Fire Down Below Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

There are certain things that you expect from a Steven Seagal movie: exciting edge-of-your-seat action, cheesy dialogue, and Steven Seagal whuppin' ass. "Fire Down Below" marks a kinder, gentler Steven Seagal, tackling important social issues. And it doesn't work.

Steven Seagal is Jack Taggart, an agent of the Environmental Protection Agency sent down to Kentucky to investigate the death of a fellow agent and friend, who was investigating the illegal dumping of chemical waste by millionaire industrialist Orin Hanner (or was it Armin Hammer?), played by Kris Kristofferson, who was a lot more sinister in last year's "Lone Star". Jack poses as a carpenter who donates his time to fix people's roofs and porches for a local relief mission as he investigates the allegations. However, the local town bullies and the police are on the payroll of Hanner, and thwart his every move. Unfortunately, they do not realize that this EPA agent is a master in martial arts and packs heat!

Jack eventually comes to know Sarah (Marg Helgenberger), a lonely woman who lives on the edge of town with her domineering brother, forever stigmatized for her role in the death of her father many years prior. With Sarah's help, Jack must take out the local muscle and shut down the toxic waste dump.

It is hard to pinpoint what Seagal's intention for this movie was. Though it has been described as 'an action-packed thriller', there is hardly an action and it's not particularly thrilling, so those of you expecting "Under Siege" will definitely disappointed. It could be one of those slowly-paced European-style dramas that deal with themes of love and redemption, but the acting and the toady dialogue sink this expectation quickly. The story itself violates numerous rules of screenwriting, leading to a meandering story which goes on for far too long. By the time the bloated narrative reaches the flaccid climax, you don't even care what happens anymore. And perhaps the biggest problem with FDB is Steven Seagal himself. Not only are the nuances of Seagal's acting restricted to his three standard facial expressions (aloof, mean, and really pissed off), but there is also no suspense with Seagal portraying the hero. Just like in "Under Siege", as soon as you saw the Casey Ryback character, you knew he was going to take names and kick ass, and that nothing would stop him. While Casey Ryback was a fallen hero (a demoted ex-Navy SEAL), Jack in FDB is perfect, with no obvious faults or weaknesses (and hence no growth arc, which makes it BO-RING).

"Fire Down Below" is simply a waste of time. The writing is bad, the acting is worse, the story is cliché (even the car chases are set to country music!), and a movie about punishing polluters is totally inappropriate material for Seagal.

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