Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Steven Seagal Month Finale: On Deadly Ground

It's been a long trip through the land of Seagal, but it (finally) ends today with On Deadly Ground. I have feared this day from the beginning, for On Deadly Ground is the one film in Seagal's ouvre that everyone can agree absolutely fucking sucks. It was even listed as one of the 100 Worst Movies Ever in the Razzie Awards book. When you're keeping company with Sextette, The Color of Night, and Ghosts Can't Do It, you know you're one bad movie. What made this movie so bad? Two words: Seagal. Directing. Letting any actor step behind the lens for the follow-up to the biggest hit of their career is a pretty bad idea, but it's even worse when said actor is interested in making an activist film. At least other actor/directors stick to making “art”. Seagal had other intentions, namely: to save the Earth.

Oh yes, Steven Seagal is a well-known environmental activist and, as the word “activist” suggests, he insists on forcing his worldview on everyone he meets. So when he grabbed the world by the nutsack with Under Siege, he saw his chance to cram some Grade-A bullshit down our throat while we screamed in pain. Of course, he had to cast himself as the Christ-like hero of the film and, of course, he had to make sure he could get in more of those bizarre Seagalian one-liners than ever before. Oh, and a lengthy lecture or two about the evils of oil. And lots of “shame on you, audience” finger-wagging. And Joan Chen as an Inuit.

Let's take a look at this bizarre, self-indulgent bomb and get this whole endeavor over with.

Things have gone to shit right off the bat as a lovely nature montage is interrupted by a raging fire at an oil rig. Firefighters are helpless to stop the flames and people are doing that weird movie thing where they run around in circles and flail their arms in the air. What does that accomplish, anyway? The movie itself seems not to be concerned as the music stays weirdly serene and we see more of a circling helicopter than we do of the fire itself. The helicopter touches down, prompting some old coot to say “Thank God!”. And he has good reason to say that as SEAGAL himself steps out. Steps out, mind you, in alligator boots and a buckskin jacket, which seem to contradict the whole “Environmentalist” image Seagal wants to conjure here. This is on par with the president of PETA treating her diabetes with animal-tested insulin in terms of sheer hypocrisy. Save the animals...unless they're fashionable! And just to cap the dumbassery of all this Seagal is puffing on a cigar, which he later tosses into a snowbank, destroying it's pure white beauty. What an ass.

Quite possibly the stupidest thing I have ever witnessed. I don't know why, but I do feel that way.

Old coot Hugh runs up and immediately begins berating Forrest (Seagal) for what his “God damn pal Jennings'” lousy something or other has wrought. And then the helicopter door flies open (again?) to reveal Jennings himself (Michael “I'll do anything for money” Caine) sitting inside. Jennings happens to be the owner of Aegis Oil, who run the rig, and he doesn't take very kindly to his underling Hugh cursing him out. Weirdly (word of the day), this moment, amidst a catastrophic oil rig fire, is played for comedy with Jennings making his entrance just in time to cut Hugh off mid-sentence with a “my lousy what!?” as the door opens, like something out of Laugh-In. As they amble towards the fire, Hugh and Forrest debate whether or not this is purposeful sabotage by Jennings, with Hugh taking the affirmative and Forrest taking the negative. Hugh is appalled that Forrest would doubt his cockamamie theory about a multi-billion dollar corporation sabotaging it's own production, and walks away hootin' and hollerin' about what a “whore” Forrest has become.

Anyway, the entire point of this scene is a moment so Goddamn absurd, nonsensical, ridiculous, and mind-bogglingly stupid that it deserves to go down in history as “Biggest Dumbass Move of all Time”. Unable to put the fire out with water, Forrest turns to the onlookers who, with the exception of Jennings, hit the deck as he produces a detonator from his pocket and BLOWS UP THE FIRE. Yeah, that'll show those flames what's what! Make them bigger and more volatile and completely destroy the entire complex while you're at it! What in the blue monkey fuck were they even thinking when they wrote this?

