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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 29.03%
Average: 12.9%
Pretty Bad: 19.35%
Total Crap38.71%

2 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Fire Down Below
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by Jack Sommersby

"Seagal Environmentalist Part II"
4 stars

With a first-rate supporting cast and its action star in never-better form, the movie is functions as a perfectly fine time-killer.

Very entertaining and Steven Seagal's best since the excellent Under Siege, the ecological action picture Fire Down Below is solid entertainment and a lot more intelligently crafted than some will give it due credit for. After six years of television work, the adept director Felix Enrequez Alcala has fashioned a handsomely mounted production chock-full of gorgeous cinematography and assured scene transitions; and the co-screenwriter, Jeb Stuart, who both wrote and directed the underrated Colorado Rockies serial-killer thriller Switchback, has laid ample contextual groundwork to take off from. Seagal's Environmental Protection Agency investigator Jack Taggart goes undercover as a missionary carpenter in a rural Appalachian Kentucky town to get evidence to indict megalomaniacal coal-mining magnate Orin Hanner (an appropriately slimy, sans-eyebrows Kris Kristofferson) who's been providing space in his abandoned mines for clients to store their toxic waste; the barrels have been leaking and the contents making it into a nearby river of dead fish, with the local aquifer in danger of being permanently affected. A previous EPA agent ordered to the area has disappeared, and yet the moviemakers have made Taggart far from conspicuous what with Seagal's trademark ponytail and an assortment of expensive full-length black leather coats -- to say he "sticks out like a sore thumb" is putting it lightly. Still, Seagal contributes one of his most relaxed performances to date, and though still far from a dramatic heavyweight he deftly conveys Taggart's innate sense of decency -- you can believe he's willing to risk all to right all wrongs. The town is populated by honest working people reluctant to get involved with Taggart once his real profession is known because practically all the available jobs are provided by the very same Hanner who's endangering their lives, with horrendous skin rashes and respiratory problems keeping the small health clinic constantly busy. Naturally, echoes of the classic 1955 western Shane abound: there, the initially reluctant citizens eventually came to stick up for themselves and side with Alan Ladd's world-weary gunfighter against a cattle baron; here, both the town preacher (a touching Leon Helm) and eccentric old coot (the reliable Harry Dean Stanton) hop on Taggart's bandwagon even in the face of adversity from Hanner's menacing henchmen who take orders from their boss' twenty-something son. (Hanner operates out of his ritzy downtown Louisville casino, entertaining clients and influential politicians while casually accepting a sixteen-million-dollar "contract" for fifty-thousand barrels of cyanide to be illegally stored.)

Seagal made an okay directorial debut with the much-maligned On Deadly Ground, which, too, served as a clenched-fist cinematic protest against environmental pollution (though the numerous non-CGI explosions certainly spewed many parts-per-million pollutants into the atmosphere!). Fire Down Below, despite being about fifteen minutes too long, is better paced and not nearly as clunky. The opening-credits sequence with Taggart flying a twin-engine prop into Kentucky hill country is as lovely as a similar opening-credits sequence in the 1987 Shane-derived, rural-Oregon-set Burt Reynolds star vehicle Malone. The gradual laying out of the land and the textured sense of dailiness among the populace is well-etched. The relationship that develops between Taggart and the town's beekeeping social outcast Sarah (solid Marg Helgenberger) is the most believable romance in a Seagal movie. There's an incest/family-murder subplot that's a lot more tactfully handled than you'd expect in an undemanding genre piece. And, of course, there's the action; and Seagal's martial-arts prowess is on superb display in one well-choreographed fight scene after another. (There's even an impressively staged chase sequence involving Taggart's pick-up and a semi down a narrow winding mountain road that's been engineered for maximum suspense.) Oh, there are some quibbles. The villainy of Sarah's older brother is carelessly telegraphed so we're aware of the double cross he's going to pull a good five minutes before Taggart is wise to it. A mocking Deliverance quip is condescendingly flippant given the otherwise-respectful characterizations of the townspeople. And Taggart's successful turning of Hanner's son to testify against his thinks-he's-above-the-law father is out of left field and unconvincing. But for about eighty-five percent of the time Fire Down Below delivers the goods. Even before Seagal met with his biggest box-office success with Under Siege he was still involved in the satisfying efforts Above the Law and Marked for Death; and even the inane Out for Justice and The Glimmer Man played out far better than they had any right to (they were helmed by directors who dismissive critics might not recognize as top-flight yet who were more than capable). Even in his brief supporting role in the Kurt Russell actioner Executive Decision he managed to command our attention. Seagal may lack the personality of, say, a Chuck Norris, but he's got more verity than, say, a Michael Dudikoff. If he's willing to loosen up a bit and choose scripts with the kind of truly formidable villains Under Siege wonderfully had in stalwarts Gary Busey and Tommy Lee Jones, he might regain some of the box-office clout he's temporarily lost.

If you haven't been introduced to Seagal, here's a good opportunity.

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originally posted: 11/02/13 12:28:22
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User Comments

3/22/10 Jeff Wilder One of Seagal's more passable movies. 3 stars
3/27/06 Anthony Feor Fire Down Below rocked me from top to bottom 4 stars
2/13/06 Anthony Not his worst movie 3 stars
8/18/05 ES fiery hemorrhoids down below would be more enjoyable than this movie 1 stars
9/08/03 Sugarfoot The only fire here is how much weight Seagal has put on. 1 stars
6/27/03 cochese Ive got a fire down below after seeing this garbage heap. 1 stars
3/19/03 Jack Sommersby Fast-paced, good action, and agreeable characters. Not great, but decent. 3 stars
2/19/03 Matthew Jones The fight scenes are the only things that made this movie good 3 stars
11/26/02 Charles Tatum Oh, the burning 1 stars
7/29/02 The Talking Elbow Lol I really don't see what was so bad about this movie... It was entertaining. 4 stars
5/22/02 Janx An old Alaskan man gets tortured, what more could you want? Seriously though, it's BAD 2 stars
3/19/02 Aborted Gently You know..I feel sorry for the film used in this picture. We can't get that back, never. 1 stars
7/03/01 Fish Eye Seagal knows how to beat ass! But, this movie is also ass. 2 stars
4/14/01 Andrew Carden It was pretty bad, I agree, but it wasn't total crap. 2 stars
11/29/00 Cristopher Revilla good idea, should've make it better, because the rest of the movie is shit 2 stars
3/20/00 arnold pure shit 1 stars
1/30/00 Lame-Oh not as bad as Under Siege 2, but needs more improvement 2 stars
7/05/99 Ben Leostein Rating: * (out of ****) Category: "Poor" 2 stars
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  05-Sep-1997 (R)

  N/A (18)

  13-Nov-1997 (M)

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