On Dangerous Ground (1996)

Country: UK/Canada/Luxembourg
AKA: Jack Higgins’ On Dangerous Ground
Director: Lawrence Gordon Clark
Starring: Rob Lowe, Kenneth Cranham, Deborah Moore, Jurgen Prochnow, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Daphne Cheung, Claude Blanchard
Music: Leon Aronson
Based on the novel by Jack Higgins

On Dangerous Ground is a poorly executed TV movie based on a Jack Higgin’s novel featuring a character called Sean Dillon. The movie opens in an unspecified war torn European country. A group of dishevelled and battle weary soldiers mill around a Catholic Church. The commander of this group enters the church and heads into a confessional booth. The priest on the other side listens intently as the soldier confesses his sins. At the end of the confession, the priest pulls out a pistol and shoots the soldier through the mesh grille that has been separating them.

The priest steps out of the confessional and discards his priest’s robes. The man is Sean Dillon (Rob Lowe), a mercenary for hire, and obviously he has been hired to kill the commander in this area. The other soldiers outside hear the shot and come to investigate. Dillon exits via the back door with the soldiers chasing and firing after him.

Just as it appears that Dillon is pinned down and fighting a battle which he can’t win, and armed chopper swoops in. The gunner in the chopper makes short work of the first tier of soldiers after Dillon’s hide. But this isn’t a well planned rescue mission. Dillon turns to see who is saviour is. He sees Brigadier Charles Ferguson (Kenneth Cranham). Dillon aims his pistol at Ferguson and says, “I should kill you now!” It would appear that Dillon and Ferguson have a history together – and it would appear not to be a pleasant one. Dillon reconsiders; shoulders his weapon, and gets into the chopper.

Although never truly explained in the movie, it would seem that Ferguson is the head of a British Intelligence unit, and by accepting the chopper flight to freedom, Dillon is now a spy for the British. It seems that Ferguson needs Dillon. One of Ferguson’s operatives, Billy Quigley (Dudi Appleton ) – another ex-IRA boy – has gone missing. His job was to infiltrate a ring of terrorists headed by Michael Ahern (Richard Orr) and Nora Bell (Marie Connally). Ahern and Bell have been employed by an Iranian outfit called The Army Of God to assassinate the President Of the United States, who is due to arrive in London in less than a week. Ferguson wants Dillon to track down Quigley and by association, Ahern and Bell.

Dillon is given a partner, Hannah Bernstein (Deborah Moore) to work with, but that isn’t his style, and at the earliest opportunity he goes off on his own. Naturally this was expected and Bernstein had planted a bug on Dillon. When she catches up with him he is trying to find out the whereabouts of Michael Ahern. Bernstein is taken aback by Dillon’s unconventional methods. That is to say, to acquire information, he shoots his informants ear off.

Meanwhile in the United States, at the Lady Of Mercy Hospital in New York, an elderly man with terminal cancer is admitted. The old man’s name is Jack Tanner (Robert James) and he is man with a mysterious past and a secret. It’s a secret which dates back to 1944 and the last days of the war, and it concerns Lord Mountbatten and Mao Tse Tung. On his death bed he shares this secret with an intern.

Dillon’s methods haven’t been too successful in tracking down Ahern, Bell and an Iranian terrorist called Ali Halabi (Avi Nasser). The U.S. President arrives and his motorcade snakes its way through the cordoned off streets. Along the side of the road is a broken down car. Beside the car stand Ahern and Bell. A recovery vehicle is sent to remove the vehicle before the President’s motorcade passes that location. Behind the wheel of the recovery vehicle is Halabi, and he is suicide bomber. As the Motorcade gets closer, Ahern detonates the bomb in the recovery truck. He sets off the bomb early and misses the motorcade.

Most people now believe the terrorist threat is over, but not Dillon. He believes that the bomb was just a decoy, and he is right. The real attack is planned for the meeting between the U.S. President and the Chinese Foreign Minister. The historic meeting is to take place outside in a garden and both men are to plant a symbolic almond tree as a gesture of goodwill. At the last moment Dillon spots the bomb in the root system of the tree. Everybody panics and runs. Ahern tries to detonate the bomb, but is shot before he can push the button. Bell rushes over and triggers the bomb. Everybody is clear now except for Dillon who is thrown forward by the concussion wave. He falls face down at Bells feet. She produces a knife and stabs him three times in the back. She is only stopped after Bernstein shoots her dead.

Dillon takes quite a while to recover from his wounds. But while he does, other events are transpiring. The intern at the Lady Of Mercy Hospital is the nephew of a Mafia Don – Don Giovanni (Claude Blanchard). And the secret that the old man told concerns a document called The Chungking Covenant. In this document, Mao Tse Tung promised an extended lease on Hong Kong. You have to remember the film was made in 1996 – In 1997 China regained control, of Hong Kong from the British. Obviously this document is very important to many businessmen who have a vested interest in Hong Kong. One such man is Carl Morgan (Jurgen prochow). Don Giovanni enlists his aid in tracking down The Chunking Covenant.

Simultaneously, while recuperating, Dillon begins a relationship with a girl from Hong Kong. Her father, a successful and powerful businessman approaches Dillon to also track down The Chunking Covenant. Naturally Morgan and Dillon’s paths cross in the quest to be the first to find these valuable documents.

The story for this UK/Canadian/Luxembourg co-production isn’t too bad, other than a few contrived instances that probably work better on the printed page rather than on the screen – after all it comes from a Higgins novel. The real weakness is this movie is the acting. Some of the accents of display here are pretty awful. When Mickey Rourke played an Irish assassin in the adaptation of Higgins’ Prayer For The Dying he copped a lot of stick for his dodgy Irish accent. In comparison he would have won an Academy Award next to the actors in On Dangerous Ground.

Rob Lowe as Sean Dillon is terribly miscast. He looks the part and scowls a lot, but Lowe is at his best when he displays a bit of cheeky swagger. I don’t think ‘dangerous hard bastard’ is in his acting arsenal.

With numerous best-selling books featuring Sean Dillon, this film probably has a build-in audience who are interested in seeing it. I have only read two Jack Higgins novels and I must say that enjoyed them enormously. If the Sean Dillon novels are equally enjoyable, then this film would be a real let-down for any fan of the series. I would suggest that you don’t ruin the character for yourself. Enjoy the books but stay clear of this movie.

On Dangerous Ground is a actually the second movie in a four tele-movie series. The first is Midnight Man, also with Robe Lowe. The third and fourth are the Windsor Protocol and Thunder Point, which starred Kyle MacLachlan as Sean Dillon.

Besides four television movies, as previously mentioned, Sean Dillon is a well established literary hero – hero may not be the right word as he stated out as a terrorist/mercenary. Here is a list of books the character has appeared in:

• Eye of the Storm (1992)
• Thunder Point (1993)
• On Dangerous Ground (1994)
• Angel of Death (1995)
• Drink with the Devil (1996)
• The President’s Daughter (1997)
• The White House Connection (1999)
• Day of Reckoning (2000)
• Edge of Danger (2001)
• Midnight Runner (2002)
• Bad Company (2003)
• Dark Justice (2004)
• Without Mercy (2005)
• The Killing Ground (2007)

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