What the Hell Were They Thinking?!

Let the stare burn into your retinas. Steven Seagal, John C. McGinley, Joan Chen and Academy Award winner Michael Caine star in On Deadly Ground.

On Deadly GroundCast of Characters:
Forrest Taft – Steven Seagal
Michael Jennings – Michael Caine
Masu – Joan Chen
MacGruder – John C. McGinley

Director – Steven Seagal
Screenplay – Ed Horowitz & Robin U. Russin
Producer – Steven Seagal, Julius R. Nasso & A. Kitman Ho
Rated R for strong violence and language

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Aegis Oil operates an oil refinery in Alaska that they purchased from the Alaskan natives 20 years ago. With days to go before they lose the rights back to the natives, and billions of dollars at stake. Aegis CEO Michael Jennings (Michael Caine) cuts corners and purposefully uses faulty equipment, causing the rig to catch fire. It takes Forrest Taft (Steven Seagal), a specialist who deals with oil drilling-related fires to put out the fire…

By blowing the place to smithereens.

However, after Taft discovers Jennings true agenda, he’s going…

… (in deep, booming voice fitting for ’90s action film trailers) Out for justice.

See what I did there? Another Seagal film reference. I’m gonna pat myself on the back now.

Jennings, knowing Taft is about to bring down a good ole fashioned ‘Murrica! ass-kicking on him and his crew, sends his henchman MacGruder (John C. McGinley) to take care of business.

We as Americans never wanted to be outdone by those pussies overseas in Belgium with their Jean-Claude Van Damme, so we trotted out our own homegrown, as American as apple pie, ’80s-’90s action star: Steven Seagal. Accept no substitutes. This man could part the seas just by staring it down into submission. Throw him in a stare down with Chuck Norris and it could cause the sun to explode, thereby destroying all life as we know it.

His movies also suck.

Now, if I was to recommend any Steven Seagal movie (where he’s the lead, so Robert Rodriguez’s Machete doesn’t count), I’d first actually turn your eyes to Above the Law and Under Siege – the only two movies of his that are good. The strength of those films, however, was director Andrew Davis. Then I’d direct your attention to this gem. Unlike today where the only thing Steven Seagal appears to be slaughtering is a Golden Corral buffet line, On Deadly Ground was Seagal in the midst of his heyday. It’s a special kind of film that manages to bring together every motif of his career into 100 minutes of unintended hilarity.

It’s greatest feat though was how it managed to lure over Michael Caine who, at the time, was already a multiple Academy Award nominated actor, with one Oscar win to his name for Hannah and Her Sisters.

Ah – who are we kidding? Caine popped up in Jaws: The Revenge. This man will show up in anything.

I can just imagine what it was like February 18, 1994, opening day for On Deadly Ground. The local theater’s packed with every bearded, flannel shirt-wearing, Budweiser-guzzling, Ford truck-driving, “To hell with your popcorn! I brought a deer I hit on the way here for a snack!!”, Brawny paper towel man lookalike within a 5-10 mile radius (with the occasional begrudged girlfriend dragged along as payback for making her man sit through that Sleepless in Seattle horse shit). Every time Seagal connects his fist with some unlucky bastard’s jaw, the crowd erupts in jubilant uproar, tossing their beer cans in excitement and bellowing, “HELL, YEAH!!!! THIS IS AMERICAN ENTERTAINMENT!!!! AND IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT YOU CAN GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT OUT!!!!”

Something like that.

All the cheesy trademarks of Seagal’s career show up to this party. They’re not hard to miss.

  • The title: Usually revolving around how badass Seagal is gonna look kicking your ass, packaged in a nice, trite 2-3 word phrase (e.g., Above the Law, Hard to Kill, Marked for Death, Out for Justice, Under Siege, On Deadly Ground, Fire Down Below, Half Past Dead).
  • The poster: Steven Seagal staring directly at you, looking pissed off, and holding a gun. If you somehow wind up making direct eye contact with the poster, don’t move. Every now and then, he’ll be gracious enough to let someone else slip into the poster with him, but Seagal’s contract demands specifically state that anyone else included must be scaled down at least 4x the size of him.
  • The plot: Seagal’s either a cop, federal marshal, ex-CIA, or simply a cook… who used to be a Navy Seal. His villain of choice is either a drug dealer, terrorist, or an evil CEO bent on destroying some backwoods small town, which ends with Seagal giving a speech about the environment.
  • The bar fight: This is essential. Seagal has to have a bar fight, normally against a bunch of rednecks spouting off, “We don’ take too kindly to you sumbitch being up in our neck of the woods! That’s where we stand… and if you don’ like it, you can giiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit out!!”, just before getting the shit kicked out of them by him. Every punch, blow and kick is always accompanied by a rockin’ blues lick, by the way. Seagal also has to leave the fight with barely even a scratch on him, if any at all.

