a critiQal film review Hard to Kill (1990)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Gunned down and left for dead when his family was murdered, Detective Mason Storm (Seagal) awakens from a seven-year coma and seeks to settle the score. With the aid of a coma ward nurse (Le Brock) and a cop buddy - now retired - he goes after the corrupt politician (Sadler) who engineered the attempt on his life.

817 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 5s)

Recent film The Expendables (2010) is bringing old action heroes (Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc.) back into the movie limelight with their new action hero counterparts (Jet Li, Jason Statham, etc.). With that in mind, it’s made me want to go back and check out the action heroes I remember the most – namely, Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Thanks to our NetFlix® instant queue (and an extensive DVD collection), that hasn’t been a problem.

This time around, I focused on Seagal. I checked out one of his earlier films, Hard to Kill. His movies tend to blend together by this point. Still, I wanted to go back and see if he was just as entertaining to watch as he used to be. Would Hard to Kill stand the test of time? Or is there a reason Seagal’s movies nowadays tend to go straight to DVD?

While Seagal still makes the occasional action flick, he’s known more these days for his foray into reality TV (“Steven Seagal: Lawman” (TV)). Back in the day, however, he was a big action star, using martial arts moves to deliver his one-man army straight to the bad guys by the truckload. He’s in typical form in Hard to Kill, using a variety of martial arts movements to take down a seemingly unending supply of dirty cops in this revenge pic.

True, he never really had the same charisma as, say, Arnold or Sly. But, his quick movements and action-packed sequences still packed ’em in. Without his moves, however, he wasn’t the typical action star, as his obsession with Chinese culture and oddly feminine running-style can attest to. When he gets his fight on though, he’s still just as fun to watch, though he never quite manages to deliver the solid one-liners that characterized the true action star of the 80’s and 90’s.

Kelly LeBrock – best known for her mid-80’s sex symbol role in Weird Science (1985) – does a decent job of keeping up with then-husband Steven Seagal in Hard to Kill. Tossing in some much-needed comic relief in this otherwise drab revenge pic, she steals her scenes before the fighting starts. Once the action gets underway, however, she is delegated to nothing more than the typical feminine screamer in the background and lets Seagal hog the camera. It’s a bit disappointing, but since her and Seagal’s chemistry seems an odd mix right from the start (despite their off-camera relationship), her role – apart from her occasional comic interlude – seems an odd fit for her.

William Sadler (listed as “Bill” Sadler in the credits) shows why he’s still around today, as he takes a cookie-cutter role (corrupt politician) and makes the best of it. He plays both charming and sinister when the role calls for it. Sure, he doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but he uses what little he’s given to make his character into a rather charismatic villain.

Hard to Kill plays out based on a rather thin plot. Unlike some of the cookie cutter action pics of the 80’s and 90’s, it manages to stay true to the story even while pulling bad guys from out of nowhere. Hooking the viewer with the revenge angle near the beginning, the film manages to keep the viewer’s attention through even the slow sequences – if only because the viewer knows the action is going to be fast and furious when it does start. Sure, if there were really that many dirty cops on salary for the police department, the station would be unmanned by the time Seagal’s character has worked through them all. But, with that revenge angle tossed in, the viewer doesn’t really care the film goes over-the-top spewing out bad guy after bad guy. Plus, since they are all fodder for Seagal, that’s basically why the viewer went to the film in the first place, isn’t it?

Sure, there are plot holes and yes, some of the stunt sequences are a bit far-fetched. This latter part includes a gunfight sequence involving 20 cops against Seagal and LeBrock – who are fleeing in a Jeep that seems to have both the magical ability to keep it’s tires from receiving any gunfire and tossing people an exorbitant distance out of it’s way nearly before it even hits them. Still, the action does keep it’s intensity through the entire second half of the film, and delivers it’s value in popcorn entertainment.

While he did improve nearly two years later when he peaked with Under Siege (1992), Seagal’s Hard to Kill is really more typical of his big action flicks. Lone wolf Seagal kicking butt and – for the most part – keeping quiet. Not exactly the best of the 80’s / early 90’s action flicks, Hard to Kill delivers it’s share of popcorn entertainment. But, it’s not something that really stands out among Seagal’s other films.

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