July 25, 2021

The Under Siege Review

I recently watched the 1992 movie Under Siege, about a plot to steal nuclear Tomahawks from the battleship Missouri as she's on her way home from Desert Storm. It's thwarted by Stephen Seagal, playing an ex-SEAL turned cook, who has to go up against a rogue CIA operative (Tommy Lee Jones) and the ship's XO, with the aid of a Playboy Playmate who came onboard as part of the cover story for the attack. It is about the best possible movie that could be made up from those ingredients, and I actually enjoyed it.

Because Missouri was still in service while the movie was being filmed, most of it was shot aboard Alabama. The filmmakers worked around this quite well, and even I usually couldn't tell they were aboard the wrong ship unless I went looking for it. The one exception was some scenes on broadway, which is much narrower on a SoDak. Also, there were a couple of sets, most notably the bridge, where the conning tower seemed to have been magically removed. (Pearl Harbor did the same thing, and I suspect that filming in the cramped space around the actual conning tower isn't really possible. Running the ship from there would have been hard enough.) But on the whole, it was well done, and I rarely found myself actually looking for mistakes. There were also things which impressed, even though they were wrong. At the end of the movie, the bad guy launches two Tomahawks towards Hawaii, and there's references to things like TERCOM and DSMAC on the screens, precisely the systems which would have made it impossible to actually shoot Tomahawks at Hawaii. (Of course, they then trigger the self-destruct on the Tomahawk after Seagal gets the codes in a fight with the main bad guy, a system that doesn't actually exist.)

Obviously, there were lots of problems with the plot, which anyone with half a brain should be able to figure out. But that's par for the course for a movie of this kind, and if you're willing to accept that, it's OK. Probably the worst thing in it is Stephen Seagal, who has the acting chops of a block of wood, and whose fight scenes are underwhelming to modern eyes. But you can sort of tune him out, and luxuriate in the silliness of it all. I'm sure many of you are surprised by this, given how savage I was about Pearl Harbor and Midway. I think this comes down to taking each story on its own terms. Stories that go for high drama and a pretense of historical accuracy are judged very harshly. Stories that are inherently silly are judged by those standards, which shows up both with Under Siege and with Battleship, which I really liked. I actually liked it better than Under Siege, although that's probably due to it having a strong aspect of wish fulfillment for me. It's a worse movie, but both are at least fun to watch instead of fun to rant at.


  1. July 25, 2021Matt B said...

    Interesting review! I haven't seen Under Siege in a while, but I do remember it being a fun movie (even if not the greatest). I will half to watch it again, now that I am super into naval "things".

    (Also, I thought I was the only one that enjoyed Battleship even though its also not a great movie! I look forward to that review).

  2. July 25, 2021Anonymous said...

    Battleship has a plot that belongs in a porno…because it's porn for warship enthusiasts.

  3. July 26, 2021Doctorpat said...

    Martial arts nerd here, and one who was a martial arts nerd (and instructor) when Under Siege first came out:

    fight scenes are underwhelming to modern eyes

    It's not a modern eyes thing. When the Segal movies were fresh and new, the fight scenes still looked underwhelming to people comparing them to John-Claude Van Damme and Jackie Chan in their younger, more athletic days.

    The issue is that Segal's style, Aki-jitsu, is just really underwhelming. It looks like a shoving match. To people who actually know something about the style it's a lot more impressive, but as a movie spectacle it's rubbish.

    As a result of which, Segal began to add in a lot of flashy looking kicks and strikes because at least the movie audience understands those. Except that he isn't any good at them. (By action movie star standards. I'm sure he could take most people's head off, including my own.)

    So even people who do "get" his style hate all his later movies, because he went away from the stuff he's good at, to poorly done conventional stuff.

    Then he gained 50kg of blubber and his latest stuff is ridiculous.

    However, Under Siege was still when he was OK (providing you knew what he was doing).

    And the knife fight was just excellent. At least as a movie scene. I have no knowledge of knife fighting, but I've seen a couple of times when someone who definitely DOES know what they're doing had a go, and it didn't look like that scene at all. Though the examples I'm thinking of were one-sided enough that it was over in a second.

