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MOVIE REVIEW : Seagal Directs ‘Deadly Ground’ Message

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With “On Deadly Ground” (general release), Steven Seagal not only makes his directorial debut but also risks combining action with a message, a deadly serious, intelligent protest against the threat to the environment posed by the oil industry. He also does some consciousness-raising in regard to the rights of Native Americans and the spiritual values their Inuit culture has to offer all of us.

Although you could certainly wish that Seagal and his writers, Ed Horowitz and Robin U. Russin, could have found less preachy ways to express themselves, “On Deadly Ground” is otherwise lively entertainment for action fans. Seagal is to be admired for using his stardom to send a warning; most people at the first show at the AMC Century 14 last Friday sat through Seagal’s much-publicized long, impassioned speech. What he has to say is important, and he may succeed in reaching a segment of the audience who have never thought about the environment.

In plot, “On Deadly Ground” is simplicity itself. Seagal plays an oil rigger for Michael Caine’s oil company. Caine is racing against a tight deadline in getting his Alaskan oil rig and refinery in operation. If he misses the deadline, his oil rights, which he’s held for 20 years, revert to the Eskimos. Nevertheless, Seagal, a regular Red Adair when it comes to putting out oil fires, discovers that Caine has been cutting corners to the extent of endangering the environment; this knowledge, in turn, endangers Seagal’s life.

“On Dangerous Ground,” a handsome, big-budget production, has a comic book sensibility in which Seagal is a super-hero up against villains of the deepest hue. However, along with his own star presence, Seagal has lined up other strong pluses. The majesty of cameraman Ric Waite’s images of Alaska’s snowy wilderness is matched by Basil Poledouris’ sweeping score. Best of all is Caine’s deliciously nasty villain, hot-tempered, ruthless, his evil underlined by a dark, severe dye job. Caine’s chief minion is an ultra-hyper John C. McGinley, and Joan Chen is the beautiful Native American activist with whom Seagal shares the final fade-out.

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‘On Deadly Ground’

Steven Seagal: Forrest Taft

Michael Caine: Michael Jennings

Joan Chen: Masu

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John C. McGinley: MacGruder

A Warner Bros. release of a Seagal/Nasso production. Director Steven Seagal. Producers Seagal, Julius R. Nasso, A. Kitman Ho. Executive producers Robert Watts, Jeffrey Robinov. Screenplay by Ed Horowitz, Robin U. Russin. Cinematographer Ric Waite. Editor Robert A. Ferretti. Costumes Joseph G. Aulisi. Music Basil Poledouris. Production designer William Ladd Skinner. Art director Lou Montejeno. Set decorators John Anderson, Ronald R. Reiss. Sound Edward Tise. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.

MPAA rating: R, for strong violence, language. Times guidelines: A few scenes of extremely brutal murders.


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