U is for… Under Siege
I have finally seen Under Siege, and am all the better for it. Especially considering some of what I’ve watched for this site, Under Siege is well-paced and has some fun.
In Under Siege, directed by Andrew Davis, Steven Seagal plays Chief Casey Ryback, a cook aboard the USS Missouri. As the film begins, Ryback is working a normal shift with his crew, while XO Officer Commander Krill (Gary Busey) plans a surprise birthday party for Captain Adams (Patrick O’Neal). There’s a lot of strange tension in the scene, and ultimately Krill has Ryback locked in the meat freezer.
Krill has arranged a band, caterers, and Playboy model Jordan Tate (Erika Eleniak) to come entertain the Captain. As the party unfolds, it’s revealed that the band is not really a band and the caterers are not really caterers; they are really a terrorist group lead by William Stranix (Tommy Lee Jones), a former Navy Officer.
Stranix wants revenge, and has taken control of the battleship in order to enact it; his targets in the film include Honolulu, but he is angry at America in general and a one officer in particular. Lucky for America, Ryback, who was not taken hostage because he was locked up, if that makes sense, is no ordinary cook. Stranix and Krill dig deeper and learn that Ryback is a formal Navy SEAL. As this unfolds, Ryback’s skills have been apparent to the viewer, because no normal cook, even one employed by the Navy, has the hand-to-hand and weapons expertise that Ryback displays.
Ryback eventually teams up with Jordan, and then his fellow non-officers, and together they take down a submarine controlled by Strannix. Fortunately, Krill had transferred aboard the sub. After taking out more terrorists, Ryback and Stranix finally meet, but not before Stranix launches a Tomahawk missile at Honolulu. In a gritty fight, Ryback is able to defeat Stranix and take back control of the battleship, and redirect the missile.
The premise fits quite obviously into the action film genre of Die Hard on a ____, but its simplicity works, especially when a person is in the mood for some action.
On to the criteria!
A is for… Accents
Seagal doesn’t really speak with an accent, but he has a particular way of speaking that’s sort of hard to describe.
Jones has his Texan accent, the one that creates such beautiful comedic timing to so many of his lines across his filmography.
Doumer, Stranix’s third in command, has Colm Meaney’s Irish accent.
B is for… Bad Guys
The villains have ridiculous names. Krill? Stranix? Regardless…
The second they take over the party, it is clear Stranix and his men are well-organized and on a very particular mission. They are fast and know exactly what they are doing and how to get all of the sailors to comply. Like all terrorist groups, there’s a tech expert that is quite nerdy looking (Mr. Pitt, played by Richard Jones).
William Stranix quite obviously wants revenge against the US government for perceived mistreatment. He seems a little crazy, but until things really start to fall apart for him, he’s quite put together. A Pentagon member, Tom Breaker (Nick Mancuso), describes Stranix as being a high level covert operative who snapped under the pressure. Viewed as a threat, an order was given to “neutralize” him. Frankly, that’s a pretty good reason to want to get revenge. Once things fall apart for him, Stranix goes on a strange cartoon-character-related rant.
At the very least, it was a nice twist to see Tommy Lee Jones play a villain; he’s so often the straight man for the hero even when he’s the main character.
Krill is one of those guys who seems like he was always picked on, and worked his way up to a position of power yet still gets picked on, so he’s perpetually resentful. He’s so hateful that he’s prepared to drown his entire (former) crew in order to distract Ryback. Yet, he had no problem cross-dressing as a joke. The captain’s files on him say he needs psychological evaluation. If only he’d acted on it when he had the chance, before Krill killed him!
C is for… Chases
The only sorts of chases in the film are manhunts; it’s kind of hard to chase someone when you’re all on the same battleship.
D is for… Damsels
Jordan Tate is Miss July ’89, and is the only woman in the film at all aside from a quiet officer in the Pentagon. She’s on the ship as a little entertainment during the captain’s party; with the overwhelming greeting she gets as she exits the helicopter, the men have not seen a woman in a very long time.
