On Deadly Ground (1994)
By: Devon B. on April 6, 2014 | Comments
Warner Bros | Region 4, PAL | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 97 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Steven Seagal
Starring: Steven Seagal, Michael Caine, Joan Chen, John C. McGinley, R. Lee Ermey, Sven-Ole Thorsen
Screenplay: Ed Horowitz, Robin Russin
Country: USA
I went off Steven Seagal during the 90s, but when someone posted a clip of the "Cupcake" scene from Steven Seagal is On Deadly Ground on the Digital Retribution forum I knew I'd have to reinvestigate his oeuvre with my current appreciation of ridiculous cinema. It took me a while to get around to the film, and I did enjoy it a lot more this time than I did when it was first released, but I still think this was a step down for Stevie.

Stevie's the best at putting out oil rig fires because he can press a button better than anyone else. After being repeatedly told that something dodgy is going out with his employer, Stevie begins to suspect something dodgy is going on with his employer when he finds evidence that something dodgy is going on with his employer. Stevie ends up at loggerheads with his boss, Michael Caine, or My Cocaine as he's known in my house because if someone says "My cocaine" it sounds like someone saying Caine's name while impersonating him. I think the makeup department wanted to make My Cocaine look like a plastic doll or something, because he looks really weird in this movie. Anyway, Stevie ends up off in the Alaskan wilderness reconnecting with his "man-bear" spirit, and then sets out to become an environmental terrorist in order to stop the evil My Cocaine.

Bears appear in Steven Seagal is On Deadly Ground a lot, as do eagles, but I started to wonder if the bears weren't symbolic. There's a polar bear shown majestically strolling through the wilderness in the opening credits, as if to say that this bear's the ideal to strive for. After that, the bears appear in the background either stuffed or as rugs, during the time when Stevie's "spirit" is a shell of its former self, overpowered by greed while he's working for the diabolical My Cocaine. At the point where Stevie's pretty much forced into getting back on track a live bear is seen again, watching the proceedings with dignified approval. The next bear is again a bear skin, but it's part of the decor of a previously established set, and now exists as a reminder that Stevie is no longer a trophy for My Cocaine's mantelpiece. The only potential problem with this bear theory is that Stevie actually fights a bear during a vision quest where he rekindles his spirit, and the bear's presumably a symbol for his man-bear spirit. I think I'm still right about this bear thing, though, because while Stevie's worldly greed, symbolised by Stevie himself, does some damage to the man-bear spirit, ultimately the bear humiliates Stevie and forces him to take a cold, hard look at himself. So Stevie is battling his man-bear spirit, but his man-bear spirit prevails. This movie's fuckin' deep.

The depth of a film is often due to its director, and in this case that's one Steven Seagal. Using the success of Steven Seagal is Under Siege as leverage, Stevie got Steven Seagal is On Deadly Ground green lit. With no director reigning him in, Stevie's ego ran rampant, with often hilarious results. Stevie tried to make his character a flawed individual, but with so much ego worship on display it's nearly impossible to tell that's what he was aiming for. In fact, Stevie clearly watched a rough cut and felt there wasn't enough awe shown for his "flawed" character and inserted more compliments with some awkward ADR. Stevie may have taken some directing lessons from Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma and creator of the Toxic Avenger, because there's also a generous helping of non-Stevie complementing ADR and even a bunch of AESR (Additional Eagle Shriek Recording). Perhaps the oddest choice Stevie made as a director was casting an Asian woman as a member of the Inuit tribe that rescues him. Maybe there's a plot point cut out here, because when My Cocaine meets her the racial slur he uses is "slope," so her ethnicity must've had some explanation that's gone missing. Director Stevie's also didn't listen to anyone on set about fashion sense, so his wacky style is allowed to go full tilt boogie, resulting in getups that make his beret and singlet outfit from Steven Seagal is Out for Justice look positively restrained. At least director Stevie had the good sense to hire a good cinematographer that was able to capture the gorgeous locations well. Director Stevie also had the good sense to get himself a good supporting cast. Along with My Cocaine there's that funny guy from Scrubs (who gets Steven Seagal is On Deadly Ground's best lines), R. Lee Emery, Billy Bob Thornton and action stalwart Sven-Ole Thorsen.

As an action movie, Steven Seagal is On Deadly Ground is uneven. It's less than 10 minutes in to one of Stevie's best scenes, both for aikido and silliness. I found the conclusion of the scene anti-climactic when I first saw the film, but now I think it's brilliant and justifies the whole movie's existence. 30 minutes after the "Cupcake" scene there's only been one explosion, and then it's nearly an hour into the movie before there's another action sequence, and that's mostly shooting. There is some good, violent aikido coming, but even as someone who likes to laugh at Stevie I found this one gets dragged down by its lack of action, so people who aren't entertained by Stevie's pomposity will find it hard to sit through the long stretches where the film doesn't have much else on display.

The movie ends with a speech that Stevie shoehorned into the film, which maybe people will appreciate more now that he's been proven right, but at the time audiences found it really off putting. Stevie probably deserves credit for inspiring discussion about the environmental impact of corrupt big business, even if it was, "Did you get a load of that ponytailed douche rambling on at the end?"

The Disc
Steven Seagal is On Deadly Ground looks okay here, but it could still do with a clean up. There're some blotches and blemishes and a few spots, and the image could be sharper. It's okay, but certainly not a testimony to the best qualities of DVD.

The film has a 5.1 mix that gives the surrounds some effective use during the action scenes, but they're so few and far between that the track never really gets a chance to wow. There're also dubs in French and German that seemed of similar quality when I sampled them.

The DVD is sadly barebones.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
If Stevie had trusted another director, Steven Seagal is On Deadly Ground may have been an edgy (for the time) environmental thriller (with aikido). The director it did have lacked the subtly required to pull that off, so the message is too heavy handed and gets lost amidst the unintended comedy. The movie didn't give me constant giggles like Stevie's comedic masterpiece Out of Reach, but Steven Seagal is On Deadly Ground is unquestionably Stevie's greatest disasterpiece, the best amalgamation of the unintentional hilarity that would come later in Stevie's career and the aikido awesomeness that came earlier. The DVD is a lacklustre effort, so this is one Stevie film that desperately needs an HD upgrade.
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