The Steven Seagal Super Cinematic Spectacular: Hard To Kill
If Above The Law was a credible debut for Steven Seagal, then Hard To Kill was the movie that made it clear he wanted to be something of a challenger to Stallone and Schwarzenegger for box office glory. There was enough buzz around Seagal because Above The Law performed so well for a movie starring a relative unknown. Above The Law opened in wide release at #8 its opening weekend. The number one movie in North America that week was Beetlejuice and the rest of the top 10 is pretty impressive featuring movies like Moonstruck, Biloxi Blues and a re-release of Disney’s The Fox & The Hound. Opening at number 8 with that kind of competition is damn impressive. Hard To Kill opened at number one at the box office the week it was released in February of 1990, supplanting Driving Miss Daisy to claim the spot1. If Above The Law was Steven Seagal meekly saying “here I am” then Hard To Kill was Steven Seagal yelling at Hollywood “HERE I AM!”.
Hard To Kill is not nearly as good as Above The Law from a story perspective. We have gone from an Ex-CIA operative turned cop getting involved corrupt CIA conspiracies to a cop who gets put in a coma by his enemies, only to wake up 7 years later wanting revenge. That right there is whole plot of the movie. Sure, there is whole thing about how the man villain is a corrupt U.S. Senator wrapped up in criminal activity but do you really care? I mean Hard To Kill is the most basic movie plot there is. It is about revenge plain and simple. T really is not complicated. Yes there are other minor plot threads to make you care more about Seagal’s ludicrously named protagonist, like dragging his now teenage son into the whole mess of revenge. Sure the kid wants revenge as well, I mean the bad guys killed his mother and sister after all. But really on the scale of ludicrous action movie stories this doesn’t rate as completely ridiculous, at least not as much as say your average Chuck Norris movie2.
The thing is Hard To Kill has such an insanely ludicrous story, that the only real reason to watch it is solely for the action sequences. Above The Law had some great action and served as a kind of introduction to Seagal’s brand of Aikido. Hard To Kill throws the low key introduction out the window and just gives us Seagal just flat out beating the living crap out of people and randomly breaking their limbs. It is a violent movie, one of those R rated action movies that people want to go see in the early Spring because by that point they are so sick of re-released Oscar contenders that watching a motherfucker break another motherfucker’s arm in 3 places is sort of a cathartic release after months upon months of movies that are specifically bred to be Oscar bait3. Make no mistake, Hard To Kill is most assuredly NOT Oscar bait. It is essentially the antithesis of an Oscar bait movie. I mean, I’m sure if they released a movie where Jessica Tandy plays a cop awakening from a 7 year coma bent on getting revenge on those who put her in that coma through the power arm-breaking Aikido during Oscar Bait Season people and critics would go see it4 and probably praise her performance for showing such depth and range.
All kidding aside, Hard To Kill is not a terrible movie by any means. It is light on story and heavy on the action, which pretty much becomes the basic formula for every Seagal movie from this point forward. The plot is tissue paper thin but as a person who has to watch the movie you don’t care. This is not Shakespeare, shit it isn’t even a bad Tony Scott movie5. You are watching this movie for the action. You are watching this movie for the violence. You are watching this movie for Kelly LeBrock!
Ah yes, Kelly LeBrock, the model turned actress that inspired many a teenaged boys first erection when hey got to see Weird Science for the first time. The thing about Weird Science was that Kelly LeBrock was playing a character that was in control. She was the one that steered the movie and really made it fun. She kind of had the same role in The Woman In Red to a lesser extent. Unlike in those movies, here she plays damsel in distress. She is the nurse that is on duty when Seagal’s Mason Storm6 comes out of his coma. She then ends up helping him with his recovery so he can get out of his wheelchair, all in the name of revenge and limb-breaking justice. Remember what I said a few sentences back about how Kelly LeBrock was the one that steered Weird Science and drove the story? This is definitely not the case here. In Weird Science she was funny and charming as hell. Hard To Kill gives a Kelly LeBrock devoid of any with or charm. She is simply a broom shaped like Kelly LeBrock, simple window dressing whose sole purpose is to be the pretty nurse that Mason Storm uses to help him get over his murdered wife. I know if I were married and in a coma for 7 years and suddenly came to that I’d spend my time grieving my murdered wife by plugging away at Kelly LeBrock. Well, Kelly LeBrock in 1990 at least. Of course the Seagal/LeBrock romance was going on during filming of the movie as well and Seagal and LeBrock ended up married for almost 10 years and 3 children.
So what exactly do we take away from Hard To Kill?
Well for starters, Steven Seagal in 1990 had officially “arrived”. He took a low grade, ludicrous action movie and turned that into box office gold. Hard To Kill gave Seagal access to better scripts and better production values. These are things that happen when you go from “Future Action Star” to “Bankable Action Star”. Its safe to say if Hard To Kill had bombed then both Marked For Death and Out For Justice would not have done as well, with latter possibly not being made at all. It is the success of Seagal’s first four movies that allowed him to get to play with the big boys when Under Siege was dropped in his lap. The thing is, of the first 4 movies Seagal made Hard To Kill has this terrible story yet somehow the movie is still entertaining and engrossing. This movie should be just Goddamn awful yet isn’t. It just might be one of the best examples of the movies as escapist fantasy I can think of. Really, no intelligent person should watch Hard To Kill and come out happy that they just sat through it but I can’t think of one person that doesn’t like it when you talk about Seagal movies. I don’t even hate this movie. It is one of those great action movies that don’t get made anymore, in the fact that Hollywood felt that action movies need to have more stuff blowing up all the time7. Here Seagal and Director Bruce Malmuth give nothing but gunplay and Martial Arts and make a pretty good little action movie out of it.
So go watch Hard To Kill. I think you’re going to realize it isn’t totally awful. Personally, I don’t like it nearly as much as I like Above The Law but it is still a movie you can sit down and watch with friends and have a good time with. Of Seagal’s first four movies it is probably my thrid favorite. When next w continue the Steven Seagal Super Cinematic Spectacular I’ll talk about Seagal’s amazingly fun and equally violent Marked For Death, a movie that is almost as ludicrous as Hard To Kill but so much more fun for all the wrong reasons!
2 I maintain that outside of Way of the Dragon and The Octagon, Chuck Norris has NEVER made a good movie. Hell in one of those 2 movies I just named he is in it for less than 20 minutes as basically the guy who shows up to get his ass kicked by Bruce Lee.
3 Seriously, Oscar Bait Season runs from the middle of October until Christmas Day every year. That isn’t to say we don’t get some good movies out of it but a lot of them are released at that point in the year to prime us for the onslaught of movie critics awards, the Golden Globes and then the Oscars.