Forrest Taft (Steven Seagal) likes to help people out, and his speciality is to contain out of control fires on oil rigs. Today he has been called to one such event by the oil company boss of Aegis, Michael Jennings (Michael Caine), who refuses to accept that the cause of this is down to his costcutting and faulty equipment. This despite the complaints of one of his head workers, Hugh Palmer (Richard Hamilton), a friend of Taft's who makes it clear to him what the real problem is. Taft makes quick work of the potentially disastrous situation, but what's to stop it happening again, especially with a dangerous man like Jennings in charge?
Apparently dreamed up after one too many viewings of Billy Jack movies, complete with sympathies for environmentalists and Native Americans and contempt for big government and bigger business lifted straight out of the Tom Laughlin book of right-on causes, star Steven Seagal presented On Deadly Ground as his labour of love after his mega-hit Under Seige. However, although audiences liked to see him kick ass in that film, they couldn't help but sniff the air of this one and detect the strong whiff of pretension, which naturally turned out to be the kiss of death for the project at the box office.
Yet you never know what will happen to some movies, and over the years this has amassed a cult mixed between bad movie buffs and those who took Seagal's concerns to heart, neither seeing eye to eye but each finding something here to appreciate. If you get any entertainment out of this at all, you're likely to be among the catcalling faction, and Seagal quite plainly, if unwittingly, sets himself up for a mighty fall from the outset: how do we take seriously a hero who goes about saving the environment by implementing its mass destruction, laying waste to the scenery in an act of extreme irony to rescue it?
Well, you probably don't, and the addition of Eskimo mysticism doesn't help out one iota. Jennings has to open his brand new oil rig amidst the (doomed) picturesque Alaskan landscape before the deadline, or it goes back to the natives, and they're in no position to do any drilling so he thinks, what a saddening waste of a resource. However, to meet the red letter day Jennings has used some faulty equipment that may cause a disaster and Hugh knows about it, so he tries to get the information to Taft; alas, the bad guys get to him first, but not before the information has been hidden from them. Taft now changes sides, undergoes his own vision quest where it transpires he is a bear spirit or something, and opts to go on the rampage, making mincemeat of the bad guys.
Even if you're a seasoned Seagal fan who takes his work and beliefs wholly sincerely, you're going to have a hard time justifying the plot of On Deadly Ground. It ends with a showdown at the new oil rig, but just imagine the headlines the next day: "Insane Mass Murderer Strikes at Rig" or similar, I'd say. That's right, this in touch with nature crusader for ecological justice - even his name is For(r)est, in a naturish (not naturist) kind of way - decides savage and bloody violence is the best way to tackle illegal operations that threaten the flora and fauna. Although Jennngs hasn't actually killed anyone himself but is simply the world's worst boss, in accordance with the hero's self-created tenets of justice he has to pay with his life and those of his staff, and to all intents and purposes this is absolutely fine with the authorities because at the end we see Taft hitting the lecture circuit to tell us of the benefits of green fuels. Many thought it was a joke that Seagal ended his film with a five minute (originally longer!) lecture, but nope, it's all there. If this wasn't excruciatingly boring for the most part, maybe it would be a laugh riot after all. Music by Basil Poledouris.