You see this guy, right? And he looks like he's the lineal descendant of a ferocious jungle cat. But, what the hey, you and your six or seven buddies take him on. In seconds, you and your buddies are lying on the ground in pieces, and he's still standing.
With me, so far? OK, here's my problem: Knowing what this cat is capable of, why do you and your six or seven buddies insist on taking him on again? And again? And AGAIN?
Understand, now, that this is a relatively minor point to deal with in "Fire Down Below." But it sufficiently represents the many improbabilities you have to live with in a Steven Seagal film.
Begin with the fact that our brooding, broad-shouldered hero has taken his avenging angel persona and dressed it in eco-populist trappings. The Environmental Protection Agency--honest!--is deploying this one-man battalion to investigate the illegal dumping of toxic waste in a Kentucky coal mine. Several people have gotten sick. A pond-ful of fish has died--as has a handful of Feds who have mysteriously died trying to get the goods on this corporate atrocity.
Seagal's character poses as a humble carpenter going from house to house near the dump site, asking questions and generally annoying so-called peace officers and local thugs, all of whom are in the employ of the slimy billionaire who's depositing poison into the Earth.
Kris Kristofferson is the baddie and he's just one of many classic country-rock stars scattered throughout the scenery. Levon Helm's the town preacher, and I guess that really is Randy Travis as a fast-drawing Fed who is not what he seems. There are also fine actors including Stephen Lang, Harry Dean Stanton and the shamefully underemployed Marg Helgenberger And Seagal is . . . well, Seagal. Which is to say he is, by turns, torpid, charming and scary, sometimes all at once. His one big dramatic moment comes in a sermon at the church, where he's exhorting the townspeople to stand up for themselves against wealthy elites. That he does so wearing a leather coat that, as one of the characters says, probably costs a year's salary of an underpaid miner says as much about Seagal's moxie as his capability in hand-to-hand combat.
* MPAA: R for violence and language. Times guidelines: Lots of loud, bone-crunching mayhem--fantasy violence for some, real scary violence for the little ones.
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'Fire Down Below'
Steven Seagal: Jack Taggert
Marg Helgenberger: Sarah Kellogg
Stephen Lang: Earl
Brad Hunt: Orin Jr.
Kris Kristofferson: Orin Sr.
Harry Dean Stanton: Cotton
Warner Bros. presents a Seagal/Nasso Production. Director Felix Enriquez Alcala. Producers Steven Seagal & Julius R. Nasso. Screenplay Jeb Stuart and Philip Morton. Story Stuart. Co-producer Ron G. Smith. Executive producers William S. Gilmore, Stuart. Music Nick Glennie-Smith. Photography Tom Houghton. Production design Joe Alves. Editor Robert A. Ferretti. Costumes Rosanna Norton. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
* Playing at theaters throughout Southern California.