Plot: Jack (Steven Seagal) has arrived in rural Kentucky to assist the locals, offering to do repairs and lend a hand where needed. While he claims to be with a charity group that helps those in need, Jack is actually an undercover EPA agent, sent to dig around into rumors about toxic waste in the area. As he pokes around, he connects with the local residents and does indeed provide a good amount of free assistance, which makes him popular with most of the citizens. He is not popular with Orin (Kris Kristofferson) however, the local coal mine kingpin who doesn’t like outsiders looking into the shadier aspects of his business. Soon Jack is pressured to leave town in not so subtle ways, but he refuses to back down and becomes even more determined in his search, more certain than ever of a hidden agenda from Orion’s mines. Can Jack get to the truth or will this militia of mountain men stop him in his tracks?
Entertainment Value: If the premise of Fire Down Below sounds familiar, that’s because it has a lot in common with On Deadly Ground, another environmental call to action movie from Steve Seagal, made a few years prior to this one. But I doubt many people visit Seagal’s pictures for the narratives and even if the basic concept is the same, the Appalachian locale helps add a fresh coat of paint, at least. Seagal battling redneck coal miners is a fun premise and the movie puts the Kentucky locations to good use, giving us a believable, colorful atmosphere. I have a soft spot for hicksploitation in general, so that added a lot of appeal to Fire Down Below for me, let alone the idea of Steven Seagal going around fixing people’s porches between martial arts showdowns. By this point, Seagal had started to wind down his enthusiasm in the action scenes, so the ones here are passable, but not his best work. His minimal effort approach is fun to watch though, especially if you appreciate b movie cheese elements, as he more than delivers on that front here. You can tell this intended to be more of a detective movie, then shifted to an action oriented one once Seagal was brought on, as what action there is doesn’t exactly make a lot of sense. I’m not sure EPA agents have the kind of leeway Seagal has, but then, that’s part of the fun, right? I think Fire Down Below is worth a look for Seagal fans, it is humorous and has b movie vibes, not one of his better movies, but light years better than most of his later, direct to video output.
If all EPA agents were like this, I think climate change would be solved, as Steven Seagal has no patience for those who endanger Mother Nature here. Seagal’s shift to an eco-minded action hero was a much discussed one, coupled with his rising weight and shrinking effort put into his performances, to the point it was even suggested that aliens had replaced him with a clone. In Fire Down Below, Seagal does phone in his action scenes, but his approach to phoning in the basic fight scenes is always hilarious, so it is hard to complain about that. His small, simple movements are humorous and not too far off his old school methods, which were more involved perhaps, but also played off an effortless appearance. He is wooden as usual outside of the action scenes, but there’s less humor in this character, which is a let down. Seagal still comes off as likable, but I wish there were more one liners and smart ass remarks. A few still make it in, but not as many as usual. Kris Kristofferson is our villain and he doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but he was a good choice for the material. In addition to several country music stars, the cast also includes Harry Dean Stanton, Brad Hunt, Richard Masur, Stephen Lang, and Marg Helgenberger.