Monday, 27 May 2013



This was probably the last gasp of Steven Seagal's big-screen career as an action star: it wasn't long after this that we stopped going to see his movies and he started making dozens of cheap and shoddy DTV action movies instead of well-mounted films. Surrounding him with big budgets, familiar B-movie faces and lots of hardware to blow up couldn't disguise for very long the fact that the man was a faintly ridiculous figure with no sense of humour, and the real surprise is that it worked for as long as it did.

Maybe it's because this was only the seventh of Steven Seagal's action movies, before we all realised how terrible he could be, but in my memory I've always thought this film was pretty good, if only in comparison to his later films. Memory plays tricks though, and a rewatch of 1995's Under Siege 2 actually reveals it as pretty shoddy, and even more of a shameless xerox of the Die Hard formula than Under Siege. Back then it was Die Hard On A Battleship, now it's Die Hard On A Passenger Train as mad scientist Eric Bogosian hijacks his earthquake-generating satellite weapon from the US military, planning to sell it on the black market for a billion dollars AND wipe out Washington DC. His base is a passenger train which crosses the Dark Territory (where the signals cannot be traced), and in the best Hans Gruber tradition his team of mercenaries and thugs take the passengers as hostages. Except of course for restaurateur and former Navy SEAL Steven Seagal who just happens to be on board with his teenage niece (Katherine Heigl)....

The script - incidentally co-written by Cloverfield's Matt Reeves - is awful, with clunkingly obvious fill-in-the-blanks lines of dialogue such as "They found his car, but they never found the body" - lines from which you can fill in the plot twists yourself. Some of the optical effects shots are a bit on the ropey side, although I'll happily take them over soulless CGI, and Seagal himself still has the charisma of a photocopier. But it's more crunchily violent than Under Siege (still carrying an 18 certificate after around 2 minutes of cuts), and Basil Poledouris' score is loud and percussive during the action sequences but has a tendency to go for heroic fanfares every time Seagal does something awesomely heroic. But even by Seagal's standards it's not much of a film: it may be more polished and better resourced than most of his cheap Eastern European thudfests, but it still isn't any good. The subtitle "Dark Territory" appears on the DVD box, but not on the film itself (either here or on the UK cinema prints back in 1995).



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