Should I Watch..? Under Siege 2: Dark Territory
What's the big deal?
Under Siege 2: Dark Territory is an action thriller film released in 1995 and is the sequel to the 1992 film Under Siege. Like its predecessor, the movie stars Steven Seagal as ex US Navy SEAL Casey Ryback who is called into action again on board a train hijacked by terrorists. The film is directed by Geoff Murphy and is his most financially successful film to date, grossing just over $100 million worldwide. The title refers to a railroad term for a section of railroad track that has no train signals and communication between train dispatchers and railroad workers isn't possible. Such areas, known as dark territories, are more likely to see train collisions than normal. The film was not as well received as Under Siege and also took less than the first film at the box office. Despite his overall reluctance to this project, Seagal would negotiate his way into the director's chair for his pet project On Deadly Ground by agreeing to appear in this so I imagine he's fairly philosophical about it.
What's it about?
Now that he has retired from the US Navy, Casey Ryback is now working as a chef at a café in Denver. Escorting his estranged niece Sarah to Los Angeles to visit her father's grave, Casey decides to make a trip of it and together, they board the Grand Continental train travelling through the Rocky Mountains towards Los Angeles. However, armed mercenaries take over the train mid-way through the journey and herd the terrified passengers to the back of the train as hostages.
The hijackers are led by Travis Dane, a former government hacker who helped develop a secret satellite weapons system called Grazer One. Dane is able to take control of Grazer and begins threatening to destroy a target of his choosing - an underground nuclear reactor beneath the Pentagon. However, his goons forgot to double-check the hostages because Ryback slips away from the passengers and together with train porter Bobby Zachs, begins his one-man quest to retake the train before disaster strikes.
Richard Hatem & Matt Reeves *
Release Date (UK)
6th October, 1995
What's to like?
Like the first film and against all odds, this fairly average action flick is lifted by the perpetually calm presence of Seagal. Channelling his inner Zen or whatever he calls it, Seagal remains a quality leading man when it comes to the rough-and-tumble of these kind of roles. The action scenes are well shot and choreographed, distracting you from the realisation that this is essentially Die Hard on a train. But then again, the first one was simply Die Hard on a battleship so I wasn't too surprised.
Heigl hadn't quite become the actress she is now but she gives enough hints of personality to suggest that the role needn't just be relegated to hostage-in-waiting. Obviously, Bogosian isn't going to take on the Pony-Tailed One in a scrap so instead, we have McGill's lead mercenary who (and I loved this touch!) is a former pupil of Ryback's back at Navy HQ. Both men sneer and snarl with appropriate amounts of evil and delirium and both have an understanding that there isn't any need to bring your A-game to the picture. Considering the vast amount of rubbish that pollutes Seagal's filmography like an oil slick, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory is one of his better ones. The first film remains far and away his best so far but against nonsense like Half Past Dead and straight-to-DVD garbage like Belly Of The Beast, this actually looks like a half-decent picture.
- Seagal was furious with the casting director when he returned from holiday to find that Gary Busey had signed on to play the baddie - despite appearing in the first film as another baddie. The contract Busey signed meant that he was paid $750'000 regardless of whether he was in this film or not!
- The script, as written by Matt Reeves & Richard Hatem, was intended as a stand-alone picture and not a sequel to Under Siege or any other film.
- Despite being ten years before coming to wider attention in TV hospital drama Grey's Anatomy, this was not Katherine Heigl's debut film role. She first appeared in the Juliette Lewis drama That Night in 1992.
What's not to like?
The film does drop the ball on a number of occasions. The script isn't anything like as good as the first film - Dane's motivations seem to change whenever he feels like it and Bogosian's wide-eyed maniac simply isn't as interesting as Gary Busey's treacherous first mate or Tommy Lee Jones' psychotic hippie with his finger on the button. The film is a loud and dumb excuse for pyrotechnics, fisticuffs and shoot-outs and while action fans will lap it up, I needed something more. Some explanation might have been nice regarding the scenes with all the top military brass sat around a table, grimly ordering air-strikes. What was the deal with Nick Mancuso's dodgy advisor lurking around the shoulders of the admiral played by Andy Romano? And more confusingly, why was an actor with the stature of Kurtwood Smith relegated to playing a minor part in these scenes?
There are other issues too. Murphy's direction doesn't feel as polished as Andrew Davis' work on the first film and the film lacks the quality that its $60 million budget should have guaranteed. And for all of Seagal's skill during the film's many action sequences, his acting range remains limited to a single personality which is that of a man who whispers whenever he speaks and who expresses emotion with a simple narrowing of his eyes.
Should I watch it?
Under Siege 2: Dark Territory is a reminder of how far and how quickly Seagal's stock fell when the action genre began upping its game. It's a film made for an audience ten years too late when action films were rough-and-ready affairs and not bothered about things about weak scripts and weaker actors. Compared to the rest of the Action Movie Brotherhood, Seagal's lack of personality means that you don't invest yourself as much in his movies as you might with Schwarzenegger, Stallone or Snipes. It's a film that is fine in its own skin but not so comfortable stood next to the competition.
Great For: Seagal devotees, action fans, train enthusiasts
Not So Great For: fans of the first film, demanding viewers, plot-hole spotters
What else should I watch?
Seagal's best movies were always at the beginning of his career with films like Above The Law and the aforementioned Under Siege. But all too quickly, the hits started to dry up - Fire Down Below (6) put the disaster into "environmental disaster", much like the similarly themed On Deadly Ground which saw Seagal face off against Michael Caine, of all people. I can't say I was too surprised - Fire Down Below sounds like a warning for imminent flatulence.
Seagal's main competition at the time would have come from the Muscles From Brussels himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Now largely known for his lager commercials and a quick appearance in The Expendables 2, JCVD was on a roll in the early Nineties with hits like Universal Soldier and Time Cop and even a cameo in Friends. Seagal, alas, could only dream of such heights.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox