Stars: Steven Seagal, Michael Caine, Joan Chen, John C. McGinley, R. Lee Ermey, Shari Shattuck. Written by Ed Horowitz & Robin U. Russin. Directed by Steven Seagal. Rated R for violence, profanity, nudity.

Who better to direct a guns-and-martial-arts action bonanza than a star of numerous action films like Steven Seagal? At best, his inexperience as a director is countered by a savvy of what works and how to design an action scene to unleash its greatest potential. At the very least, it releases a real director (such as Andrew Davis who went from Seagal's "Under Siege" to the Oscar-nominated "The Fugitive") to work on better things.

Forrest Taft (Seagal) works for Aegis Oil, an Alaskan-based oil company. Forrest handles the jobs no one else can, such as putting out oil fires with explosives. His boss, Michael Jennings (Michael Caine), is the CEO at Aegis and one unscrupulous businessman. He thinks nothing of building oil drilling rigs out of inferior parts. In fact, he has to do so purposely in order to get his latest project built before the oil rights revert back to the eskimos. When Forrest gets a whiff of this he decides to take action.

Naturally, Jennings and chief henchman MacGruder (John C. McGinley) pull out all of the stops to fatally prevent Forrest from accomplishing his mission. Forrest is aided by the natives because he fights for their cause. One in particular, Masu (Joan Chen), is especially helpful and accompanies Forrest on his destructive raid of the rig and refinery.

Surprisingly, I found Seagal directing to be no less adept than the typical action director, with a couple notable exceptions. The first of these is a particularly self-indulgent interlude when Forrest is dreaming among the eskimos. The second of these is the film's self-serving final scene wherein Forrest stands up in front of a group of people, pulls out a soapbox, and starts sermonizing on the ways that oil pollutes the earth, how companies have withheld less-polluting technology out of greed, and what can be done about the situation.

Other than these major quibbles, the film is generally okay as far the genre goes. Sure, the bad guys are cardboard cutouts and the assault on Aegis is anticlimactic, but it's always fun to see Michael Caine in action. How he, and actress Joan Chen, ended up in this chop-sockey flick is anybody's guess. They're a touch of class in a coarse film.

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