September 8, 1997 -- I've got good news and bad news. First, the bad news, "Fire Down Below" is a fairly typical Steven Seagal karate action film, and I've seen most of them. When I heard that Seagal was going to play an eco-hero, I feared this would be as bad as "On Deadly Ground," which ends with a deadly dull environmental monologue. Now for the good news, this film is not as bad as that one was.
Steven Seagal plays E.P.A. Marshal Jack Taggart, an agent with so much authority he can flaunt local law enforcement. When his best friend is killed in the line of duty, trying to locate the source of toxic waste dumping near a small town in Appalachia, Taggart goes in to clean up the town.
Seagal is befriended by a few of the locals, including the prettiest girl in town, Sarah Kellogg (Marg Helgenberger) and the local minister (Levon Helm), as well as a mysterious guy named Cotton (Harry Dean Stanton).
After poking around a while, posing as an itinerant carpenter, he finds out that the owner of the local mine, Orin Hanner (Kris Kristofferson) is behind the whole thing. Big surprise there. Doesn't it seem an bad sign when you see Kristofferson's name in the credits of a movie? Has he ever been in a good film? Well, he did have a bit part in last year's "Lone Star," other than that, the pickings are pretty slim for a guy who has appeared in over 50 films.
There's the crooked cop, the crooked big shot, the weak son of the big shot, the incompetent goons and hit men hired to scare Taggart or get rid of him. One of the would-be hit men pulls the old movie clich‚, he falls for the old trick where the intended victim stands in front of a cliff and the killer, trying to run over him, not only misses the victim completely, but drives off the cliff and kills himself. It was a lot more effective in "Duel," Spielberg's first movie.
There is some sloppy camera work, with people's heads cut off by bad framing and there's some sloppy editing, too with scenes ended carelessly. It isn't a high quality production. Seagal is very good with the action scenes and the fights are fairly well staged. Helgenberger does a pretty good acting job with her outcast woman character.
The soundtrack is pretty good, featuring the music of Randy Travis, Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart, who also appear in the film, along with Patsy and Peggy Lynn, identical twin daughters of Loretta Lynn. It is also kind of fun watching Seagal beat up the bad guys, but the plot wears a bit thin. What was needed was a bad guy who could give Seagal a run for his money. The villains weren't threatening enough. This film rates a C-.
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