I mean, was the rig outfitted with explosives “just in case”? Does Forrest always carry a detonator in his pocket? Does fighting fire with fire actually work? I can't for the life of me figure this out. “Der, Seagal no make fire go away. Fire make Seagal angry! Seagal set fire on fire! YEAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH!”

Apparently I'm the only thinking person here, as the rig workers do happy gold miner jigs and cheer for joy as precious oil is reduced to a Hiroshima-rivaling fireball rising into the sky (again, way to help the environment, Steven. I'm sure Mother Earth really loved all that smoke and pollution you're inane stunt gave off). Assumedly successful, Forrest and Jennings get to da choppah and fly away home, Jennings feeding Forrest a load of disinformation bullcrap about how faulty equipment had nothing to do with the fire and how it was human error all the way “like every fire you've ever seen, Forrest”. Forrest seems to be wise to Jennings' crap all of a sudden, noting how “I blew up all the evidence, didn't I?” when Jennings asks why he'd sabotage himself.

And now it's time for the Billy Jack scene of the night~! After a short, pyrotechnical day at work, Forrest hits a bar for some beers, but can't relax for long as a vile white devil randomly picks on and assaults an Eskimo, like all white people do. Because we're evil. White devil is dumb enough to turn his attention to Forrest (who I guess is supposed to be an Eskimo, then), which is a very bad move. In fact, everyone in the bar knows just how bad of a move it is and they all start backing away and whispering “oh shit”. Forrest rises and approaches the man and then...walks right on by to take a seat at the bar.

And, oh goody, Hugh shows up to once again prattle on about the lousy preventers causing the fire. What, is Hugh one of those old coots who just picks a person and spends all day following them around trying to make them care about something through constant nagging? But just as soon as Hugh is about to start blaming the darn kids today, white devil starts harassing the Eskimo-folk again and this time Forrest can't sit idly by. He takes on a whole posse of random oil workers in a fight that shows just how worn out Steven Seagal fight scenes are getting. Unable to think of any creative moves, Seagal is reduced here to kneeing men in the groin, to which they loudly (and comically [in the wrong way]) scream “MY NUTS!”. Seagal was so fond of this phrase, in fact, that he dubbed it in over more than one man, even in shots where you can clearly see that the actors' mouths aren't moving. Also, there's over-usage of “bone crunching” sound effects which are loud and entirely fake sounding and also used in inappropriate moments. I'm sorry, Steven, but a hip toss would not make that sound. This whole fight is ludicrous, simple-minded, and aimed squarely at idiots who think “MY NUTS!” are the two funniest words in the English language. Not only is it uninventive, it's downright condescending.

Finally, only the white devil himself is left. Forrest challenges him to – I'm not joking – the Hand Slap game, rules being that if your slap misses, you get punched. White devil misses, of course, and takes a punch in the gut that levels him. The man is foolish enough to let this happen twice, and winds up puking his guts out for his trouble. Even though he has clearly had enough, the bar patrons thrown the man back for more and since he knows he's stuck, he keeps playing along in what amounts to torture as he not only has to be beaten sensless every time he loses the game, he also has to live in fear of losing every time since Forrest makes sure to drag it out. After reducing the man to a bloody, quivering mass of goo Forrest is pompous enough to ask the zen-like question “What does it take to change the essence of a man?” Rather than crying in pain or whimpering for mercy, the man rises to his feet and humbly responds “I- I need...time”. Yes, that's it. Give in to the will of your overlord.

The appalling nature of this scene cannot be fully captured in words. While the message that we all need to change and we all need to grant each other the time to do so is a good one, the fact that you literally see a man being beaten into submission to this is disgusting and reprehensible. It's as if Seagal is promoting brute force and sheer physical torture as good, righteous ways to change somone's attitude. Because lord knows you wouldn't want to change the world through teaching and opening hearts and minds. Oh no, you just need to let everyone know they either accept your worldview or suffer and die. Pick your poison, motherfucker. What a despicable waste of celluloid this scene is.