She starts off kind of useless, considering she gets airsick on the helicopter and takes so many motion sickness pills she passes out in the giant cake from which she would be jumping. Ryback accidentally engages the cake, and Jordan performs part of her dance before realizing there’s no music and no noise. Ryback is annoyed that she didn’t see or hear anything, but she was in a cake! As far as excuses go, that’s a pretty good one.
She eventually becomes a strong character and help to Ryback; even though she’s scared and crying, she fights him and doesn’t sit there passively. She tells Ryback she has two rules: she doesn’t date musicians, and she doesn’t kill people. She does of course get captured at one point, but once she’s rescued she really comes into her own. She even shows a yeoman how to load a machine gun. She also shoots Doumer in order to protect Ryback.
She’s rather observant as well, as she notes to Ryback that, “The safest place on this ship is right behind you.” She earns her keep as a damsel, because she’s actually useful. Ryback seems like the type of guy who wouldn’t save someone unless he or she was useful and pulling his or her own weight in the rescue.
E is for… Explosions
Stranix shows how in control he is by using anti-aircraft guns to destroy a jet on its way to the Missouri.
Ryback sets a bomb in the kitchen, one that is detonated by the microwave.
Ryback blows up the helicopter on the deck.
Ryback blows up a hatch leading back into the ship from the deck.
He uses something as a bomb in the passageway within the ship. It looks sort of like a scuba tank, but it’s unclear.
Stranix, as he promised he would, blows up the chopper full of SEALs that’s on its way to the Missouri.
Ryback and his team blow up Stranix’s submarine using shells he happened to know were onboard.
…Ryback does a lot of blowing stuff up, doesn’t he?
F is for… Flashbacks
There are no flashbacks in Under Siege, though they might have allowed for a little bit more development of the characters.
G is for… Guns
Check out details at the IMFDB.
The bad guys use a variety of machine guns and hand guns, some with silencers and some without. It’s all kind of random, and it’s not like they really needed to be sneaky, considering how many of them there were. It’s not like there was a neighboring ship that could hear them.
The two bad guys Ryback locked in the freezer after his escape use their guns to weaken the lock and escape.
Obviously, the battleship has anti-aircraft guns, which marks a first for this website. Actually, use of a battleship is a first. It’s certainly a unique setting.
Ryback gives Jordan a machine gun, even though she’s extremely uncomfortable with it. He explains that he wants it set to shoot one round at a time, which is probably a wise decision. Giving her a gun at all is probably not the best decision, but he has limited options at that point.
Ryback doesn’t like guns, although it’s unclear as to whether this is a quirk of the character or simply a method of getting Seagal to show off more martial arts moves.
There’s a shootout on the deck after Ryback destroys the helicopter.
There’s a shootout in the passageway.
Ridiculously, Ryback double fists machine guns, his right hand pointing towards his left and his left hand pointing towards his right. Those guns must not have a lot of recoil.
The guns on the deck used to destroy the submarine are 5-inch guns.
Interestingly, the final hero-versus-villain fight is a knife fight, not a gun fight or simple fist fight.
H is for… Helicopters
Stranix, his men, and Jordan arrive on the Missouri via a tandem rotor military helicopter. This is the one Ryback later destroys.
The SEAL team sent by the Pentagon is traveling via helicopter before Stranix blows them up.
I is for… Improvisation
Under Siege is one of those films where it’s kind of obvious that there’s going to be a lot of improvisation. I mean, the hero in question may be in his element, but he’s unprepared, there are a lot of terrorists he’s fighting and he has to work quickly when they confront him, and the first time the viewer sees him is in a kitchen, which is generally a mecca of opportunities for improvisation.
Examples of Ryback improvising include:
-the bomb he makes out of kitchen supplies, which he puts in a mug that he then uses the microwave to detonate
-he uses paint thinner and a grenade to blow up the helicopter on the deck
-he uses a lifeboat as a shelter so he can use the SEAL magnaphone (I just have a thing for lifeboats being used as secret clubs, really)
-he impales a guy using one of those sawed-off I-beams the terrorists leave all over the ship
-he uses a jigsaw (or some type of saw, I’m not an expert on saws) to cut into a terrorist
-he uses the chain of the ship’s anchor as a ladder so he can get down to the water without splashing
Non-Ryback examples include the crew of the Missouri using a battering ram to spell out S-O-S, and also the bad guys using grappling hooks as weapons against Ryback when he’s in the water next to the submarine.
