanely ruthless violent streak the movie displays virtually from the get go, or the fact that Dark Territory seems to enjoy seductively bathing in the torrent of unchecked stupid as much as it does, I couldn’t help finding the whole enterprise utterly hilarious. So hilarious in fact, there were times where I genuinely thought my gales of obnoxious, hysterical laughter were going to end up with me getting ejected from the screening; but I just couldn’t help it – the more viciously a villain was despatched, the funnier I found it.
Years later, those instances of “heroic” brutality may have been dulled by movies like The Raid, but I’m pleased to say I found Casey Ryback’s second (and final) outing to be just a chuckle inducing – although admittedly that might not exactly be the filmmaker’s aim. While the first movie was the Steven Seagal kill-a-thon at it’s most charming, the sequel squanders that in order to provide its Die Hard on a train scenario with a body count to make Jason Voorhees spit take into his hockey mask.
In this movie, a terrorist does not simply fall off the train and disappear under the wheels, oh no, the guy gets stuck in the cow catcher and is minced to death against the sleepers. You dont just get blown up by a booby trap left by the hero, oh no, you catch the bomb that’s thrown to you, have just enough time to see that the read out actually says “You’re fucked” and then the device explodes just enough to cover your upper body with sheets of flame until your boss puts you out of your misery with a bullet. You don’t get unhooked from a safety line while dangle over a cliff in this movie, oh no, Ryback shatters your face of the rocks first and then unhooks you as you tumble, screaming into the void. You see where I’m going here…
Still, at least the bad guys are appropriately bad enough to warrant these awesomely heavy handed demises and that’s due to the overqualified group of actors who make up the cadre of villains as they essentially line up to get various parts of their skull fractured. Included in the familiar faces are The Mask’s Peter Greene, Twin Peak’s Everett McGill who stalks up and down the train looking like Lurch from The Addams Family with snow white hair and what, on first impression, looks to be a woman’s raincoat and – Holy fuck, is that Mike from Breaking Bad?
Elsewhere, we get the standard, bone-headed exposition delivered by recognisable actors as they explain things in the most alarmingly simple way possible (the range of the killer satellite is worryingly put to the test by government officials eyeing up some boobs on a topless beach) while occasionally spitting out such one liners as “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captor speaking.” or “Sane people do not build weapons like this.” while no doubt fixating on their paycheck in order to keep a straight face. Still, not even the sight of Kurtwood Smith or even a staggeringly young looking Morris Chestnut or Katherine Heigl is enough to cover for the fact that Seagal has seemingly become a charisma black hole and when he’s not attacking terrorists with aikido, Seagal attacks his dialogue by bizarrely choosing to literally whisper most of his lines to the point where you’re surprised no one’s legitimately asking him to speak the hell up. Never mind that the script expects us to buy that Seagal can outrun a train crash while somehow still being on the train, the most far fetched thing in the movie by far is trying to get us to believe this squinting, whispering sociopath could even hold a legitimate conversation with an actual human being. Rumour has it that filming Under Seige 2 was a grim slog and the star would insist on rewriting his own scenes wherever he was on set – presumably high on his own hype after recently writing and directing a movie where he drowned Michael Caine in crude oil – but while all the plot and dialogue is utter trash, it’s daftly enjoyable bilge. In fact, the less personality Seagal seems to have, the more ridiculous the overblown violence plays as our righteous hero looks like his pulse barely twitches as he repeatedly beats people to death without batting an eyelid.
Ridiculous, stupid, yet perversely fun for dopey movie enthusiasts, Dark Territory is the noticably inferior entry of the two Ryback adventures, but it still manages to make the most of its premise while similarly flying off the rails.