  4. July 26, 2021Emilio said...

    Oh, Erika Eleniak perfectly counterbalanced every possible problem with Steven Seagal... :-D

  5. July 26, 2021ike said...


    The first rule of knife-fighting is "You are going to get cut"

    Practical knife-fighting is basically:

    *Don't expose your big blood-vessels. *If you get an opening keep stabbing until your arm falls off. *Hope that the hits you take are superficial.

  6. July 26, 2021John Schilling said...

    Under Siege was Die Hard redone to the standard action-movie formula, where the Hero is an uber-elite alpha badass rather than an ordinary guy in the wrong place, the babe is a Babe(tm) with just enough action-girl cred to follow the Hero around, and the stakes are as close to Saving The World as possible rather than just saving a few people from some nasty criminals and reconciling with the Hero's estranged wife. Setting it on a battleship was just incidental, because another skyscraper would have made the parallel too obvious.

    It did give Segal an opportunity to set the record for biggest gun wielded by an action hero, which is a plus. But Tommy Lee Jones was no Alan Rickman.

    And the first rule of knife-fighting is, bring a gun. But you learn that lesson from Indiana Jones or Sean Connery, not Steven Segal.

  7. July 26, 2021Ian Argent said...

    Under Siege came here to kick ass and chew scenery, and did both excellently.

  8. July 26, 2021Garrett said...

    Now we need a review of Down Periscope.

  9. July 27, 2021cassander said...


    the three best submarine movies are Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide, and Down Periscope. Prove me wrong!

  10. July 27, 2021ryan8518 said...

    If we're requesting reviews of the greatest military movies of all time, we need a review of Pentagon Wars too (it and Down Periscope share a space on my dvd shelf).

  11. July 27, 2021Emilio said...

    @Garret: https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2003/april/leadership-secrets-down-periscope

  12. July 27, 2021tim shatz said...

    Garrett, think you missed Das Boat, which definitely beats Down Periscope. Beats the other two as well.

    But not for the T&A factor, which Down Periscope definitely has it beat.

  13. July 27, 2021Philistine said...

    I'm astonished we've gotten this deep into the conversation without anybody mentioning U-571.

    Oh, wait. You were talking about GOOD movies, weren't you?

    Seriously though - The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide are fun movies, but I'll take Run Silent, Run Deep over both of them.

  14. July 27, 2021bean said...

    HFRO and Run Silent Run Deep have both been mentioned in OT headers in the past, although not at length. I may do them again as full posts if there's demand, possibly in conjunction with Down Periscope, which I remember being fun.

  15. July 27, 2021Doctorpat said...

    Operation Petticoat?

  16. July 28, 2021Blackshoe said...

    @Doctorpat: I am not qualified to say if it's good or not, but in recent re-watches, I have appreciated how Seagal's fighting style is slow, and you can at least make really good sense of what's going on.

    Also, I appreciate how serious he's willing to try and deliver unbelievably dumb lines like "I'm going to take you to the bank, Senator. The blood bank."

  17. July 30, 2021Doctorpat said...

    If you want to see Segal at his worst (and trust me: you do NOT) then there is Against the Dark.

    It's a zombie film. And it's terrible by the standards of cheap zombie films.

    The whole thing is set in a huge hospital, where the zombie plague has gone through, and I think it starts with the classic "awake from a coma to find yourself in a stricken hospital" that probably dates back to Day of the Triffids.

    So you've got someone trying to get out, but the place is filled with zombies, and at least they tried to have some variety in people's reactions to zombification but...

    Eventually a band of hardened zombie killers turn up to rescue any still living people. Lead by Segal wielding a Katana. Only he's so overweight that he can't say his lines. The group would walk up a flight of stairs and Segal pants out: "Quick." Gasp for air "You guys check the." Gasp for air "Rooms down that" Gasp for air "Way." Gasp.

    I think he actually does one action sequence. Zombie jumps from behind door. Chop with katana. Gasp for air. End of action sequence for Steve.

    It was horrifying to watch. Yes, more horrifying than any of the zombies.

    And yet more entertaining than the Schwarzenegger zombie film.

  18. July 30, 2021Blackshoe said...

    I regret to say I have in fact seen Against the Dark, and yes, it is as awful as you describe. I also remember many of his other lines (and there aren't many) being rather obviously ADR'd in.

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