J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects
Considering most of the time this category is filled with guys leaping/falling through windows or weak floors, it’s not surprising that I don’t have any examples for it from a movie that takes place entirely on a battleship.
K is for… Kill Count
Ryback starts slowly, with the thugs sent to kill him in the meat locker.
He then kills two more in the engine room.
The welding team is four or five guys, though not all of those wounds looked mortal.
He does, however, seem to rip out a guy’s throat with his bare hand, which is quite intense.
He seems to prefer stabbing people, which makes sense with his comment to Jordan about not liking guns.
L is for… Limitations
At first Ryback is handcuffed, but he still does pretty well defending himself.
The problem is that Ryback is a Navy SEAL, on a NAVY battleship, facing terrorists who don’t know, at first, how much of a threat he is. He isn’t even working alone, not really, when the viewer considers that he’s in contact with the Pentagon. This isn’t John McClane arguing with 911 about whether or not to send a cop. It’s the freaking Pentagon!
It’s also Steven Seagal, and from what I can tell he doesn’t really do characters that are “vulnerable.” Feel free to picture me using air quotes when I say that.
M is for… Motivation
Ryback isn’t personally involved, at least not until he realizes his friend the captain is dead. Even after wanting revenge, or at least justice, Ryback is more focused on saving America and apprehending Stranix (okay, killing him) than he is any personal issue.
Stranix’s motivation is also clear: he definitely wants revenge. Well, truly his motivation is twofold: he wants revenge for Tom giving an order to have him killed, and he also wants to steal the tomahawk missiles onboard the ship, which he intends to sell for two hundred million dollars. It’s strange because that doesn’t seem like all that much money, even for 1992.
With respect to the orders to have him killed, Stranix rants about his perceived insanity as him being, “tired of coming up with last minute, desperate solutions to impossible problems created by other fucking people.” I’m pretty sure that’s how everyone feels about his or her job.
N is for… Negotiation
Stranix tells Tom there will be no negotiation and that he must reconsider his entire philosophy.
There really isn’t any negotiation, and actually the Pentagon seems to be ready to blame any failure in the mission/Stranix’s success on Ryback, if need be. They really don’t have a lot of options, really. A battleship is by definition defensible.
O is for… One Liners
Ryback: I got the dress, I forgot the pumps.
Ryback, after getting locked in the freezer: Another cold day in hell.
Ryback, to the private guarding him while locked up: Go get my pies out of the oven!
Stranix, to Tom: A revolution gets its name by always coming back around in your face. You tried to kill me, you son of a bitch, so welcome the revolution!
Ryback: What kind of babbling bullshit is this?
Ryback: I’m just a cook.
Jordan: A cook?
Ryback: A lowly, lowly cook.
Jordan: Oh my God, we’re gonna die.
Jordan, after Ryback asks why she’s screaming: I hate being alone.
Ryback: Do you hate being dead?
Doumer: What was that?
Stranix: That was a bomb, jackass.
Ryback: I support, women’s lib, don’t you?
Jordan: Only when it works in my favor.
(Which is really part of the problem—people want things to change, but only when it works for them. The rest of the time, everything that was fought for is viewed as an inconvenience.)
Ryback: You can court-martial me if I live, sir.
Admiral Bates (Andy Romano): If I goddamn can’t control you, I might as well support you.
Stranix, after seeing how much of a hindrance Ryback is to his plans: Why didn’t you hire this person? I don’t know what his price would have been, but it would have been worth it.
Stranix: There’s a difference—you have faith, I don’t.
Later, after Ryback kills Stranix: Keep the faith, Stranix.
P is for… Profession
Ryback is at first portrayed as merely a cook, though it’s obvious from the beginning, if a person is familiar with Steven Seagal, that Ryback is going to be much, much more than a cook. Similar to On Deadly Ground, Seagal’s character is mild mannered up until a threat occurs (so, ten minutes or so into the film), and then there’s a bizarre brawl scene used to demonstrate that the character (Ryback in this case) has a lot more going on than initially depicted.
