Environmental Protection Agency man Jack Taggart (Steven Seagal), working for the FBI, has been assigned to this region of Appalachia as there have been accusations of toxic waste dumping made and not only that, but strong rumours of threats and intimidation as well. Maybe even murder: the previous two agents to investigate found themselves dead in mysterious circumstances, and Taggart is capable enough to ensure he can avoid that fate himself, or so his superiors hope. First, he needs a cover story, and it is settled that he will pose as a carpenter who is there at the request of the local church to fix up the residencies that are falling apart. But not everyone is convinced, and he has to keep his wits about him...
Fire Down Below was effectively a follow on from Seagal's On Deadly Ground in that it had the same environmental concerns, mixed with his trademark brutality and explosions, and like that it was a huge hit which guaranteed his movies would be blessed with massive budgets and an adoring public clamouring for each new adventure for him. Or maybe not, maybe the opposite of that as while screenwriter Jeb Stuart's script had been passed around for a few years before falling in with Seagal, it did seem foolhardy to produce a yarn that had so many similarities to the star's biggest flop, yet this was precisely what they did, and guess what? This was a flop as well, damning him to straight to DVD forevermore.
Well, it wasn't quite that bad, as Seagal did manage to get his product into some cinemas, notably Exit Wounds four years later which was a theatrical success that he bafflingly failed to capitalise upon, but for the most part if you wanted to see him on the big screen you would have to attend some Eastern European grindhouse at best. Was there ever an action star who came onto the scene so lauded yet ended up so disappointing? It could simply have been the market, especially as the sort of action flick that he specialised in was tailing off once he began to make a name for himself, and the home video market was one that it consequently started to flourish in, but somehow he became a bit of a joke too.
Witness the scene in this after establishing kingpin Kris Kristofferson has been polluting the lovely scenery with his toxic waste, where instead of going to the authorities, he makes a beeline for the church where he delivers an actual sermon to the congregation about how they are being exploited and poisoned: it was somewhat difficult to take seriously. Not least because for an action movie, our hero had been indulging in a hell of a lot of carpentry, as if fishing for his own cable TV DIY show instead of handing bad guys' asses to them, though there was a reason for that. Originally Fire Down Below was a two hours-plus epic, but the studio got cold feet and opted to cut it down; now, not everyone would delete whole action scenes in favour of Segal making wooden steps and romancing Marg Helgenberger, but here we were.
She received a truly superfluous subplot to establish her as a damsel in distress for Taggart to rescue, tussling with a bad reputation for supposedly murdering her father and getting away with it (you can tell she's innocent because she keeps bees - in touch with nature, see) and a madman for a brother (Stephen Lang doing his psycho shtick). Perhaps more interesting was Harry Dean Stanton as the local dogsbody who Jack makes friends with, plainly there to be beaten up by the baddies so Seagal could avenge him, but coming across as the most authentic Appalachian among a horde of burly supporting actors playing the caricature good ol' bad ol' boys to the hilt. He even got to sing and play guitar a little under the end credits, which was a genuinely nice moment. Aside from a solid sense of place thanks to sweeping landscape photography, it's likely nobody watching was going to emerge outraged at ecological pollution, because you didn't watch these things to be lectured at. Less egregious than On Deadly Ground, then, but not necessarily recommended. Check out Steve's array of fancy XL jackets and coats, too. Music by Nick Glennie-Smith.