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Under Siege 2: Dark Territory Review

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by Casimir Harlow Sep 14, 2008

    Under Siege 2: Dark Territory Review
    It made sense for Steven Seagal to do a sequel to, arguably, his best movie. The martial arts star's jump into movies involved quite a high success curve, his very first film - Above the Law - still standing up as one of his better movies. Unlike his era counterparts Snipes and Van Damme (not to mention bigger profile stars like Arnie and Sly), he went straight for the jugular right from the outset, with four decent starring vehicles and a fifth movie that saw him gain global recognition (even if Under Siege was a Die Hard rip-off, it was a very good one). Unfortunately, he did not really stick to what he knew best - perhaps the power went to his head - and went off the rails with his sixth film, On Deadly Ground. He was big enough for the Studios to let him even direct it - which he did so quite adeptly - but unfortunately his misguided (even if they were honestly, intentionally meant to move people and change their ways) environmental preaching sank this vessel totally. Misplaced, misunderstood, his words even left fans cold and On Deadly Ground left Seagal faced with needing another hit to return him to public favour. Whilst Under Siege 2 did not quite do the job, it was a good move on his part, returning the Aikido master to his best role thus far, as the ex-Navy Seals chef who's pretty nifty with a blade. And as Die Hard rip-off sequels go, this one does a fairly good job at being different from the original.

    Casey Ryback runs a restaurant. Well, that is when he's not being whisked off on some clandestine black ops mission for the Government. His latest mission is something of a private one, with his estranged brother dead in a plane crash, he has to escort his also-estranged niece by train to the funeral. He can cook, he can make bombs out of cake mix, he can shoot round corners and is pretty handy in a knife fight, but re-connecting with a teenage relative who he hasn't seen in years? That one he's not trained for. Thankfully, before he gets into too many awkward familial situations, terrorists hijack the train and take the passengers hostage, forcing Ryback to revert to what he's best at - sneaking around the train shooting people, snapping necks and blowing stuff up, working his way up the food chain with a view to stopping whatever diabolical plan the terrorists have in store. And what is this plan? Well, they've commandeered a top secret weaponised satellite (their control of which remains undetectable so long as they stay moving - hence the train) which they plan to use to blow up the Pentagon if enough foreign powers invest in their diabolical scheme. With the lame-brain commanders back home feebly unable to do anything but chase their own tails, it is up to Ryback to single-handedly save the day, yet again.

    Under Siege 2: Dark Territory takes the basic Under Siege (and thus Die Hard variant) principles and applies them in a way - and with a setting - that actually feels quite fresh and original. Terrorists on a train may not seem like that exciting an idea, but it works well (certainly far better than Speed 2's terrorists-on-a-cruise liner) and allows for plenty of moving-vehicle, close-combat, shootout and stunt action. The opening set-up is slightly unbelievable but it is nothing action fans cannot handle, and once said action kicks off, it doesn't let up right until the ludicrous final act. Although Under Siege will probably always be Seagal's most professional, enjoyable movie, its sequel manages to come remarkably close - certainly in terms of entertainment value.

    Seagal himself made a clever play returning to his most famous role and, arguably, should have repeatedly the plan for success by doing a third movie during his current DTV lull. It may have returned him a bit of his glory, or may have at least allowed him to go out with a big bang, either way a third film is probably all fans have thought about for the last decade. The man polished up his act for his return here, ditching his tassels, beads and unique outfits in favour of a simple black shirt and suit. He looks slimmer, fitter and faster here than he has done since, and is just as convincing as the Navy Seal-trained chef who simply cannot be stopped. It's not as if his acting skills have to be particularly stretched, but he certainly seems at ease in the role, his words flowing a lot more naturally than some of his opposing cast members.

    His niece is played by the gorgeous Katherine Heigl, who you may have recently seen in the likes of Knocked Off and 27 Dresses. Heigl gets a slightly odd part - far from the screaming damsel in distress, she's a young, precocious and vivacious teen who has a couple of martial arts moves up her sleeve and refuses to give up without a bit of a fight. She still often finds herself more of a hostage than anything else, but at least she wasn't a Playmate in a cake. Oddly, in her dialogue with Seagal, she is actually the one who comes across as far less convincing, much more stilted, but perhaps that was just her inexperience at the time - this was her first major movie, and she was still just 17. Morris Chestnut plays the token useless male helper for the hero, his film fame non-existent, his filmography almost book-ended by two Seagal movies, which is not necessarily something to be proud of. His irritating porter is almost as annoying as Eleniak's Playboy bunny in the first instalment, almost making him the Jar Jar Binks of this movie. In terms of villains, nobody can really best the winning combination of Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey from Under Siege, but the eccentric Eric Bogosian (a poor man's Elliot Gould) and the mercenary Everett McGill (a poor man's R Lee Ermey) do reasonably well at providing diabolical scheming and cold-blooded killing.

    Action-wise, the movie seldom lets up, with Seagal himself often seen walking atop or along the side of a moving train (stunts that the man would probably never consider doing these days), and plenty of room for both decent gunfights (Seagal still has some pretty unusual ways of shooting guns - the twin uzis sequence from Under Siege now becomes him shooting accurately around corners with a machine pistol) and solid martial arts scenes (wrist snapping, neck breaking), culminating in another Kali-based knife-fight (the highlight of Under Siege), only this time Seagal has to fend off an attacker without a knife himself, which is quite impressive. Overall, Under Siege 2 is a solid sequel to a successful Die Hard variant, and probably marks one of Steven Seagal's top 5 movies, certainly being one of his most accessible for more general viewing audiences.