So You Don’t Overlook It: My Review of “On Deadly Ground,” Starring Steven Seagal

I’ve been in the habit of sharing reviews through my blogging, so I wanted to double back and share this little gem that I watched for RetroPerspective, where we’re walking through 1994 one week at a time, sharing re/viewings of films on the 25th anniversary of their release.

There have been a lot of clunkers so far, but few as memorable as Deadfall and On Deadly Ground. Since I already shared my review of Deadfall, here’s the one for On Deadly Ground…a movie which seems to have singularly wrecked Steven Seagal’s career while somehow leaving Michael Caine (!) untouched.

Steven Seagal On Deadly Ground
This…this is about as emotionally deep as we get in this movie.

My Review of On Deadly Ground, Starring Steven Seagal

This is a singularly baffling action movie. It’s out of place and time, sure of what it wants to be, but unable to achieve even a fraction of it. There’s not even a sense of fun about the action, which can and should be the saving grace of something that seems like it was created from a discarded draft of Commando. (That’s a so-bad-it’s-still-bad-but-fine-let’s-watch-it Schwarzenegger movie if you’re not familiar.)

You could argue that in the hands of a more experienced director, this may have been something worthy of its goal: an action movie with an important message of environmental stewardship. You’d be lying to yourself, though, because there’s roughly enough material here for an episode of Walker: Texas Ranger. The dialogue is on par with Tommy Wiseau’s efforts in The Room or Neil Breen in…anything Neil Breen has written.

Seagal seems to have given only one direction throughout the filmmaking process: more cartoonish. I’d almost feel bad for Michael Caine, but he’s had a storied career and I’m sure he’s been in movies equally bad to this one I’ve mercifully avoided.

I’ll also say that this is a movie with an unhealthy fascination with testicles. There are so many nut shots in the first reel that it gets old, and then when the old man is killed with death-by-pipecutter-to-the-balls, it’s a crescendo moment of male genital torture. Not to be outdone, Seagal then has his character beset upon by dogs who target…go on, you know where.

What’s the craziest moment? It’s hard to choose. Our selections include:

  • Seagal traveling through the spirit world is in contention.
  • An environmentally-concerned super soldier who stockpiled tons of C4 causing more environmental damage in one night than even the most irresponsible company does in six months.
  • A monologue at the end of the movie that feels like the screen equivalent of John Galt’s verbose musings.
  • A helicopter searching the Alaskan mountains for someone who possibly was thrown from an explosion at sea level.
  • Seagal’s entire performance.

I could go on, but it almost feels mean at this point. I know that everyone who works on a film wants to do their best. The actors and actresses show up and want to have something that reaches an audience and resonates with critics, that can act as a calling card for future roles.

Traditionally I give movies half a star if only for the fact that they were made and released. A lot of hard work goes into getting something out into the multiplexes.

I struggle to think of a reason to give this even half a star, still. But I will because some of the moments are so bat guano nuts I did get a laugh. And seeing a young…well, you have to watch to see who has a bit part, or listen to RetroPerspective to find out who it is.