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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Fire Down Below

Air Date: Week of

Hollywood loves a guns and guts movie, and the recent box office success of the new Steven Seagal flick, Fire Down Below, shows the formula can even be applied to environmental themes . Living on Earth's private eye at the movies, Constantine von Hoffman has a review.


CURWOOD: Oh yeah, a guns and guts movie, the kind that Hollywood loves. Not exactly my taste, but the recent box office success of the new flick Fire Down Below shows that formula can even be applied to environmental themes. Living on Earth's private eye at the movies, Constantine von Hoffman, has our review.

VON HOFFMAN: Truth be told, I'd rather watch a Sierra Club remake of Die Hard than sit through another Hollywood attempt to depict threats to the environment. Even perennial green guy Robert Redford has so far spared us Global Warming: The Movie. Any doubts I had about this were laid to rest after taking in Steven Seagal's latest action adventure flick Fire Down Below.

Seagal plays Jack Taggart, a martial arts expert who runs around with a large gun strapped to his side as he upholds the rules and regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency?

(A punch. Woman: "Who are you?" Seagal: "I'm a Federal agent.")

VON HOFFMAN: After several of his EPA buddies are killed investigating a toxic waste dump in Appalachia, the Feds send in avenging angel Seagal to, yup, clean up the town. I'll spare you further details; they'd only make your head hurt. Suffice it to say there's scene after scene of our hero decked out in the latest black fashion: think Johnny Cash meets Rodeo Drive. And he's traipsing around the hills of Kentucky beating up bad guys, flirting with blonde beauties, pouring water into test tubes and shaking them up and down, all in the search for pollution. That technical wizardry apparently blinds Seagal to the painfully obvious: one of the locals has to point out to him that all the fish floating in the stream are dead. Check the source, Jack.

Meanwhile, the evil corporate tycoon, played for laughs by Kris Kristofferson, is corrupting everyone and everything as he tries to get a shipment of cyanide-laced chemicals into his dump. No matter what your politics you wind up rooting for Kristofferson. He's the film's only likeable character.

(A helicopter whirrs. Kristofferson: "I made $16 million on this deal. You think I'm giving it back?")

VON HOFFMAN: In the middle of all this are agonizing speeches about the horror of corporate greed an ineffectual government enforcement. Perhaps the only interesting thing about Fire Down Below is its ability to mesh right- wing anti-government paranoia and a call for more environmental regulation into one character. In the final showdown between good and evil, Seagal finally loses his cool.

(Seagal: "The EPA, they've never been very good at punishing criminals, catching them." [Western-style tense showdown music] "Catching them. Helping the environment. I've got a surprise for you. I quit the EPA, and I quit the EPA so I could spend my every waking moment trying to make your life miserable." Kristofferson: "We played this one by your rules, and your court decided I was clean. You're violating my constitutional rights." Seagal: "Mr. Hanner, I promise you, sure as you stand here now, I'm going to show you a new meaning to the word violation.")

VON HOFFMAN: As you can hear, logic isn't this movie's strong suit. And what we're left with is a film that combines the worst of 2 disparate worlds: the humorless preachiness of a particularly irritating brand of environmentalist, and Hollywood's inability to make a good action movie. My advice? If you want to be enlightened about the environment, take a walk in the woods. Go to the beach. Just stay out of the theaters. As the late Hollywood mogul Louie Mayer said, if you want to send a message, call Western Union. For Living on Earth, I'm Constantine von Hoffman.



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