Plot: Aegis Oil has the rights to drill in a large area of Alaskan land, but their agreement could be over quite soon. The original deal called for productive use of the land within a certain frame and Aegis has less than two weeks to meet that deadline, or else the land rights return to the native residents. Michael Jennings (Michael Caine) is the CEO and while his high price, state of the art system known AEGIS-1 is almost ready, some safety concerns could cause delays, forcing a missed deadline. Forrest Taft (Steven Seagal) is an environmental agent called to the area when he learns about a CD that contains crucial information on those safety issues. But the ruthless Jennings intends to meet the deadline regardless of the potentially disastrous consequences, even willing to kill anyone who stands in the way. Can Taft protect the locals, expose Aegis’ lies, and help the natives regain control of their own land?
Entertainment Value: Do you like the idea of Steven Seagal giving long winded anti-oil speeches and Michael Caine as an out of the stratosphere level over the top villain? If so, then On Deadly Ground is just what you need, but it also has awkward dialogue, a colorful supporting cast, and some decent action, made before Seagal fell into the direct to video wastelands. I would rank On Deadly Ground toward the lower end of his 90s action prime, but it is so over the top and outlandish at times, I can’t help but be entertained when I watch. Then again, I love outrageous, awkward action movies, so I am biased in that respect. But come on, Seagal is at peak environmentalist for this one and has one speech that seems like it will never end, a true blue ribbon moment of celebrity vanity that deserves mention. The action scenes are passable and some are a lot of fun, with the bar brawl as a personal favorite. The scale isn’t remarkable, but Seagal is Seagal and to me, even his mediocre martial arts scenes can be cool, with his trademark minimalist movements.
This is still within his main, star making action run, but On Deadly Ground doesn’t showcase Steven Seagal at his best, as he had started to focus on his causes more than the fans of his films. This of course led to his decline at the box office and eventual arrival as a direct to video action regular, at which point he moved even further from the style that made him a household name. His heavy handed social commentary veers into camp at times, it is so over the top and blunt, though it can also be dull and slow down the pace in other moments. I love a ridiculously self indulgent rant however, so Seagal’s unbearable speech toward the close is a work of art to me, though one I don’t want to look at often. The show is often stolen by Michael Caine, who takes over the top, well, even more over the top as our villain. He is simply outlandish and channels the most stereotypical, mustache twirling type corporate demon, somehow ice cold and wildly campy at the same time. He adds a lot to On Deadly Ground and provides a proper bad guy for Seagal to go up against. The supporting cast is impressive, with John C. McGinley, Billy Bob Thornton, R. Lee Ermey, Joan Chen, Richard Hamilton, and the legendary Sven-Ole Thorsen on deck.