Thankfully, the movie washes it down with a cup of awesome as we cut to Jennings filming a PSA to counteract the negative publicity the oil rig accident has brought down on him. Michael Caine is so spectacular as he delivers this disingenuous speech about loving the environment and the animals and whatnot with a huge shit-eating grin as America the Beautiful plays softly in the background. And, of course, immediately after the director calls cut he breaks character and starts screaming about how the animals smell like shit and how stupid the speech was. The comedy of this scene cannot be understated. A+ gold is what it is. Too bad Caine keeps hamming it up when things are supposed to turn serious, as Jennings hears that construction on Aegis One, the newest rig, is facing an unacceptable delay. Hearing that the rig will be eight days behind schedule, Jennings flips out and screams and hollers just like he did about the smelly animals. Problem is this is an actual important plot point. Actually it is the plot. The overacting totally belittles this fact, though.

And speaking of that plot, let's flesh it out, shall we? Aegis One is being built to drill and refine oil on Eskimo land. Aegis secured the rights to that oil years ago, but didn't bother building until recently when they realized the rights were soon to expire, and the contract stipulates that if a rig is not operational on the site by a certain date thirteen days from now, the oil falls back into the control of the Eskimos. Aegis have been working around the clock to get the rig finished but still fell behind. To try and speed things up, they used the cheapest, most readily-available parts they could find. These parts, of course, are faulty and the EPA is getting wind of it. Especially the faulty preventers – the same equipment that started the oil rig fire at the beginning of the film.

Jennings deduces that it must be Hugh who's telling the EPA about the bad parts, and turns to his HIRED ASSASSIN, MacGruder, and demands Hugh be killed. Oh yeah, because all corporations have hired contract killers who also happen to be cast members from [SCRUBS].

At Aegis One, Forrest randomly decides to take Hugh's word for it and snoops in a computer to find out if the parts are faulty. And the long list of the word “FAIL” over and over would seem to suggest they are. Jennings and his assasin pal MacGruder catch on thanks to that pesky computer spying technology and decide to “take care” of Forrest. But the old coot comes first, God dammit! At his log cabin retreat, Hugh downloads some secret files to a floppy disc just before MacGruder shows up to claim those files. Of course, he can't find them, so he's reduced to torturing Hugh for information and boy...that's really lame. I'm sorry, but John C. McGinley is not a convincing badass. He's just funny, whether he means it or not. The way he spells the word “TEAM” to show how there really is no I in Team; the way his voice cracks like a pubescent boy as he shouts; the fact that HE'S THE EVIL DOCTOR FROM SCRUBS. All these things, and more, contribute to MacGruder being a very laughable villain. Even when Hugh is presumably murdered with a pipe cutter, it's just goofy.

What's also goofy is the next scene, where Jennings and his PR people make an obviously bullshit speech about how the pollution from the oil rig disaster will be gone in three months time, and then a local Eskimo man of some sort gets all up in Jennings' face to make an angry speech about women having abnormal babies or something. Apparently someone in the Eskimo tribe has a gestation period of, oh, 48 hours seeing as the spill JUST HAPPENED. And then Joan Chen shows up and throws a cup of oil on Jennings in protest. A few moments later, Jennings and Forrest have a talk in the hall about the substandard preventers Forrest found out about, but Jennings has no time to talk because, wouldn't you know it, another rig is in crisis. Good grief, you'd think the government would step in at some point. I can understand the Aegis One rig having crappy parts for expediency's sake, but if all your rigs have faulty equipment, there's no way you turn a profit with all the money you dump into repairs. This is just ludicrous. Jennings asks Forrest to help him out because Forrest is the only one with the expertise to fix the problem. Expertise in what, pushing a big red button and blowing shit up?