Of course, perhaps the fight scene only provides the impetus for Krill to throw him into the meat locker.
The captain keeps calling him “Chief” Ryback, but Chief of what? It doesn’t seem to be clarified.
The indicator Stranix uses to know Ryback isn’t a “lowly cook” is that he’s using weapon knives as cooking knives.
Eventually it comes out, after Krill goes through the captain’s personal personnel files, that Ryback is an ex-SEAL, and is an expert in martial arts, explosives, weapons, and tactics (because of course being an expert in only one wouldn’t be good enough for Seagal). He’s also highly decorated, which the captain hints at earlier in the film. His security clearance had been revoked after a botched mission that was botched because of poor intelligence, and the only rank he could hold on the ship was that of yeoman or cook. The captain brought him aboard so he could finish out his 20.
Q is for… Quagmire
This is Seagal. At no time is his character in any semblance of real danger.
R is for… Reality, or Suspension of Disbelief
Considering the effort the filmmakers put into using a) an actual battleship for filming and b) using the name of an actual battleship for the film, they were going for an actually believable “what if” sort of premise. They don’t fail; at no point was I really thinking, “Yeah right,” or “That would never happen.” The limitations of the space and the technology at the time of filming limit what could and could not be created and attempted for filming. It’s always nice when real explosions are used, as well.
However, it’s almost like too much emphasis is placed on the Missouri being a real ship; why bother, when not all of the viewers would know the difference anyway? Would it make much of a difference if it was a fictitious ship? It was filmed on the Alabama, not the Missouri.
S is for… Sidekicks
Ryback certainly isn’t alone in this endeavor; pretty much from the get-go he has Jordan to help him carry things (so his hands are free to kill people) and in general assist him. He eventually also teams up with the other yeomen/cooks, and they provide extra backup. Ryback is also in contact with the Pentagon, which is feeding him information about Stranix.
T is for… Technology
Krill digs through the captain’s files for a set of 3.5 inch floppies, which apparently have the launch codes for the ship’s missiles on them. Just thinking about what I can’t fit onto a blank DVD and what they had to fit on a floppy disk is amazing.
Stranix and crew take over the control room to control the ship, which while it isn’t surprising, it’s always fun to see the inside of any sort of control room because most people haven’t been inside one.
Stranix uses one of the missiles to take out an observation point, taking away part of the Pentagon’s methods of following him.
Amusingly, Ryback uses what he calls a SEAL magnaphone in order to call the Pentagon, and Jordan asks if it’s like a car phone. Hello, the ’90s. Maybe I’m too young, but it’s almost impossible to remember a time when “satellite phones” were a huge leap in communications; I feel like they’ve always been there.
U is for… Unexpected Romance
In what is completely the opposite of “unexpected,” Ryback and Jordan kiss at the end of the movie. It’s at least foreshadowed earlier when she hugs him a couple of times.
V is for… Vehicles as Weapons
This is one of my favorite categories, so it’s a little disappointing that there wasn’t room for a vehicle to be thrown at someone. However, Ryback does blow up the helicopter, and I think it does injure someone.
W is for… Winning
Krill boards Stranix’s submarine (the one he was supposed to have destroyed when he was on a mission), and Ryback and his team blow it up using the 5-inch guns and shells he happened to know were lying around.
Stranix and Ryback get into—of all things—a knife fight in the control room. If nothing else, the scene is a great opportunity to see Tommy Lee Jones being a total badass. Ryback actually manages to basically kill him in three ways: he gouges out his eye with his thumb, he stabs him in the top of the head with his knife, and then he smashes his head through a monitor screen. Any of those individually would have been enough to end the fight, but Ryback just doesn’t take one option when he can take all three.
X is for… X-Rays, or Maybe You Should See A Doctor
I don’t think anything touches Ryback to give him a scratch until Stranix nicks his eyebrow during their climactic fight scene. He gets told he needs three or four stitches.