The trademarks are just the tip of the iceberg with On Deadly Ground. Seagal’s opening appearance, as always, has to be some sort of epicness. It’s not just the wind blowing through his ponytail as he steps out of the helicopter and stares the earth into an earthquake. He’s also gotta slowly light up his cigar before strutting up to the oil rig. Why not just have him ride in on a Kodiak bear too? To his credit, though, he doesn’t walk away from explosions. When he makes it rain, he stands there like a man and – BOOM!! Goes the dynamite!

Mark Wahlberg, yes, that makes you a little girl.

What always gets me about Seagal is just how self-aggrandizing he is here (he directed this film as well, so go figure). We get the obligatory bar fight, of course, and at first it’s kinda jokey with his “slap hands” game that leads to him pounding the guy’s gut repeatedly. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, at the end of the fight, when you think he’s gonna finish the small town hick punk, he starts whipping out philosophy at him.

“… What does it take… What does it take… to change the essence of a man?”

To which the punk tears up and replies, “… I need time… to change.”

Here are some little known facts that they’ll never tell you in history class…

  • Before breaking out into his “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. palm heel striked someone toward a bloody, broken nose.
  • “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” – Mahatma Ghandi after body slamming a New Delhi fruit stand thief to the ground and gouging his eyes out.
  • “I have found the pardox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt… only more love.” – Mother Teresa addressing her adoring followers after jump side-kicking the hell out of a two-bit criminal into a brick wall.
  • “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” – John Lennon while bitch-slapping some obnoxious punk who simply wanted to say hi and get his copy of Imagine autographed.

As mentioned above, Seagal has to have his big speech at the end about us polluting and the environment and some crap about alternative energy I was paying attention to, but just laughing too loud to actually hear what he was saying. If you actually listen to the speech, it’s quite absurd and the fact that he was able to deliver every word with such straight-faced sincerity should’ve earned him the 1995 Best Actor Oscar. Don’t even bother nominating anyone else ’cause not even Daniel Day-Lewis could pull that off. It’s rumored Seagal actually desired to make that final speech 20 minutes long, and all I can say is it’s a crying shame he didn’t get his way. That aforementioned packed theater would’ve exploded into a violent bloodbath of anger, impatiently wondering why the hell Seagal ain’t opening up a can of whoop ass on those quiet, peaceful, nature-loving Eskimos.

No one would leave the theater alive that night.

There’s really no need to go on about Michael Caine. He took his paycheck, phoned in the entire performance, end of story. Although his scene where he’s filming an environmental conservation commercial with some caribou all sincere, only to hear cut from the director and then yell, “Fuck! These animals stink. Get them away!!” is good for a laugh. Who I haven’t mentioned yet is John C. McGinley (best known as Dr. Perry Cox from Scrubs) as Jennings’s henchman. Everything about McGinley here screams hilariously cliched. When we first see him, he’s standing next to Jennings, arms intimidatingly crossed, dressed entirely in black, pencil-thin goatee and sunglasses. For God’s sakes, his character’s named MacGruder. His mid-film rant where he’s interrogating someone and just flies off the handle in torturing the guy and trashing his place is the highlight of the entire film.

If lots of low-rent explosions are your thing, then On Deadly Ground is right up your alley. You get it all here: Steven Seagal once again looking like he’s staring directly into the sun for an hour and a half, Michael Caine singing The O’Jays “For the Love of Money” inside his head, Joan Chen fearing she’s gonna have to do Judge Dredd (of all films) to wash the stench of this off of her, R. Lee Ermey delivering his usual snarly schtick on just how dangerous and badass ex-CIA Seagal really is, a fat Billy Bob Thornton (before the power from his vile of Angelina Jolie’s blood whittled him down to 80 lbs.) in one of earliest roles, and some of the hammiest dialogue to ever be spoken in the ’90s. As a bonus, we get the ’90s action star pummeling people into submission before switching over to cheesy PSA-mode that only he can deliver best.

At least his message makes perfect sense: to save Alaska’s environment, he’s gonna blow the crap out of it first.

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