Friday, August 7, 2015

Hard to Kill (1990) Review:

For Steven Seagal, it was a lucky break for him to catch popularity as an action star. Any later in the 1980s and his name may not have made as big a splash as it initially did. Thanks to the success of Above the Law (1988), Seagal was seen as an upcoming asset for Warner Brothers and was being looked at as competition against other high profile 1980s actioneers like Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. Encouraging this prediction was this film. Unfortunately even for its financial success, Seagal's second film entry isn't anything ground breaking. As an overall product, it works but it's nothing special or unique. It’s just a useful time waster. There are elements that work for the film but they're only equal to the flaws that flood the production.

"Good thing I'm a lefty"
Steven Seagal plays Mason Storm, a cop who had a lead on a mysterious crime boss looking to get into power by running for congress. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Storm's cover gets blown and is attacked while at home with his family. Thought to be dead, Storm awakes from a coma in a hospital 7 years later and discovers the crime boss is still at large. It's at that point Storm decides to finish what he began. Although much of its premise has been seen many a time before, it’s an acceptable one. Written by Steven McKay (Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1995)), his work here isn't bad but it isn't very good either. One of the biggest questions that don't make any sense is how was Storm's identity kept secret for so long? The reason is actually given later on but how did these villains not check up on that? That's really sloppy guys. Also, it turns out the film was heavily edited down, which explains the actual seen to how Storm was kept hidden from his enemies. However with that stated, credit can not be given for something that doesn't exist in the final product because no one else will know until they bother to lookup the information (if they're that curious).

The other problem with McKay's writing is the suspense used for its villain. There really is no pay off to the realization of which the antagonist is. Not only is it revealed way ahead of time but also is only more clear as day due to a key phrase the character says. Mind you he says it after every claim he makes. Yet, another character clearly states that over the 7 years Storm was out, nobody could find any patterns. Sounds straightforward to me. The acting for the most part is fine. Steven Seagal has a number of good one-liners and his relationship with Lt. Kevin O'Malley (Frederick Coffin) feels authentic. Coffin and Seagal's role have the most real feeling relationship as two cops who have their backs. Then there's Kelly LeBrock (who happened to be Seagal's wife during the time). Slightly looking like a cheaper version of Angelina Jolie, LeBrock plays Andy Stewart, a nurse at the hospital that Storm wakes up in and ends up following until the ends of the earth. For what she portrays, it's fairly typical. However, this is nothing compared to her English/Australian accent she tries to pass with. It is very weak.

The action was applaudable though. In fact, the amount of shoot outs and fist fights that occur feel a bit more frequent than the action sequences in Above the Law (1988). Plus, there are some more unique kill scenes too. For example, don't get angry with Steven Seagal while you're playing pool. Not a smart idea. The pacing on the other hand is a different story. Directed by Bruce Malmuth (Nighthawks (1981)) and edited by John F. Link, these two crewmembers seem to have clashing agendas. For the action scenes, Link provides tight editing that keeps things moving quickly. Yet as a whole, Bruce Malmuth's directorial skills end up slowing everything down no matter the quantity of action scenes. Much of the direction is the crime boss' henchmen trying to kill Storm. This is fine, but for a cat and mouse chase there should be fewer slow paced parts than fast. Link was working on getting that down but it seemed like Malmuth had other plans. This just makes the sit feel rather sluggish in general.

Kelly LeBrock
The cinematography and music however attempted to reclaim some of the bad parts of the film. The film score, although hardly memorable at least had themes for its characters. Produced by David Michael Frank, a composer who's known for his fondness in synth compositions, doesn't stray far from that. Using a lot of keyboard and percussion, Frank demonstrates he can at least produce music with a signature style according to him. Matthew F. Leonetti (brother of John R. Leonetti) shot the cinematography. And although a large percentage of the film is shot at night or indoors, there are daylight and landscape shots that look great. A very good-looking scene is where Seagal is training in rural landscape. Seagal even climbs up a mountain and the view is magnificent. The action choreography is also well done and isn't shaky enough to disorient its viewers. Nice.

It's not a good film but it isn't a total loss either. It has decent cinematography, music, acting (almost all) and energetic action. A lot its problems come from its sluggish pacing and rather nonsensically obvious writing that none of the characters seem to understand.

Points Earned --> 5:10

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