The battleship U.S.S. Missouri is heading for home to be decommissioned and onboard the crew are preparing to celebrate the birthday of the Captain (Patrick O'Neal). A surprise party is planned and Commander Krill (Gary Busey) wants things to run smoothly, so is determined to keep the details of what will happen a secret from the Captain and is not happy when the ship's cook, Casey Ryback (Steven Seagal), demands that he take care of the food arrangements personally. So when Krill tells Ryback in no uncertain terms what he thinks of his cooking, Ryback has no qualms about punching him to the ground, earning himself a spell imprisoned in the meat locker with a guard outside. Which means he isn't part of the party - or the mutiny that follows...
Die Hard on a ship, that's what they called Under Siege, which was scripted by J.F. Lawton, the writer of Pretty Woman, funnily enough. But Seagal was more of a traditional action hero than Bruce Willis, an invincible he-man onscreen, yet who in real life was a lentil eating, peace loving liberal - but not so liberal that he couldn't crunch people's heads with his bare hands. His character in this film may be doing the cooking, but we find out that he's an ex-Seal (of the military variety, rather than the aquatic mammal variety), mirroring Seagal's offscreen, claimed mysterious past as a C.I.A. operative.
Strangely, for the first hour Seagal doesn't appear that often, preferring to take a back seat to his co-stars. Chief among them is Tommy Lee Jones as Stranix, starting his nineties character lead stardom as the villain who boards the ship with his team ostensibly to stage the party, but actually with ulterior motives. Those motives are to hijack the ship with the help of Krill (Busey appears in drag for reasons best known to himself at this crucial moment) and get up to nefarious deeds with the nuclear missiles. As the Captain is shot dead and the crew are locked up, who, tell me, who can possibly save the day and prevent World War Three?
Ryback may be stuck in the meat locker, but when Stranix sends a couple of heavies down to the galley to bump him off, what do you know? That's right, Ryback escapes and bumps them off instead. Meanwhile we learn that the unbalanced Stranix is an ex-C.I.A. man who was supposed to be assassinated, but got away, hence his massive grudge against the authorities. As the baddie continues his discussions with the nearest military base, Ryback sizes up the opposition, and makes a friend in Jordan Tate (Erika Eleniak), a Playboy Playmate who belatedly jumps out of a cake, and transforms under Ryback's tutelage from a whinging wreck into a gun-toting action woman.
Both chief villain and our hero are misfits in the eyes of the military which has spurned them, but Ryback takes the path of good while Stranix takes the path of evil. They never meet until the very end, so most of the oneupmanship adopts the form of Ryback foiling his adversary's plans and Stranix attempting to get the upper hand with such underhand means as filling the room holding the crew with water to distract Ryback. Acting is broad, as this is no place for subtlety, but there's a distinct lack of conflict between the leads meaning the amount of one-liners tends to be on the meagre side. This is the film that took Seagal out of the video star status and briefly into big screen stardom, but you can see why it didn't last, not simply changing tastes, but also a lack of movie star charisma as well, which is perhaps why he sometimes looks like a supporting player in his own film. Followed by a sequel: Die Hard on a train. Music by Gary Chang.