Well, as it turns out, the whole “we need your expertise” thing is just a load of bunk as the supposed disaster is actually a plot to take Forrest out. As Forrest investigates the abandoned rig and stumbles upon Hugh's mangled body, Jennings and MacGruder whip out a detonator and blow it all to hell. And then they fly home and call a press conference to blame the explosions on supposed sabotage by Hugh and Forrest. Not that a single reporter buys into it. Seriously, wouldn't someone have started investigating this Jennings ass by now? No one trusts him! And this is why we can thank our lucky stars that Forrest survived the attempt on his life. Apparently the explosions blew him several miles into the distance, where a polar bear helps some Eskimos find Forrest's body so they can take him home and nurse him to health. Not only is this scene stupid because we're supposed to believe a man could survive being blown up and launched an incredible distance, it's also stupid because the only injury Forrest suffered at all is three pieces of shrapnel in his back! Fuck you, Steve. I may believe in suspension of disbelief, but this is suspension of all brain function you're asking for. That wouldn't happen! Not in a million years! I'm not dumb enough to buy this pap.

But now's when this movie hits absolute rock-bottom stupidity. Joan Chen's dad, the apparent eskimo elder, performs some hokey mystical ritual (lots of stuff about animal spirits and creation myths), and apparently this hypnotizes Forrest who falls into a bizarre fantasy. There's naked eskimo women breathing hard for no reason, there's an eagle flying around, there's Forrest fighting a bear, there's Forrest being swept away by a river...all edited in an ADD-fashion that renders it even more perplexing than it would have been already. And then, just to show us all what a self-centered egotistical piece of shit Steven Seagal really is, Forrest meets an old Eskimo woman who tells him that HE IS THE SAVIOR. Yes, Forrest is the one who will save the Earth from the follies of mankind.What to even say, really? This speaks for itself.

MacGruder and his goons invade the Eskimo hut village to search for Forrest and, when they can't find him, to randomly shoot the elder, which infuriates Joan Chen who promises to see MacGruder die. Forrest comes home just in time for the old man to hand him a magic amulet and then promptly keel over dead. God I love the timely fashion in which people die in movies. Here's the secret I need to tell you/the object I need to give you. Got it? Okay! Ack! So cheesy. The death of her father gives Joan Chen reason to reveal that her tribe keeps a snowmobile around for emergencies, meaning she and Forrest can get back to civilization for some revenge. Good timing, darling. Wouldn't have wanted to use it to get ol' pops to the hospital or anything! Our doofy twosome head to Hugh's house where they quickly and easily find the floppy disk that MacGruder couldn't even though he tore the entire place apart at the seams. What a fucking idiot he must be. I mean, Forrest wasn't even looking for it, he just found it by accident! How did MacGruder miss it?

After getting into some more comfortable clothes, Forrest and JC (seriously, can we give this character a name already? And why did Hugh have women's clothing?) find the house surrounded by Aegis thugs. There's a pretty neat bit here where Forrest is able to pinpoint two thugs' locations by sound alone and then bursts into the room and shoots them both without having to look, but on the whole the ensuing gun fight is pretty boring and the same goes for the hand-to-hand combat that follows when the bullets run out. It all feels so old by now, and the inappropriate music on the soundtrack doesn't help. You would think Seagal would have picked something up about making action scenes work, but it's pretty obvious he can't direct one to save his life. In fact, the movie thus far has proven he can't direct any kind of scene to save his life.

Forrest and his nameless allegedly-Eskimo-but-obviously-Chinese friend head to...a friend's use the computer there to read the floppy. Literally instantaneously, Forrest determines that Aegis One will blow up the second it's turned on. How did he read all that data so fast? Not only that, he finds out that Aegis has been filling tapped wells with left-over deadly chemicals and then selling the property to unsuspecting rival companies! You wanna guess his solution to all this? Go on, three guesses. THAT'S RIGHT! He's going to blow up Aegis One! Masu (I guess that's her name?) says this is a really stupid idea, but Forrest gives her a big speech about how her spirit world hocus pocus won't stop cars from using gasoline, oil from spilling into the ocean, or the government from suppressing fuel-efficient technologies. Okayyyyyyyyy... She was talking about not killing people. He was just waiting for an excuse to make that speech, realized one would never come, and just randomly made it anyway. After that preachy interlude, Forrest goes into a secret room full of guns (?) and arms himself to the teeth.

