Fire Down Below

on September 05, 1997 by Melissa Morrison
There are two ways to view Steven Seagal's latest fist fest, "Fire Down Below." First is as a by-the-numbers actioner that hits most of its marks, including a juicy justification of a plot (scummy corporate type stores his chemical waste in abandoned mines, sickening an Appalachian town's children), strong supporting characters ("Species'" Marg Helgenberger as the town outcast, Harry Dean Stanton as a sage bumpkin, and raisin-faced Kris Kristofferson doing his "Lone Star" villain, this time in pinstripes), and spectacular (if chaotic) scenes of destruction.
   The Seagal/Nasso production even gets some country authenticity thanks to appearances by Travis Tritt and Randy Travis, among others. The second way is even more fun: "Fire Down Below" as a God vs. the Devil scenario in which Seagal casts himself as the ultimate justice-doer--a pursed-lipped, pony-tailed, leather-blazered version of the Almighty. Seriously. When Seagal's character, undercover EPA agent Jack Taggart, first arrives in Jackson, Ky., in the guise of a church handyman, he tells the townsfolk that he's doing "God's work." From there on, references to heaven and hell fall like frogs during the Apocalypse. ("Fire down below," geddit?)
   The God comparison was inevitable. Seagal's action heroes aren't like those of other successful franchisees, such as Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson, who thrill by being regular guys who somehow triumph against the odds, getting bruised in the process. With Seagal, there's no question that he's going to kick ass without even breaking a sweat. The tension comes not from knowing whether he'll win, but how quickly and by what means, whether it's against 10 hillbilly bruisers at once or two thigh-sized rattlers--the latter of which he just grabs in each hand as they strike.
   If only Eve had had that kind of coordination. Starring Steven Seagal, Marg Helgenberger and Harry Dean Stanton. Directed by Felix Enriquez Alcala. Written by Jeb Stuart and Philip Morton. Produced by Steven Seagal and Julius R. Nasso. A Warner Bros. release. Action. Rated R for violence and language. Running time: 99 min
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