A `Deadly' Directing Debut By Seagal

Movie review

X 1/2 "On Deadly Ground," with Steven Seagal, Michael Caine. Directed by Seagal, from a script by Ed Horowitz and Robin Russin. Cinerama, Crossroads, Everett 9, Factoria, Gateway, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Kent, Northgate, Parkway Plaza. "R" - Restricted because of nudity, language, graphic scenes of torture and mutilation. -----------------------------------------------------------------

"Alaska is a Third World country," says an oil-company executive. "It's just one we happen to own."

"You're in charge here, Tonto," another oil man says to a Native American underling.

Nearly everyone who works for Aegis Oil is racist and repulsive. When you see who runs the company you'll know who inspires them.

His hair plastered down, his eyes narrowed to focus the darkness in them, Michael Caine plays Essence of Corporate Greed. He doesn't even try to be nice to the press when an oil spill turns him into headline material. Nor does he hesitate to order the death of his most reliable troubleshooter when the man dares to question him.

Because this troubleshooter is played by Steven Seagal, he easily survives the murder attempt, with the help of an Inuit activist group whose leader tells him that "in you I've seen a great spirit" who will defeat those who have "defiled the sacred mother."

This great spirit goes on to shoot one man in the back, another in the face, shove a knife through another's head and use a spinning

helicopter blade to perform brain surgery on a hitman. He also responds to barroom taunts with the kind of bone-crunching tactics that will test the limits of Dolby Digital systems everywhere.

Unfortunately Seagal, who also makes his directing debut with this script, is no match for Caine. His on-screen personality is petulant and humorless, his voice so grating you want to reach for a mute button.

Fortunately his final ecological lecture, which was rumored to have run 10-12 minutes last month, has been cut to less than 4 minutes. Not to give anything away, but this fuzzily illustrated sermon is mostly an attempt to prove that "the internal combustion engine is obsolete," and that oil companies everywhere are conspiring to wipe out alternative methods.

The movie is much shorter than the 120-minute time listed in the press kit, which fails to list any background material on the screenwriters (who may have wanted it that way). For a parade of ecologically correct violence this self-righteous, you'd have to go back to Tom Laughlin's "Billy Jack" movies. With friends like these, environmentalists need no enemies.