Y is for… Yesterday’s Problem Becomes Today’s Problem
This is one of those films featuring a bad guy that has a perceived slight and wants to enact revenge. In the case of Stranix, it’s a pretty big slight, and he’s justifiably angry. Had the Pentagon done better research on Stranix, they’d know where he is and that he isn’t dead, and also that he hadn’t destroyed the submarine like he was supposed to. They also might have gotten him help before he went nutso.
Z is for… The Zone, in the
There’s a nice little montage of Ryback utterly focused while make a bomb from pieces of a missile.
Quite clearly Die Hard on a Battleship. This is not necessarily a bad thing. There are even a couple of little homages to Die Hard, such as Ryback leaping from the exploding helicopter while attached to the deck by a chain, similar to the way McClane leaps from the roof as a helicopter explodes, attached to the roof by a fire hose. Also, Stranix uses the term “jackoff” where McClane uses “jerkoff,” and Stranix at one point says “Happy trails,” a la McClane’s utterance of, “Happy trails, Hans.”
The film opens with a lot of shots of the battleship, which are used to create the illusion of the ship being at sea, even though it was filmed on a ship anchored in a harbor. All of these shots are reminiscent of the basically full hour of submarine footage in Ice Station Zebra.
I’ve never really seen Gary Busey in anything before; certainly not in recent memory. My first real introduction to him was him constantly being mocked by Joel McHale on The Soup for being kind of crazy. Add to that the stupid Amazon TV commercial he’s in (“Hello, plant. Hello, pants.”) and it is absolutely impossible to take him seriously.
SO NINETIES with that weird little dance contest moment. That song never fails to bring me back to roller skating parties when I was a kid.
There is a ludicrous amount of tension between Ryback and Krill regarding the captain’s party, and it really doesn’t make sense unless Krill knows that Ryback is a threat and needs to be neutralized. It’s surprising that Krill actually doesn’t know Ryback’s history and abilities, considering the way he seems too eager to get him out of the way. The tension is extremely awkward until Krill is revealed as a villain.
That said, it makes absolutely no sense to lock Ryback in the freezer unless he knows Ryback is a threat. Especially considering the kitchen is the only unsecured place on the ship, why leave anyone there, even assuming he isn’t dangerous to the mission? If Krill hadn’t been ridiculous and petty, Ryback would have been with the other crewmembers, and likely wouldn’t have had a chance to fight back. Certainly not without somehow clawing his way out of the forecastle.
I mentioned it before, but the sailors are really excited to see a woman. She gets a huge standing ovation just for climbing aboard, let alone taking her top off.
There’s an officer in front of the party played by one of the members of Lambda Lambda Lambda in Revenge of the Nerds. I love that movie. And hey, the guy I’m talking about is even in the frame shown on the one of the videos linked at the top of the page. His name is Bernie Casey.
This next point is absolutely, totally me just being weird, but I swear Stranix’s style and mannerisms are reminiscent of Damon (Ian Somerhalder) in The Vampire Diaries. It’s completely silly, but it was really distracting.
Stranix’s men frisk Private Nash (Tom Wood) before they kill him. …why? He likely wouldn’t fight back, and why not just kill him right away? How many meat lockers could there possibly be that they had to know the exact right one before they killed the kid?
The welding crew fight scene had a lot of weird cutaways as Ryback was stabbing people; it was really fake and distracting. Not that I want a guy to actually get stabbed, but I guess I’m used to a lot more realistic-looking violence in my violence.
It’s been20-something years, and I still can’t see Colm Meaney as anyone other than O’Brien from Star Trek.
I half expected someone to say, “Don’t sink my battleship.” Or some other board game-related joke.
Overall Under Seige is a lot of fun, but it would have been really great to develop the character of Ryback more (making a guy a Mary Stu isn’t really developing him), and definitely Stranix. Or have Ryback and Stranix interact more before the final fight scene. A lot of the time action films really are only as good as their villains, and while Tommy Lee Jones is fantastic as always, there was room for more there. Definite points for effort for filming on a real ship and convincingly making it look like it was at sea! These days most of the backgrounds would have been CGI.