Dawn Dabell examines Under Siege 2: Dark Territory for the latest Axis Of Action article, an all-action sequel starring Steven Seagal, Katherine Heigl and Eric Bogosian.
Under Siege 2: Dark Territory started out life as just another action film but the script was rewritten to turn it into a sequel to the successful Under Siege (1992). Steven Seagal was once again brought in to reprise his role of chef Casey Ryback, the terrorist-fighting ex-Navy SEAL who must single-handedly (well with the help of some unfortunate soul who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time) save a load of hostages while also managing to stop a nuclear weapon being fired. Under Siege 2 is essentially the first movie again, with the action moved to a train rather than set aboard a US battleship as was the case in the original.
Former Navy SEAL Casey Ryback (Steven Seagal) is taking his niece Sarah (Katherine Heigl) to Los Angeles after the death of her parents. They board the Grand Continental train, but unbeknown to Ryback, Travis Dane (Eric Bogosian) – a former member of the CIA who is believed to be dead – has already boarded the train along with his team of mercenaries headed up by Marcus Penn (Everett McGill). Dane and his men take the passengers hostage and use the train as a mobile control centre from where they can take control of the secret defence satellite Dane designed while working for the government. Dane plans to destroy the Pentagon with the defence satellite, leaving nuclear mass destruction in its wake. With everyone contained in one of the train’s compartments, it’s left to Ryback to win back control of the train and stop the plot to destroy the Pentagon by taking Dane and his men down. Will Ryback once again save the day? Will he save his niece before they discover who she is? Or will the terrorists get their way?
Steven Seagal plays the role in a similar vein to the first movie, with plenty of one-liners to amuse fans. His character’s resourcefulness never fails to entertain, with bombs made from items left lying around kitchens and his ability to kill numerous bad-guys without suffering barely a scratch. Seagal certainly isn’t a great actor, but if you view his films as mere simple-minded fun then he certainly ticks the boxes.
The main villain here doesn’t live up to the heights of Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey from the first movie. Jones and Busey were everything you wanted them to be: wacky, psychotic and amusing. They provided audiences with many laugh-out-loud moments while remaining edgy and dangerous, unlike Eric Bogosian who plays the unstable genius intent on blowing up Pentagon this time around. Bogosian isn’t terrible as the villain (he’s actually moderately believable in the role) but trying to follow in the footsteps of Jones is a difficult task for any actor, and it required someone with a bigger range and a greater ability to pull off the evil madman role. Other names proposed for the role of Dane were Jeff Goldblum and Julian Sands. One can’t help but wonder what the film would have been like if someone like Goldblum had taken on the villainous role… he would certainly have upped the quality of the production, giving it that little something extra that Bogosian simply isn’t able to provide.
Katherine Heigl is pleasing enough as Ryback’s niece. At the time she had only starred in three films over the previous three years, so her performance in this is perfectly decent. Heigl provides the right levels of teenage angst to be believable as a young woman ready to rebel against her previously AWOL uncle.
Gary Busey was offered a role in the film by producer Jon Peters although his character was killed off in the first film. After casting, it transpired that Peters had never actually seen the first film so he didn’t realise until too late that the actor couldn’t simply reprise his role. Seagal claims it was he who made the final decision to fire him from the feature, just a handful of days before filming began. He demanded Busey be taken off the picture as it would be too hard to believably work his character back into the plot. There are various figures quoted for how much money Busey received from the studio for this casting error. Some state he received $10k for the inconvenience of being offered a role and then being turned away, while other sources including the LA Times quote a much larger figure. In one of their articles they stated “The actor [Busey] reportedly was being paid $750,000 whether he was in the movie or not.” Whatever the figure, it’s not a bad amount for not appearing in a single frame of the film.
That’s not the only faux-pas that took place in the casting stakes. Former Playboy playmate Jenny McCarthy auditioned for a part in the movie, but she has made claims since that Seagal asked her to strip as part of her audition even though the role for which she was auditioning contained no nudity (Seagal has refuted the claims via his spokesperson). In the end the role of Kelly went to Sandra Taylor, who went on to feature in a Playboy pictorial article to promote Under Siege 2: Dark Territory’s release.
One thing which succeeds in making Under Siege 2 a better-than-average action movie is the fantastic score by musical maestro Basil Poledouris. He makes the movie a joy to listen to with his atmospheric and exciting score… it is truly wonderful.
Although it’s been twenty years since this sequel was released, Seagal is reportedly planning to make a third entry in the series, set, if rumours are to be believed, in Russia. His dream for the project is to make a film “where Russian special forces and American special forces work together to combat terrorism”. Whether the film will see the light of day, with audiences once again able to view Seagal in the role of Navy SEAL-cum-chef Casey Ryback, only time will tell.
Under Siege 2: Dark Territory is easy viewing. It’s fun and doesn’t try too hard to alter the winning formula of the first movie. If you found Under Siege entertaining, then chances are you’ll also find this offering just as agreeable. Grab a few beers, sit back and enjoy the ride!
MOM Rating: 6.5/10