Under Siege (1992)
September 30, 2022 12:56 AM - Subscribe

An ex-Navy Seal turned cook is the only person who can stop a group of terrorists when they seize control of a U.S. battleship.

A heroic loner takes on a group of nuclear terrorists in this seagoing tale. Posing as a rock band, the terrorists get themselves hired for a party aboard the USS Missouri, a battleship en route to Pearl Harbor for decommissioning. They plan to steal the ship's nuclear arsenal but haven't reckoned on the intervention of the ship's chef, a decorated former Navy SEAL.

Vanessa Letts: Under Seige comes from a genre of films, including the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon series, which the serious film goer is careful to avoid. Watching it, however, brings to mind the thought that the 'beauti- fully photographed-but-vapid' variety of art house film (Howard's End, The Long Day Closes, Tous Les Matins Du Monde etc.) had better watch out if it is not soon to be surpassed in that department by its humble cousin, the big-budget action movie. Under Seige, directed by Andrew Davies, is an extravagantly beautiful piece. Up on the big screen, the colours alone are quite spectacular. The film is also something of a modern day wonder of movie-making, for although the events depicted take place on board a vast, 900-foot, US Navy dread- nought drifting across the high seas of the Pacific Ocean, the action has actually been shot exclusively on dry dock in the bay of Mobile, Alabama, and the wave and wind effects are all artificial. Props on the set include full-scale replica of a Chinook heli- copter and a Gato-class Navy submarine, built out of scrap from a barge and a tug- boat. The film makers have managed to make a virtue out of the ship's frightening- ly enclosed spaces, and the way the camera tears wildly through narrow corridors, hatches and cupboards as if it were actually flying generates a good number of the thrills. Alongside this we have breathtaking shots of fog and mist as the ship sails through the darkness, accompanied by dim shapes of porpoises as they trail its prow.

Roger Ebert: The villains are superb, vile and deliriously insane.

They're played by Tommy Lee Jones, as a former undercover operative for the CIA, and Gary Busey, as a disillusioned officer on board the ship. Jones has developed into one of the most effective and interesting villains in the movies, maybe because he's not afraid to go over the top - as he does here, masquerading as a heavy-metal rocker and later spieling political slogans into the radio like a deranged dictator. Busey, as the turncoat officer, plays his big murder scene in drag, gnashing the scenery as if he's enjoying every bite.

The plot of the movie is, of course, absurd, involving a half-explained scheme to steal the ship's nuclear warheads, offload them to a stolen North Korean submarine, and sell them in the Middle East. Never mind. The details of the cat-and-mouse chase around the ship are exciting and well-directed. And director Davis is not above the put-on, as when he introduces Playboy's Miss July 1989 (Erika Eleniak) into the plot, and has her follow Seagal on his dangerous rounds for no better reason than because she seems utterly incongrous in every scene.

Vincent Canby:

The intoxicating premise of "Under Siege," the new Steven Seagal action movie, is that 30 men, disguised as caterers and as the members of a rock combo, accompanied by the Playmate of July 1989 as a sort of front, could seize the great United States battleship Missouri at sea. Once firmly in charge, they stand ready to nuke Honolulu while conducting sales, via a cellular telephone, of the ship's other nuclear-tipped Tomahawk missiles to the highest bidders on three continents.

The mind reels, as well it should. Here is a movie to make "The Hunt for Red October" look as soberly conceived as "Potemkin." Yet "Under Siege," directed by Andrew Davis and written by J. F. Lawton, is just lunatic enough to keep you watching the screen while snorting in uncertain derision. The movie alternately prompts awe and out-of-control laughter, but who is sending up whom? A clue: J. F. Lawton, who wrote the screenplay, collaborated with Barry Primus on the script for the very funny "Mistress."

From the elegant opening shots of American warships at sea, you might think that the producers received a certain amount of cooperation from the United States Defense Department, but apparently they didn't. The Missouri used in the film is the battleship Alabama, decommissioned and permanently moored in Mobile Bay. The other ships are beautifully constructed models. The film looks very official.

Early on, in newsreel clips, President and Mrs. Bush appear in "Under Siege" as they attend a ceremony aboard the Missouri at Pearl Harbor, shortly before the film's Mighty Mo takes off on its final voyage home for decommissioning. It's during this trip that everything goes so danged wrong.

posted by Carillon (8 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is it the most perfect movie? No, is it my favorite movie? Also no. Is this the movie I've seen the most? . . . Also certainly? It was my dad's favorite movie growing up, and one of the few Seagal movies I'd still watch. They do a lot well, but Busey and Tommy Lee Jones really make this the movie that it is.
posted by Carillon at 12:58 AM on September 30, 2022 [6 favorites]

I saw this on release, I think it was the first time I went to a cinema unaccompanied. Something that has always bothered me though about the final confrontation;

Ryback: "You look familiar. I know you, don't I?"
Strannix: "I think you do. Been a long time."
Ryback: "Yes sir, it has."

There is a reference earlier by one of the war room staff about this Zwieback, or whatever his name is, punching out his senior officer after a botched Panama mission (I think? can't find the line exactly) - so is Strannix this former CO? Wouldn't they be more familiar?

Or is Ryback maybe making more of a general statement of "I know the sort of man you are; tired of the grind, let down by the military, scheduled for assassination; your backstory will literally be reused by Malkovich for In the Line of Fire next year."
posted by Molesome at 1:36 AM on September 30, 2022

My desire to rewatch this has been pretty much eliminated by what Seagal has become, but I've seen it two or three times and regard it as a solid, entertaining actioner.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 5:02 AM on September 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

Seagal's first four films (you know them because you have to say them like "Steven Seagal IS: Above the Law" or "Steven Seagal IS: Marked for Death. "Under Siege" gets the rhythm wrong with only two words) were cheap-looking lumpy actioners that had a certain charm because Stevel Seagal moved through them unaware of how badly he was acting. Under Siege is too slick, and surrounds Seagal with too much talent. On Deadly Ground and Fire Down Below go back to the old formula of just being ridiculously bad and funny (and having the three word titles, althous "Steven Seagal IS: Fire Down Below" doesn't really track.)
posted by rikschell at 5:33 AM on September 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

This was the second-best of the original wave of Die Hard-on-a-________ movies. (Behind Speed, obviously.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:30 AM on September 30, 2022 [5 favorites]

Saw this in the early/mid 1990's, liked it for a few reasons. I had taken Aikido in university and was still taking it at a dojo of sorts. Seagal is a black belt, not necessarily an actor, but the hand to hand fighting was well done. I had almost gone into the Navy and by that time would probably be an officer on an aircraft carrier or submarine running the nuclear reactor.

The explosive making to take out the submarine, straight out of the Army's Improvised Munitions Manual. Drill the shell to defuse, melt out the TNT, get a detonator of some sort, say from a grenade. That's practically straight out of the manual.

Watched it again a few days ago, and yeah, the villain cast was just fantastic sort of madness. The girl was cute.

Still a good bit of Red Dawn, Die Hard, kick bad guy's ass or at least throw a monkey wrench in their plans. Right up my alley, I wrote a paper on guerilla warfare in fifth grade.

So, yeah, fun movie if you don't overthink it.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:13 PM on September 30, 2022

This movie is definitely better than it has any right to be. It really should be awful, but somehow it manages to be funny and even a bit exciting at times.
posted by wierdo at 10:39 PM on September 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

Silly film.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 12:23 PM on October 1, 2022

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