Another day, another straight-to-DVD release from fading action star Steven Seagal, whose career has discovered a new lease of life in a string of cheaply made, inexplicably popular DVD B-movies that exploit the ageing star's presence as a one-time ass-whupper of the big screen. Surprisingly enough, SUBMERGED is actually a decent Seagal movie, standing head and shoulders above his other recent offerings and definitely up there with the likes of OUT FOR A KILL, BELLY OF THE BEAST, and MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE. The film has a great cast for once and strong direction from WAXWORK's Anthony Hickox that makes it far better than it has any right to be.
When this film was being produced, word had it that it would be an underwater monster flick in which Seagal fought a biological mutant creature – wrong. Instead the plot is action-focused, detailing groups of soldiers, bodyguards, and special forces agents in a running battle with a scientist who has developed a drug that turns normal people into killing machines. Shades of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and a dozen other mind-control flicks here but director Hickox wisely chooses to focus on the action rather than the clichéd plot machinations. The result is an action-packed movie that fulfils its quotient of shoot-outs, wild car chases, and big explosions.
Seagal himself takes more of a back seat than usual, typically hiding in the shadows while somebody else's voices dubs over him. He takes part in a couple of action scenes, shooting a shotgun that never needs to be reloaded and tackling a hulking bodyguard in a good ol' fashioned fight scene that looks like it should have been in UNDER SIEGE 2. This is a Seagal who doesn't really care too much anymore, happy to pretend he's black (he tells somebody to move their "white ass"!) and reference his older films – there's a quote about making a phone call to "touch" someone that's lifted from ON DEADLY GROUND. The good news is that, where Seagal fails, the other cast members step in to make this an entertaining experience – and none other than Vinnie Jones is this flick's biggest selling point.
Jones is stereotyped as a tough British SAS veteran who retains the 'football hooligan' persona we all know and love from countless other films with him in. Jones brings life and character to the movie and takes part in the best action scenes. One violent fist fight is a highlight and recalls his glory days as he beats down a zombie-brained soldier and continues to pummel him to death. The film immediately becomes better whenever Jones is around and he's impossible to dislike. The rest of the cast also seem to have fun, although I could have done without the black female sidekick played by Christine Adams; her expression doesn't change even once throughout the film and she's even worse than Seagal himself.
The film has quite a few different bad guys and most of them are familiar. The mad, Nazi-style scientist is played by Nick Brimble, who was the Creature in FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND but who is most recognisable these days from his turn as a villain in ITV's EMMERDALE! Brimble chews the scenery with relish and you know he's enjoying himself. Also about is William Hope, best known as the ineffectual Lieutenant Gorman in ALIENS; Hope hasn't changed too much over the years and his slimy, weaselly villain is good fun here. Finally, lower down in the cast list is Brit martial artist Gary Daniels as a brainwashed soldier who battles Seagal in the kitchen in a knife fight that recalls the glory days of UNDER SIEGE. Daniels is hardly in the film but he's nevertheless a solid addition to the proceedings.
The film has plenty of fun action, but there are three really strong moments. The first is the assault on the compound, in which Seagal and his squad hold off an entire army (including a tank) in a pyrotechnic display of cool effects and a disregard for realism. Next the scene on the sub in which the brainwashed bad guys turn on the heroes is actually very suspenseful and effective, although sadly it is over far too soon. Finally, the ending really delivers what action fans have been waiting for. There's a decent shoot-out at an opera of all places, then all hell breaks loose as Seagal goes ape, smashes up a car, and beats up the bad guys for the last time. My favourite scene has a broken helicopter whizzing around a square, knocking the heck out of the scenery and proving to be one of my favourite 'helicopter' scenes in a film EVER. Better than many a big-budget production, Hickox really gets his money's worth out of this one. So, SUBMERGED is a cheesy B-movie for sure, but a darned entertaining one at that and one for the collection.