On Deadly Ground (1994)

On Deadly Ground poster

Tagline: His Battle To Save The Alaskan Wilderness And Protect Its People Can Only Be Won…On Deadly Ground
Director: Steven Seagal
Writers: Ed Horowitz, Robin U. Russin
Starring: Steven Seagal, Michael Caine, Joan Chen, John C. McGinley, R. Lee Ermey, Shari Shattuck, Billy Bob Thornton, Richard Hamilton
18 | 1hr 41mins | Action, Adventure, Thriller
Budget: $50,000,000 (estimated)


There is a story about Steven Seagal which may or may not shock you. One day, an executive walked into Seagal’s trailer and found the star weeping. ‘Oh, I’m reading this script,’ Seagal explained, his head shaking in disbelief. ‘It’s the most incredible script I’ve ever read.’ ‘That’s fantastic,’ the executive said, ‘Who wrote it?’ ‘I did,’ the star replied.

It is this kind of self-gratifying smugness that permeates Seagal’s directorial debut On Deadly Ground, the story of an environmentally conscious, gun-toting asshole who takes on a corrupt oil refinery after the murder of an old friend. In his eternal arrogance, Seagal probably thought he was making some kind of moral difference with this astonishingly self-satisfied tale, a fact punctuated by an epilogue in which he takes to a podium and recites Wikipedia’s page on climate change, oozing godliness as a cast of awestruck extras fawn and bow before him. It is perhaps worth noting that he would never direct again.

Seagal Director
Seagal figures out how to use his new telescope…wait a minute!

The movie begins with a similarly shocking exercise in machismo, as Seagal’s Forrest Taft, dressed in Native American colours, steps onto the scene of a rig fire with a casual aplomb that results in the comment ‘Hey, what’s cookin?’ In hindsight, the actor has improved tremendously in recent years – which isn’t surprising since he has basically played variations of the same character for more than three decades – and I was startled by how wooden his delivery was at times, often making Schwarzenegger sound like Morgan Freeman at his most deep and heartfelt. Stepping in to do the job of a hundred helpless extras, Seagal approaches the blaze to off-screen whispers of ‘Hey, Forrest is here!’ and ‘We’re gonna see some action now!’ before promptly disposing of the fire . . . by blowing it up.

Okay, just a few questions: Firstly, how did a nature preserver get tied-up with a ruthless oil barren who exudes such a suffocating air of treachery? I mean, his job is to control potential disasters, but with a bomb? In spite of this being an improbable method of fire containment, it only adds to the pollution he will later rally against. Is this guy taking the piss, or what?

Seagal 2
Seagal and co-star Sven-Ole Thorsen stop for a quick dance.

Secondly, why would a philosophising martial artist with a strong social conscience go around cleaning house in local bars? Not only that, he also makes a point to embarrass one ringleader for a full ten minutes, preening in front of a crowd of grinning advocates and taking great pride in his ability to humiliate. How many environmentalists do you know who would go around blowing holes in people’s faces and cutting down trees to use as deadly traps. I mean, this guy uses so many explosives he may as well run on petrol.

The movie’s antagonist, played by a strangely one-dimensional Michael Caine, does half as much damage to the environment than our Native hero. Michael Jennings is the CEO of Alaska’s Aegis Oil Company, a caricature of such black and white delineations that he could give Monty Burns a run for his money. Jennings is determined to finish building his state of the art oil rig before land rights are returned to the Alaskan Natives, and cuts some rather dangerous corners in the process. Rig foreman Hugh Palmer (Hamilton) realises this, and when Forrest tries to convince his employers to run their business in a way that is kind to the environment, Jennings quickly puts a hit out on them both, and almost succeeds.

Seagal 3
Environmentalist Forrest gets ready to blow up a tree.

Luckily for Forrest, a remote Eskimo tribe are on hand to nurse him – very quickly – back to health, and after he is rendered unconscious by the touch of an eagle feather, Forrest goes on the most hackneyed spiritual journey ever put to celluloid, recruiting the tribe leader’s impossibly beautiful daughter (Chen) and betraying the moral code of every Native who ever walked the Earth by blowing the shit out of everyone. In fact, Forrest does pretty much everything in his power to add to the world’s environmental woes, and by the time he gives a mundane and passionless seminar on the pitfalls of pollution, you begin to realise that the movie is nothing more than one giant ego trip for the film’s star director.

Best Kill

Set upon by a knife-wielding goon, Forrest swiftly snatches the weapon from his opponent and drives it through his kisser, spinning him around and ramming him face-first into a wall so that the weapon comes out through the back of his head.

Jason Voorhees would have been proud!

Most Absurd Moment

After being coaxed into one last act of environmental benevolence by his double-crossing employer, Forrest is led into a deadly dynamite trap, but somehow survives the megaton blast that sends him flying a hundred feet into the air. Thirty seconds later, he is rescued by a remote tribe of Eskimos who just happen to be walking by.

Most Egotistical Ass-Whooping

To begin with, pseudo-pacifist Forrest is above getting into it with a gang of local yokels, but when they publicly shame a Native brother, Seagal’s irrepressible ego can ‘stands it no longer’. Ignoring the long-suffering bar owner’s plea not to break anything, Forrest cleans house in the most elaborate manner possible, hurling bodies through plate glass windows, smashing tables and chairs and sending one unlucky fellow head-first through the screen of a jukebox. In fact, he basically destroys anything he can get his smug little hands on, and, still unsatisfied with his self-aggrandising display, he then publicly shames the gang leader to such an extent that he immediately sees the error of his ways, bowing to his aggressor’s vastly superior wisdom.

And no, Forrest doesn’t offer to pay for the damages.

Most Absurd Dialogue

After being rescued by an Eskimo tribe, Forrest and the tribe’s leader share their mystical wisdom.

Forrest: Thank you . . . for rescuing me.

Masu: (speaking for her Native father) He said it was nothing. He thought you were a bear. He still thinks you might be a bear. He hasn’t decided yet.

Forrest: No. You tell him . . . I’m a mouse. . . hiding from the hawks. . . in the house of a raven.

Masu: (speaking for her Native father) He said, ‘that’s just what a bear would say’.

Okay, Steven. You’re a bear. We get it.

On Deadly Ground logo


Let me just start by saying that, in spite of what I am about to write, On Deadly Ground is actually a lot of fun. Not only is the action largely enjoyable, there are so many plot holes that you find yourself making a very satisfying list, while the spiritual pilgrimage of one Forrest Taft is an exercise in accidental comedy gold. That being said, of all the sanctimonious action stars Hollywood has to offer, could anyone else have come up with such a hypocritical concept? Do not be fooled. This is not the environmental crusade it sometimes masquerades as. As far as I can tell, the entire point of this slice of pseudo-hokum is to remind us that Seagal is a) Tough, b) Intelligent and c) benevolent, when in reality he is a blazing asshole with shit for brains.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: