A bad movie can offer a good time. I thought that Steven Seagal’s On Deadly Ground was a bad movie when I saw it back in 1992, and it is every bit as awful in 2020. Times have changed, and the environmentally friendly eco-warrior stance of the film has been vindicated somewhat over the passing years. But the innate contradictions of the film remain; killing people and blowing up oil-rigs is still an outlier in terms of behaviour which might help the relationship between human beings and planet earth, and Seagal is not the man you want to get a lecture on the importance of plankton from.
Handed a $50 million budget, Seagal actually does a great job with the Alaskan locations here, which look spruce and inviting, and even takes some time to reflect the rituals and everyday activities of the Alaskan natives. Unfortunately, Seagal also scores a massive own-goal through the egotistical central role he creates for himself. Seagal plays Forrest Taft, a Red Adair-style man monument who puts out chemical fires and is something of a whizz with his feet and fists; there’s a ridiculous bar-room brawl to establish his bona-fides as a tough guy. Taft is frames by the Aegis oil company as part of their cover-up of their crooked dealings; they’re currently trying to start a dangerous drilling operation to stop the rights reverting back to the locals. Only one man stands against him, and after getting injured, having a vision quest, and arming himself with guns, explosives and snow-mobiles, Taft fights back by killing absolutely everyone to create peace.
As well as a decent score from Basil Poledouris, Seagal also managed to ensnare above-the-line talent in Michael Caine, who having just worked with the Muppets, presumably felt he could do anything; with his hair cut short and dyed black, he plays Aegis executive Michael Jennings with foul-mouthed elan. Caine was understandably keen to work with Seagal and deliver smirking straight-to camera monologues about porcupines, which he does with remarkable candour. Seagal, meanwhile, saves his powder for his laughable final monologue about plankton which takes us up to the final credits; it’s a moment of grandstanding vanity which marked the apex of ambition and the zenith of achievement of Seagal’s career to date.
And just in case you were wondering is Taft is tough; this bit of scene-setting dialogue sets him up, and is worth reproducing in full. ‘…we are not dealing with a student here, we’re dealing with the Professor. Any time the military has an operation that can’t fail, they call this guy in to train the troops, OK? He’s the kind of guy that would drink a gallon of gasoline so he could piss in your campfire! You could drop this guy off at the Arctic Circle wearing a pair of bikini underwear, without his toothbrush, and tomorrow afternoon he’s going to show up at your pool side with a million dollar smile and fist full of pesos…’