Fire Down Below Review

by "Yen, Homer" (YenHo AT cof DOT org)
September 20th, 1997

Fire Down Below - Let This One Burn
by Homer Yen
(c) 1997

There was probably a good reason that the Warner Bros. studio chose not to allow critics to view this Steven Seagal film when it first opened. And, after seeing this piece of toxic waste, I now know why. This movie is by far the worst offering that has hit the screen since possibly those Ernest movies years ago. Fire Down Below centers its story on a little mining town in God's country, somewhere in eastern Kentucky. It's beauty and natural goodness is being slowly destroyed by an uncaring mining magnate (Kris Kristopherson, who constantly looks like he wants to kill his agent for getting him this role). It turns out that he's filling the mines throughout Kentucky with toxic waste for a tidy profit. Seagal plays Jack Taggert, an aikido-versed, fighting machine, who is an agent with the EPA. No...not the CIA nor the FBI nor the NSA. It's the Environmental Protection Agency. I had no idea that EPA agents were trained to be killers! Taggert is sent to find the perpetrators and to bring them to justice.

Written by someone named Jeb, I could already envision the stereotypes of incestuous relationships, banjo-picking preachers, and
dumb-as-nails rednecks. But the script puts Seagal right smack dab in the middle of all of these scenarios as he tries to discreetly fit in. Seagal's idea of a disguise is a long-length $1000 leather jacket. But to get closer to the kinfolk, he will fix people's porches for free. That's another great EPA asset - teaching agents how to fix porches.

Slow and plodding, this project is a total mess. The sometimes allure of watching Seagal is watching him outmaneuver enemies that outnumber and outgun him like in Under Seige. Here, his bravado basically turns into bullyness. Townsfolk who are foolish enough to challenge Seagal are quickly subdued. Fight scenes are quick and senseless and offers no enjoyment value whatsoever. And his soap box message wears thin within the first 15 minutes. The most annoying moment comes when he barges into the middle of a Sunday church ceremony, gets behind the pulpit, and beseeches the townsfolk to take control of their lives and to help clean up the environment. But the epitome of how
moralistically mushy this film gets happens when the person
responsible for the toxic dumping, Kristopherson, meets up with Seagal. Kristopherson asks Seagal how much it will take for him to go away. Seagal gallantly replies: "I'll leave when you take the poison from the streams and the earth." I was expecting patriotic music to start blasting and a show of fireworks in the background. This is truly nothing more than a pompous showcase for Seagal's righteousness and narcissistic arrogance.

Seagal has been vanguard in trying to bring a new genre into the filmplace, that of the enviro-thriller (On Deadly Ground). However, the message will never come across through poorly developed vehicles like this. Still, I believe in preserving Mother Earth, so save your $5 and please donate it instead to some worthy environmentally conscious charity.

Grade: D

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