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Volume 91, Issue 11
Tuesday, September 16, 1997
Seagal kicks some toxic waste butt
Aikido, loosely translated, means "the way of harmony." Its founder, Sensei Morihei Ueshiba (1882-1968), developed this art of self-defence, with the key component being non-resistance, rather than strength.
Unlike most martial arts, Aikido is purely defensive. It is considered the most effective form of self-defence, yet the most difficult to learn. To truly master it, students must make Aikido a way of life.
At the age of 17, Michigan-native Steven Seagal went to Japan to study Aikido. After years of training and acquiring his sixth Dan (degree) in Aikido, Seagal became the first non-Oriental to open a dojo (a place to train in the martial arts) in Japan.
Upon his return to the United States, Seagal became interested in acting but only after choreographing a number of fight scenes for various movies and training other actors such as James Mason and Sean Connery. Finally in 1988, Steven Seagal's acting career took to the big screen with Above the Law.
To Hollywood's small group of action stars he was well accepted in the beginning, mainly due to the new style of fighting Seagal brings to the screen. But be warned Seagal also holds black belts in Karate and Kendo (Japanese fencing) both of which are incorporated in many of his fight scenes.
In his latest effort, Fire Down Below, Seagal plays federal Marshall Jack Taggart of the Environmental Protection Agency. Taggart is assigned to go undercover as a handyman in southeastern Kentucky. He's sent to find a witness who'll testify against the toxic waste dumpers pumping hazardous material into abandoned mine shafts. The plot here is not too far off from Seagal's earlier directing debut On Deadly Ground.
Throughout the film, the movie has a pure country tone to it, as would be expected from its Kentucky setting. Even the original score, composed by Nick Glennie-Smith (who assisted Hans Zimmer in a moody march for The Rock) is filled with country guitar, played at a Dukes of Hazzard pace. What's more interesting is that Steven Seagal had a hand in writting many of the songs featured in the film even playing a guitar in one scene. And for country fans, there are special appearances by Randy Travis and Travis Tritt.
Overall, the movie holds nothing original, with the exception of an interesting truck chase. Credit goes to director Felix Enriquez Alcala and a good supporting effort by Ed Bruce who plays helpful citizen Lloyd. As for Steven Seagal, well, he's pretty much the same as always. It is a little hard to believe his handyman-in-the-country routine, especially since he's always wearing a quarter-length black leather jacket.
The fight scenes occasionally contain interesting humour, but the screen doesn't pick up Seagal's quick punches and swift grappling techniques. Only the sounds of crushing grips and jack rabbit punches give the audience a sense of what's going on. Beyond that, it becomes a patient wait for the action, which might disappoint.
In all fairness, this is one of the better Seagal movies which isn't saying much. The film might keep you mildly entertained, but you would probably be better off spending your money on Aikedo lessons.
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Copyright © The Gazette 1997