He then heads into the mountains to his retreat inside the world's worst matte painting. Seriously, look at this shit smear and tell me you can't find at least ten things wrong with it.

This is the laziest, most offensively inept special effects work I've seen in a long time. The lighting doesn't match up, the rocks and the trees are on two different planes, there's an obvious line around the edges of the matte, the forest is sticking out through the painting on the right because they aren't layered properly, the angles are all askew, the background is soft and fuzzy while the rocks are razor sharp, the cliff face they're standing on is literally attached to nothing and simply floating in space, I can't tell if they're miles up or only twenty feet off the ground, and the painting isn't even finished and just tapers off into nothing in the middle distance. This is inexcusably bad. How the fuck did this get past anyone? The fucking coffee guy should have spoken up about how terrible this shot looks. I'm embarrassed to even be watching it. Anyway, this lame special effect is housing a stockpile of explosives large enough to declare a one-man war on a small country, much to the wide-eyed shock and dismay of Masu. Forrest packs up a good chunk of the explosives, and then sets up a bomb to blow MacGruder and his goons up just as they swoop their helicopter in for the kill. Oh, I'm sorry, it was a different helicopter that was never established and apparently contained some other goons, as the very next shot features MacGruder and his posse riding on horseback. This movie has no sense of continuity at all. The helicopter that just blew up is identical to the one Mac and his thugs have been flying around in the entire movie including mere seconds before the other one blew up! That's just stupid.

The pleasant horseback ride comes to a tragic sidetrack when the idiots stumble into a Rambo-like trap Forrest has set using a single grenade and some sharp sticks to kill two goons. Two cavern-jumps and one more IED later, Forrest and Masu reach Aegis One.

What was I saying about terrible matte paintings?

Forrest sneaks his way inside, using a soda bottle as a silencer (?) and sets about tinkering with the generator while the FBI anti-terrorism task force gets in place to keep him out (too late). After loading the place up with enough C4 to take out a city, Forrest warns the rig workers to get out, and he and Masu follow suit. And then Forrest blows things up real good as explosions rock the facility, but not enough to actually shut it down. That surpasses epic fail and lands right in facepalm territory. What's even lamer is how MacGruder and Jennings' bitch lawyer more or less kill themselves (Mac falls into a helicopter roter and get his head chopped off and the lawyer drives her car right into an above-ground gas line and blows up) while Forrest just sorta watches. I mean, yeah, he had his hands on Mac when he died, but really Mac just struggled too much and tripped. Suddenly, Forrest is the most ineffectual man on Earth.

Meanwhile, Jennings is pretty much left alone and has to get the rig operational on his own. But in the midst of his button pushing, handle cranking, and wheel-turning, he finds himself at the business end of Forrest's gun and winds up being dropped right into the oil where I guess he drowns. Or something. Maybe oil is deadly on contact. Forrest and Masu do the typical action movie bit of running dramatically as shit blows up behind them when the final explosives go off and turn Aegis One into a big, smoldering wreck that's filling the atmosphere with all kinds of smoke and pollutants, seemingly defeating the purpose of shutting it down in such a fashion. But what do I know? Obviously doing whatever it takes to make a movie about saving the environment is a good thing, even if you have to destroy the environment in the process.

