On Deadly Ground

The American Eagle. What it represents for the United States of America is the unity and tradition of a nation. What it represents for the Steven Seagal-led On Deadly Ground are the absolute strings such values are held up by. On Deadly Ground is on thin ice with its heavily billed cast and Alaska-based mishaps. Seagal, who has phoned it in for years now and couldn’t truly act in the first place, is a shaky man to lead a feature like this. He is tall and can move his mouth in a way that makes words. That is all On Deadly Ground requires of any of its cast members, and it is startling that some fail to make much traction in that area. But On Deadly Ground dares to ask the ultimate question. Do cool men look at explosions, or do they not?

With the likes of Michael Caine and John C. McGinley providing some ample, if not incredibly strained performances, On Deadly Ground at least has the macho gusto so popular in this action genre period. Seagal sells that not because he is a good performer but because he is an embodiment of the time. The flask-swigging poorly dressed macho bloke with a ponytail and slicked-back hair, wandering around bars and lighting cigarettes on potentially dangerous toxic fires. Even Mike Starr shows up, more so he can provide Seagal with a punching bag for his ego-trip fantasies of wandering around bars, staring at men bigger than he is and scaring the hell out of secondary heroes for no good reason.

But Seagal has no good reason to be part of On Deadly Ground. He provides a hollow role that sees Forrest Taft that sees him pair up with Silook’s tribe in a film that, thanks to the lacklustre world of contemporary references conjures images not of rebirth as On Deadly Ground would like to imply but of The Simpsons Movie and the epiphany of Homer Simpson. Perhaps that is because Seagal straps himself into the directing chair, a move that sees an absolute power play of montage moments that make the man look like a personification of the American Dream. He wrestles a bear into the waters of purity as tribespeople breathe deeply as though they require a cold and flu remedy. Beyond that, Caine is pressing forward with an abominable American accent, the underlying environmentalism commentary is lost to Seagal wanting to be both an American hero and a man that assimilates into native American culture and also wants to crown himself director of the great staple of American film consumerism.

He does not achieve any of that all that well. Seagal directs On Deadly Ground with himself in mind and nothing more. Taft is the purveyor of all American machoism, the great leader of the genre after Schwarzenegger and Stallone started to fumble it. Seagal is not good nor inventive in that responsibility to adapt and create new and challenging features. Muzzling the one defining trait of Caine by slapping a Texan accent on him that he, naturally, cannot instigate with a thick cockney accent. But as Seagal runs around in a bullskin shirt with a shotgun and Joan Chen in tow, it is hard not to lose oneself to the absolute farcical nature of the American action feature. Remember how low it could go, and move on.

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