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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #180: Chief Casey Ryback

He also cooks.

It's no secret that Steven Seagal is a bizarre creature, but in the late '80s and early '90s he was the epitome of the cinematic bad-ass action hero roster that included Norris, Van Damme, Willis, Stallone, Gibson, and Schwarzenegger. For those of us 15 or therebouts in 1990, it was a genre designed expressly and deliciously for our consumption. Seagal's films were right in our wheelhouse - one man against the forces of crime/evil/darkness, armed only with his wits and skill and a variety of lethal weaponry. That could be a machine gun, a samurai sword, or more novel and exciting, a cue ball wrapped in a handkerchief. Even with just their bare hands, these guys were deadly, and Seagal used his martial arts expertise to inflict ever-entertaining pain and suffering on those who deserved it. Arms broke, necks snapped, and glass shattered wherever he encountered his nefarious prey. We loved it.

My favorite of Seagal's fight-porn movies was Under Siege. It overlaid a veneer of military propriety atop his usual rogue cop-schtick, raising the stakes. It put him on a battleship, lending a Die Hard element of claustrophobic isolation. And it made him a cook. Yes, Casey Ryback, former Navy SEAL and expert bare hands killer, was a cook. Well, he also cooked. And when a passel of terrorists (led by Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey at their manic best) seize his ship and kill his captain, well, revenge was on the menu. Ryback was a reluctant hero, having lost his earlier rank through an overdeveloped sense of righteousness, but once he goes on the offensive, he's a predatory beast. The bad guys never really stood a chance.

It's a surprisingly tight film, with fewer lingering shots of Seagal brooding in a dark alley and more three-dimensional supporting characters. This would be the apex of Seagal's career, and it was worth it. His climactic knife-fight with Jones alone is worth the price of admission. Yes, it's dated and drenched in swaggering testosterone and all so very improbable. And also awesome.

Get my pies out of the oven!

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