Monday, June 23, 2008

Stuff you should watch: On Deadly Ground

Since I've recently been non-ironically watching a lot of shitty action movies, I'm just going to go ahead and extrapolate from my own life - non-ironically watching shitty action movies is the latest hip trend! Everybody's doing it! Everybody! Woo!

Whether that's true or not, it seems relatively fair to say that, in an age of neutered action movies (for fuck's sake, John McClane didn't even get his signature catchphrase off properly in the last Die Hard entry), there's something reassuring about films that don't mess around when it comes to the whole sex and violence thing. Well, mostly violence. The concept of Arnold Schwarzenegger actually engaging in coitus is a little disturbing. But still, that's there too. And profanity. Lots of beautiful, beautiful profanity. And where can we find such films? The eighties, mostly, although one should never underestimate the early nineties as the rich vein of shitty action movies that we all know it to be. Exhibit A: Steven Seagal's classic environtacular, On Deadly Ground...

You know, it's one thing to watch Predator or Total Recall and say you're an action fan; those movies are, after all, pretty damn good. But On Deadly Ground? This movie is pretty much the epitome of something that has to be seen to be believed. It's in the conversation for being the most insane, most bizarrely misguided film ever made. It's an utterly unbelievable mix of Commando and An Inconvenient Truth that throws in the least convincing group of villains in history just for laughs. It's that terrible and, thus, it's that good.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not some ironic post-modern douche bag who can only enjoy bad movies ironically. No, I enjoy shitty movies completely earnestly. If I can crib a little from my main man Nathan Rabin over at the A.V. Club, there's something breathtaking about films that, despite the obvious lack of even the most basic understanding of what makes movies good, are so feverishly, psychotically inspired that every ensuing sequence seems to build its own hypnotic, ridiculous momentum. It's watching movies through the looking glass, people, and it's incredible if you're willing to go all-in. I know On Deadly Ground is a piece of shit. That doesn't mean it isn't a tremendous film. This is the sort of movie that happens when Steven Seagal stars, produces, directs, and quite probably rewrites much of the script. That really should say it all.

But still, the title of this was "Stuff you should watch", so I will continue to make my case. Since I can't be fucking bothered to actually write my own damn summary of the plot, I'll let IMDB take care of it:
Forrest Taft is an environmental agent who works for the Aegis Oil Company in Alaska. Aegis Oil's corrupt CEO, Michael Jennings, is the kind of person who doesn't care whether or not oil spills into the ocean or onto the land, just as long as it's making money for him. He even makes commercials that make him look like he cares about the environment. Jennings is almost finished with building his new state-of-the art oil rig: AEGIS-1. The problem is that if he doesn't finish building the rig in thirteen days, the land rights will be returned to the Eskimos and the Alaskan government. When Jennings finds out that Taft's best friend Hugh Palmer has a computer disk that contains information about defective equipment on AEGIS-1, he sends out his goons to murder Palmer. When Taft tries to interfere, Jennings tries to kill Taft. But an Eskimo woman named Masu, who introduces Taft to her father Silook, the chief of her tribe, rescues Taft. With Masu's help, Taft begins a trek through the Alaskan wilderness, heading straight for AEGIS-1 and to destroy it before it destroys all of the forest.

Yeah, sure, why not? With that out of the way, I will now present seven compelling reasons to convince you to drop whatever the fuck it is you're doing (especially you, brain surgeons who are currently operating) and go see On Deadly Ground. Why seven reasons? Because I don't have the energy to do ten. Why a lame-ass list? Because I'm too fucking lazy to keep myself organized otherwise, that's why.

1. Michael Caine

Hey, you remember that rich Texan oilman bastard Michael Jennings? You know, the guy who "even makes commercials that make him look like he cares about the environment"? I know, right? What a bastard! Anyway, that guy is played by Michael Caine, whose unconvincing dye job is only surpassed by his unconvincing Texas accent. But still, since it's Michael Caine, you immediately know two things:

A. Much like Sean Connery, Michael Caine will appear in literally anything if you pay him enough.
B. Even when he obviously couldn't give two shits about the piece of shit he's in, he still acts circles around everyone else.

And no, I'm not at all biased by the fact that he's half of my pseudonym. Don't believe me? Well how about we just check out that commercial of his...

How can he be evil? He records such sweet commercials! Anyway, yeah, he tries to kill Steven Seagal. Big mistake. Speaking of which...

2. Standing up for tolerance by indiscriminately beating the crap out of white people

Steven Seagal shows his skull-busting chops early and often in a pool hall fight scene that redefines the word "lopsided." Honestly, half of his opponents look about sixty. So yeah, that's a fair fight. Still, he's standing up for the native Alaskans, so no one can say his cause isn't just.

If you watch all the way to the end, you'll be treated to the following life-altering exchange...

Forrest Taft: What does it take...what does it take to change the essence of a man?
Racist dude he just viciously beat the shit out of: Time. I change.

Socrates's corpse just shat itself, because that is some fucking profound wisdom right there.

3. R. Lee Ermey paying Seagal some motherfucking respect

When you want to prove the hero is for real, you get R. Lee Ermey to launch into an extended metaphor on just how badass he is. Ermey could make the phonebook sound like an ultra-macho killing machine and somehow imply I'm gay, so the following little monologue is fucking child's play for the drill sergeant turned surprisingly talented character actor:

I think I just found what's going on my tombstone. I also need to change my pants. For many, many reasons.

