Hard to Kill was directed by Bruce Malmuth (Nighthawks, Where Are the Children?) written by Steven McKay (Darkman II: The Return of Durant, Assault on Devil’s Island), and stars Steven Seagal (Contract to Kill, Maximum Conviction), Kelly LeBrock (The Woman in Red, Weird Science), Branscombe Richmond (City of Gold, The Scorpion King), Charles Boswell (Drop Zone, Bloodfist III: Forced to Fight), Andrew Bloch (Hangar 18, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday), Fredrick Coffin (Mother’s Day, Identity), and William Sadler (The Mist, VFW). It’s about a cop who wakes up from a bullet-induced coma with the sole purpose of bringing those who put him there to justice.
The Plot: From the outset Hard to Kill may seem to be merely another revenge-centric action movie. While it definitely is that it’s also more cheesy, slapdash, and banal than one would expect, even for a Seagal starrer. Mason Storm (Seagal, of course) is “hiding” by standing up and staring at political wannabe Trent (Sadler) and naturally gets spotted. It can only go up from here. Right?
After getting away with taped evidence, which he doesn’t turn in, he goes home to his wife who promptly gets killed by Trent’s corrupt cops Quentero (Richmond), Axel (Boswell), and Hulland (Bloch), and to his son who literally runs out of the movie for seven years. There are plenty of instances like this where some bizarre editing or scripting shoves plot points into and out of focus to streamline the movie into a digestible 95 minutes, however, these woes do more damage than anything, leaving the plot disjointed and still predictable.
After that attack put Mason into a coma Lieutenant O’Malley (Coffin) keeps Mason a secret for seven years. Somehow. Mason wakes up to nurse Andy (LeBrock) and plenty of bullets. From there it’s just more revenge prerequisites with details missing and any potential mystery of those involved in the meeting that Mason spied on being eschewed. Time is a flat circle if Seagal’s preferences of plots are anything to go by.
The Characters: Even during his second movie Seagal’s ego had gotten the best of him as he had rewritten parts of his character to his liking, which lead to Mason being an ex-something or other, family man and perfect human being. Except he’s not. He’s hard to root for, really, as he fumbles his initial mission, lets an innocent man die, and immediately forgets his wife.
Andy is an equally groan-inducing effect of script rewrites, taking to Mason before he even wakes from his coma because he’s just that sexy and well-endowed, allowing for obligatory sex scenes. I wonder if Seagal had anything to do with that. There are at least some montages of time passing and Mason bonding with Andy, but they get down to business before Mason even thinks of his wife.
O’Malley is at least given some decent characteristics that make him more likable than Mason himself. He’s earnest and more caring towards Mason’s son than Mason is, having taken him in and paid for his private schooling while hoping for Mason to come to. His fate is sealed given his position in the plot but he’s enjoyable while around.
Trent is a weak villain, in contrast to Sadler’s other bad guy role of 1990, Stuart in Die Hard 2. Here, he’s two-faced as can be, fronting to the press while planning deaths but has little impact thanks to his distance from the main story and undefined motives. It’s a lot of bad writing and scrapped scenes smashed together to make characters that predictably doesn’t end well.
The Action: Despite being an early outing for Seagal (many fans tout the first 4 or 5 movies he starred in as terrific examples of action movie making), the action in Hard to Kill isn’t all that engaging. After his spy mission, Mason goes to a convenience store where he lets the clerk die which saps the sympathy from his character and from the scene. Even within that scene, all the movie gives to the audience is Mason throwing some thugs into shelving and flipping one guy over.
When he wakes from his coma, he’s hunted by corrupt cops who basically teleport to the hospital. One of the couple solid action scenes of Hard to Kill is the escape. While it’s obviously unrealistic, having a character wake up with atrophied muscles and manage to push his own gurney to safety, the obstacle it presents to Mason is a unique one for action movies; and the execution is good if a little flat. Aside from some montages, there isn’t much in the way of action until around 65 minutes in, which would be fine if the buildup was good, but it’s not since the two main characters aren’t investing or likable.
When Hard to Kill does finally get going the action is passable but largely sticks to Seagal throwing people into structures and flipping people to the same effect over and over. One car chase in the last 10 minutes is impressive, as is one of the final kills, but overall the action already feels too similar to Above the Law.
The Technics: Malmuth wasn’t the most inventive director, only ticking boxes and keeping things in the frame while hardly ever making scenes look impressive. The exception being the locations during the scenes set in a rural house Mason recovers at and keeps the camera steady while the mediocre action takes place. The directors with whom Seagal made good movies (Andrew Davis and John Flynn) knew how to keep the movie visually interesting with varied angles, personal touches, and dynamic action while Malmuth’s work on Hard to Kill is largely flaccid.
At least the synth/keyboard/guitar score by David Michael Frank (Extreme Justice, TekWar) works hard to set itself apart via instrumentation and more exotic Asian influences hardly seen in movies. It’s one of the best parts of Hard to Kill, although the saxophone bits are painful in their cliché, much like most of this movie.
Hard to Kill is easily the worst of Seagal’s early movies, offering a clunky story full of missing plot elements, unlikeable characters, action that ranges from average to below average, and an early onset of Seagal’s permanent invulnerability. Hard to Kill comes off as a prelude to the Direct-to-DVD hell the star would soon find himself in.
Hard to Kill is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital platforms via Warner Brothers. And if you’re looking for something with a bit more kick to it, FilmTagger has some suggestions.