And just to really kick us in the nuts, Seagal ends the movie on a long-winded prattle about how the government and the oil companies are suppressing all the maigcal technologies that could save the earth. This speech of his goes on for over four minutes and while I'm sure it has some merit, it's so preachy and delivered with such false anger that it comes off as fake and, frankly, pretty boring. When On Deadly Ground debuted at Cannes (yes) this scene was more than ELEVEN minutes long and it was so boring that the audience literally fled the theater. I wanted to flee my computer watching this shortened version, so I can't begin to fathom the agony of the director's cut. He ran out of things to say two minutes in and started repeating himself, for cripes sake. And this really is the only reason the movie exists; this one scene is why we had to suffer through this miserable film. We're supposed to believe that all oil companies are as nefarious as Aegis and that we are all their mind slaves and need to be woken up. I'm no fan of oil cartels, but get bent Seagal. Your movie is a cartoon and your message is ridiculous because of it.

I don't even know where to begin summing up my feelings about this movie. Well, alright:


That's where I begin. But where to go from there? This movie is a stupid, pompous, paranoid piece of hammily-acted, ineptly directed, barely-written crap made by an egomaniacal madman who thinks of himself as Christ and wants us all to bow down and suck the almighty cock. This movie isn't about saving the environment, it's about praising Steven Seagal for how much he says he wants to save the environment. Not that you'd guess he'd want to, what with all the gigantic explosions he set off in the making of this movie, unleashing untold amounts of toxins into the air in the process, not to mention all the smoke and debris. And let's not forget that movie shoots have sizable carbon footprints as well. I'm sure Seagal would say that he can get away with polluting because he does it in the name of stopping pollution, but that's hypocritcal bullshit. Print up some fliers on hemp paper if you want to spread an honest-to-God Save the Earth message. Don't fly your private jets all over the world to shoot your self-aggrandizing movies about how much you claim to love the planet you help destroy you two-faced twat!

But when you look past the disingenuous message of On Deadly Ground, you still see nothing but garbage. This is a flat-out bad movie. It's as amateurish and lame as you'd expect from a first-time director with no film education who has ulterior motives. It's incomprehensible tripe served up with no shame and no remorse. This movie earned it's place in the Razzie Hall of Shame, no doubt. It also rightly bombed at the box office and made Seagal look like an ass. Way to fuck up your first movie Mr. Director man.

The result of On Deadly Ground's failure was Seagal's career hitting the downward spiral. Though he had a few more theatrical releases left in him, none of them were able to save his reputation. A sequel to Under Siege (hey, it worked once, why not try again?) failed to impress and disappointed at the box office. Executive Decision reduced Seagal to a supporting role that ended in his character's death before the movie was even halfway over. And he died like an idiot, too, getting himself sucked out of an airlock on a plane for no good reason. There's Hollywood's way of telling you you suck: they kill you off in a way that makes you look stupid. The Glimmer Man was an attempt to get edgier, with a hard-boiled serial killer story as it's plot, but it was seen for what it was: a really bad rip-off of Se7en that was too gruesome and downbeat for it's own good. The use of a Wayans brother as the buddy cop didn't help either. Finally, Seagal got behind the camera for, believe it or not, another environmental thriller, Fire Down Below. I suspect that I'll review this turd some day (hopefully long off) but the gist of it is more evil corporations dumping more toxic waste. Toxic waste that looks like bright green Nickelodeon Gak.

Now I know what you're all thinking: Seagal's career goes on from there, you fool! Sure, it does. But I dare you to name another movie he was in after that. Try. You probably don't even remember that he was in Half Past Dead or Exit Wounds, do you? Of course not. You remember Ja Rule and DMX, not the white fatass slowing them down. And how about all those direct-to-video movies Seagal has been reduced to? Name one of them. You can't. No one can, because no one watches them. No one watched Steven Seagal movies any more after On Deadly Ground. Why?

Because it showed us all what an asshole Steven Seagal is! He had the chance to serve up a personalized platter of ass-kicking awesomeness to his loving fans and instead he spent ninety minutes telling us all to blow him. And we all told him to go fuck himself instead.

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