Fire Down Below

Fire Down Below might just be the most laidback Steven Seagal movie I’ve seen, and I mean that as a compliment. Many of his seemingly endless outings are obnoxious inner city bang ups, special forces hootenannies or high concept martial arts pageants, but here is a simple, down to earth, rural Kentucky set tale of one tough Fed helping out a small town of disadvantaged folks battle corporate corruption and deeds most foul. An unscrupulous company has been dumping toxic waste into a town’s water supply, lighting the canyons on fire and being a general nuisance in the region, but they really step out of line when they kill Seagal’s research partner and he’s dispatched to investigate by his agency handler (Richard Masur in the quickest cameo I’ve seen in a while). He spends the rest of the film meandering around a backwater county, making friends, getting cozy with a troubled local beekeeper (Marg Helgenberger, ditching the swanky CSI leather for a country girl’s dress) and eventually beating the shit out of underlines who work for powerful industrialist CEO Kris Kristofferson, who spends most of the film elsewhere in the big city ogling dancers at some casino. The one who does make the most trouble for Steven is Helgenberger’s pervy, volatile, very mentally unstable brother played with a high strung psychopathic flourish by Stephen Lang. Others include The Band’s Levon Helm as the local priest, Brad Hunt, Mark Collie, John Diehl, Randy Travis, country singers Alex Harvey & Marty Stuart and the great Harry Dean Stanton, giving the film’s only truly good performance as a simple local guy who gets caught up in the whole mess. This is a low key thing, the action comes in quick jolts and there’s a kickass canyon car chase with giant trucks but a lot of it is just hazy small town hangin’ our, which is fine too. There’s some great music too sung by the numerous professional musicians in the cast and briefly by Stanton himself. The main thing the film has going for it is a hilarious script by Jeb Stuart, who wrote classics like Die Hard and The Fugitive. He pens some precious one-liners here and I have to give a few quick examples because they are priceless: Kristofferson’s son asks pops if he wants him to ‘take Seagal out,’ and Kris dryly retorts: “You couldn’t take out a cheeseburger from a drive-thru window.” Another instance sees some poor fool try and threaten Steven with: “I’m gonna slap you like a red-headed step child!” Amazing stuff.

-Nate Hill

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