Even people with Steven Seagal's ego can at times learn from their mistakes. Following the fiasco of his 1994 environmentalist thriller On Deadly Ground, Seagal apparently decided to allow someone else to take care of screenplay and direction in his next project of the same nature. This decision had some effect on the quality of Fire Down Below, 1997 thriller directed by Felix Enriquez Alcala .
In this film Seagal plays Jack Taggart, EPA agent sent to small mining town in eastern Kentucky. Few federal agents, including Taggart's friend, have disappeared there while attempting to investigate alleged toxic waste dumping in local mining shafts. Taggart comes to town under the guise of church-sponsored humanitarian worker and gradually earns the trust of local people by providing free carpentry services to impoverished families. He also becomes interested in Sarah Kellogg (played by Marg Helgenberger), attractive young woman who happens to be town's pariah. In the meantime, evil mining tycoon Orin Hanner Sr. (played by Kris Kristofersson) sends his goons to get rid of troublesome carpenter, but Taggart is more than able to take care of himself.
Relatively inexperienced television director Alcala, stuck between satisfying Seagal's ego and attempting to entertain audience, tried to take middle road. There are some action scenes, but during them Seagal begins to show signs of age. They are actually the most boring element of the film - they are too fast and audience have little time to notice Seagal's martial abilities. On the other hand, Alcala and scriptwriters Jeb Stuart and Philip Morton use Fire Down Below as an opportunity to show part of USA usually ignored by Hollywood in recent years. So the audience is given the glimpse of Appalachian mountains, local folklore and some wonderful country music (with Seagal himself trying to prove himself as a musician). On the other hand, while trying to be nice towards Appalachian hillbillies, Fire Down Below still succumbs to mean-spirited stereotypes of "white trash" incest. Some good actors like Harry Dean Stanton are wasted by playing not well-defined characters. On the other hand, strong pro-environment message, good intentions, nice landscapes and good country music would make Fire Down Below watchable simply by allowing audience to enjoy in few precious moments.
RATING: 3/10 (+)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on March 11th 2004)
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