4. The most beautiful, poetic dialogue ever written

You want to know what the first big line Steven Seagal says is? The line that pretty much establishes his character for the rest of the movie? Our most formative introduction to him? Yeah, it's this:

"For 350,000 dollars I'd fuck anything once!"

If that isn't poetry, then Dylan Thomas can go fuck himself. Here are some other beauties credited writers Ed Horowitz and Robin Russin can proudly stick on their resumes:

"You wanna know who he is? Try this: delve down into the deepest bowels of your soul. Try to imagine the ultimate fucking nightmare. And that won't come close to that son of a bitch when he gets pissed."

"Well, let's see, that's natives 8, oil workers 0. Anyone else wanna play with Cupcake?"

"Who's this? Is this the slope bitch you've been banging?"
"Nah. Not her."
"Is this the one who's got you all concerned about the dirty snow? Jesus, Forrest! You and me, we bought hookers better than this for five bucks in Bangkok!"

Seriously, I'm weeping a little just copying and pasting those.

5. Billy Bob Thornton doing Michael Cera before there was Michael Cera

Late in the film, a chubby, pre-Sling-Blade Billy Bob Thornton shows up as Ermey's chief lieutenant in the hunt for Forrest Taft. For some unknown reason, he decides to play his part with the sort of halting, awkwardly self-obsessed delivery that has given many a comedy lover a man-crush on Michael Cera. Seriously, take the following lines of dialogue on the properly manly way to use a machine gun...

Billy Bob: Well, what do you think? Stock in or out?

Some other dude: I don't think it's going to make much difference.

Billy Bob: Well, I do, see. 'Cause when it's out I kinda feel like a pussy, you know what I'm saying. And when it's in, it just feels like, I don't know, meaner or something and when I kill the son of a bitch I wanna feel good about myself. I wanna feel solid.

...and just imagine Michael Cera reading those lines. That's just as accurate as any YouTube clip. It's absolutely fucking hysterical. And, at the risk of another tired segue, speaking of hysterical...

6. John C. McGinley as the world's least effective torturer

Anyone who has seen Scrubs (and I unfortunately have to plead guilty on that count) knows John C. McGinley is a pretty awesome motherfucker. He's also pretty much Rear Admiral of the USS Intensity. I mean, pretty much. Unfortunately, his trademark barely contained rage doesn't really work when given this script, resulting in the most manically useless torturer in history. Sent to extract information from a sexagenarian (that means sixty-something, you pervert) oil-worker, he quickly falls prey to the old man's singularly unimpressive reverse psychology, collapsing into the sort of comebacks that seem tired on elementary school playgrounds, let alone an enhanced interrogation situation. In lieu of a clip, here's the dialogue in question...

McGinley: You'd better quit while you're ahead, Hugh! Know what I'm saying? While you can still play marbles. Where are the disks? Where are the books?
Old dude: Fuck you!
McGinley: Fuck me? No, FUCK YOU!
[Other henchman breaks Hugh's second finger (Hugh is the old dude).]
McGinley: Hugh.
Old dude: Go to hell!
McGinley: OK. OK. I'll go to hell!

He then proceeds to open up the old dude's kitchen cabinets and break all his dishes. That is his big contribution to the torture, whereas the other henchman is methodically breaking the old dude's fingers. So yeah, that's pretty fucking spectacular.

7. Steven Seagal explains environmentalism!

I wasn't kidding when I said this was Commando meets An Inconvenient Truth. After a whole shit ton of deaths - which, because I'm a nice guy, I'll show you right now...

...anyway after that - Steven Seagal proceeds to explain to the world just why oil companies are evil. Sadly, the scene does not appear to be available anywhere on the series of tubes - oil company conspiracy, yes? - but IMDB has the complete speech on its quotes page. It's a full twenty-one lines of solid text. It apparently was eleven minutes long in the original cut, but test audiences found it "too preachy." Yeah, the final version is a huge improvement on that front. Some choice excerpts...

"How many of you out there have heard of alternative engines? Engines that can run on anything from alcohol to garbage or water. Or carburetors that can get hundreds of miles to the gallon. Or electric or magnetic engines, that can practically run forever."

"Millions and millions of gallons of oil are now destroying the ocean and the many forms of life it supports. Among these is plankton, which supplies sixty to ninety percent of the Earth's oxygen. This supports the entire marine ecosystem which forms the basis of our planet's food supply. But the plankton is dying. I thought, well, let's go to remote state or country, anywhere on Earth. But in doing a little research I realized that these people broker toxic waste all over the world. They basically control the legislation, and, in fact, they control the Law."

"We go to work each day and right under our noses we see our car and the car in front of us spewing noxious poisonous gasses that are all accumulative poisons. These poisons kill us slowly, even when we see no effect. How many of us would have believed if we were told twenty years ago that on a certain day we wouldn't be able to see fifty feet in front of us. That we wouldn't be able to take a deep breath because the air would be a mass of poisonous gas. That we wouldn't be able to drink out of our faucets, that we'd have to buy water out of bottles. Our most common and God-given rights have been taken away from us."

As long as all that shit is, I'm still vastly cutting down the speech itself. It makes the likes of Michael Moore look like a paragon of subtlety and restraint. It is easily the most preachy scene I have ever seen.

But...and here's the big "but"...Steven Seagal killed like fifty people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage just to get to that point. He also essentially argued at one point that violence solves everything and peaceful ways are for pussies, which is such a refreshing message these days.

If that's not enough reason to see On Deadly Ground, just remember this - Steven Seagal goes on a vision quest and fights a bear. And wins.

I think I'm done here.

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