In "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory" Steven Seagal is back as Casey Ryback, ex-Navy SEAL and current cook, and he's as snidely catatonic as ever. Ryback spends most of the movie cracking necks and clambering atop speeding trains, which is just as well, because whenever he slows down for a quiet scene with his estranged 17-year-old niece, Sarah (Katherine Heigl), he resembles one of those impassive cartoon characters whose only mobile feature is a movable mouth.
"Under Siege 2" isn't going to convince anyone that Seagal is Brando, though he often sounds a bit like him. But, taken strictly as an action sequel, the film is a lively show. It's a formula follow-up with formula dialogue and formula action but the director, Geoff Murphy, does extremely well within the sequel's narrow limits.
He doesn't deliver as an artist, and Murphy (the New Zealand director of the extraordinary "Utu," about a Maori uprising) is prodigiously an artist. But he delivers as a first-class hired hand, and that's not nothing. He plays out his improbable pyrotechnics for all they're worth.
If "Under Siege" was "Die Hard" on a ship, "Under Siege 2" is "Die Hard" on a train. (What's next? "Die Hard" on a Brentwood tour bus?) Ryback starts out the film on a Denver-to-Los Angeles luxury train with the niece he hasn't seen in five years. (Her father, Ryback's brother, died in a plane crash, and he's the only family she has.) En route, the great big choo-choo gets hijacked by mercenaries headed by Travis Dane (Eric Bogosian), a curly-haired maniac fired by Washington after developing a deadly top-secret spy satellite.
Now, he and his band of lugs have commandeered the train--Ryback, of course, just happens to be on it--and is using it as an untraceable computer command center to reclaim and deploy the satellite. His game: A billion-dollar payoff and the destruction, via satellite, of most of the Eastern seaboard.
The only reason to see a movie like this is for the quality of the action sequences and the nastiness of the villains. Murphy, who has had an uneven career in Hollywood--his best piece of direction was "Young Guns II"--does some amazing stuff with the train. He's so good at working it into the action that it upstages just about everybody--including Seagal and Bogosian. There's a flaming finale that looks as if it was as difficult to film as anything train-wise in "The Fugitive."
Villain-wise, the film is a bit of a letdown. Bogosian doesn't really get a chance to display his sporty venomousness; he's just a standard-issue meanie with nerdier hair and buggier eyes. The other actors, including Morris Chestnut as a porter who becomes Ryback's sidekick, are pretty standard-issue too, though Everett McGill, playing Dane's right-hand man, has a terrific moment when he's doused with pepper spray and inhales deeply--he says it's good for his sinuses.
This seems to be the guiding principle behind "Under Siege 2" as well. It's the kind of knockdown, dumb-down action picture that's supposed to clear the sinuses of its undemanding audience.
If that includes you, breathe deep.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong violence and language. Times guidelines: It includes much graphic violence.
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'Under Siege 2: Dark Territory'
Steven Seagal: Casey Ryback Eric Bogosian: Travis Dane Everett McGill: Penn Katherine Heigl: Sarah A Warner Bros. presentation. Director Geoff Murphy. Producers Steven Seagal, Arnon Milchan and Steve Perry. Executive producer Martin Wiley. Screenplay by Richard Hatem & Matt Reeves. Cinematographer Robbie Greenberg. Editor Michael Tronick. Costumes Richard Bruno. Music Basil Poledouris. Production design Albert Brenner. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.