Hard To Kill (1990): Breakdown by RANTBO
Steven Seagal IS Hard To Kill.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
Steven Seagal is Mason Storm
As if the film’s title proclamation wasn’t enough and in keeping with Above The Law‘s gloriously self-gratifying opening, the tale of The Sensei’s greatness only continues to grow. Not only from the lips of his comrades, but in the screams from the hospital beds of his victims…
“Is he a national treasure?”
“You know, they always said Storm was superhuman.”
“He had more honor and guts than this whole department put together.”
“The most unstoppable son-of-a-bitch I ever knew.”
And here’s why: Seconds away from “dunking the p-tail” in his wife, a trio of crooked shotgun toting cops bust into Storm’s bedroom with intent to kill. Quick to act, Mason goes for his bedside pistol and receives a shotgun blast to his right pectoral for the lightning-fast defiance. Then, after watching his wife get executed, Storm is sent off into a seven year power nap with another warm glass of buckshot to the torso. Blue-balls and all.
For those of you not keeping track, Storm took two, TWO point-blank shotgun shots to the chest and did not die. And while that fact alone is enough to solidify Storm as Bad-Ass Of The Year, 1990, there’s more… Penis size: lets talk about it. After taking a gander under his hospital gown, Nurse Andy confirms that Storm has a LOT to live for, so much so she pleads out-loud for the comatose Storm to “Puh-LEESE! Wake-up!” And he does. Right after hearing the call that his “talents” are required.
Which means on top of being nigh un-killable and being a goes-without-saying expert of aikido, Storm also has a baby’s arm for a meat-club. I think we all owe Mason a begrudgingly jealous round of macho applause.
William Sadler is Senator Vernon Trent
Corrupt and certifiably ambitious in his drive for political power, Trent was and is willing to do whatever it takes to get his hypocritical ass in the highest of offices. Including working with a network of crooked cops and having ties to the mafia. But despite his balls-of-steel demeanor, the Senator is really just a coward in an expensive three-piece suit. And when Storm eventually gets around to deliver his message of vengeance, the Senator’s weaknesses rush, embarrassingly, to the surface as he begs for mercy at the feet of the un-killable man he so stupidly wronged. A performance so pathetic, even the justifiable rage-driven Storm finds himself unable to finalize the revenge…
Storm [after shooting at Trents balls]: I missed!?–I never miss… They must have been smaller than I thought!
Which will no doubt be a plus to his future fellow inmates, as he’ll appear to look more like a woman from behind.
Storm: Death is far too merciful a fate for you.
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO:
“Plaster Storm’s ass with slime!”
Even though Van Damme continued to carry the rainbow colored flag, Seagal’s first wave of films ushered in the decline of classic homoerotic undertoned action. By blending the brazing machismo of his forefathers (Charles Bronson, Bruce Lee, etc), with a believable interest in women, Seagal pretty much created his own genre and actor-specific chapter of Bad-Ass Cinema. And while his on-screen romantic relationships gradually gave way to a more 80s style appropriate “Bronson-esque” a-sexual abstinence, we’re simply not there yet. He still loves the pussy. So, I’m sorry to say the best this film seems able to offer is a couple shots of Storm, sans shirt and an awkwardly close relationship with an old department buddy, Lieutenant O’Malley (Frederick Coffin). O’Malley having literally devoted over seven years of his life to nurturing and protecting both Storm and his son, all for a tragic romance that was never meant to be. God damn you, Kelly LeBrock.
EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY:
One of the few things that still ties Seagal’s early films to the parlance of the times is the icy-cold misogyny. Not only is Storm’s wife shotgunned to death in her own bed (punishment for foreplay?), but his replacement leading lady is a fuckin’ moron. Sure, Andy’s physically attractive, but when allowed to speak the whole illusion of her appeal comes crashing down like the walls of Jericho.
Kelly LeBrock has the honor of being the only British “actress” I can think of whose voice is not only unable to make me immediately horny, but conversely, makes my penis retract back into my gut like a frightened turtle (and yes, that includes whomever you might be thinking of to rebut me). And while I risk sounding like a gay here, her style and clothing choices leave anything else to be desired. At least when she was in Weird Science she was performing magic to distract from all these terrible qualities.
Compounding all this, she’s crazy and a sexual deviant. Think about it, what kind of successful career woman looks like Kelly LeBrock, yet is single and obsesses over a coma victim that looked like this…
A fucking psychotic, that’s what kind. Given the choice between the two in their prime, I swear I’d rather have fucked Vince Neil than this woman. Both were gaudy, loud, stupid, yet pretty, but at least Vince had a sexy voice.
MURDER BY NUMBERS: [ 17 ]
Click HERE for the Body Count Breakdown
Though he does kill a satisfying eleven crooked cops and lackeys, Storm’s most impressive encounters are those in which he allows to live out their days shitting into bags and being forced to communicate by blinking. Other than Mason, the bad guys manage to take out 6 people, most of whom are close friends of Storm’s. Big mistake. Most everyone dies by the gun, though a couple through vicious aikido and two by way of road kill. So despite the low count, it’s still very satisfying.
MOST SATISFYING ASS-KICKING AND/OR DEATH:
Cue Number 2
Storm: That’s for my wife, FUCK YOU AND DIE!
Yes, that IS the business end of a pool cue sticking out of that guy’s jugular. On top of that, Storm kicks him the face –hard– and it is this, not the stick, that sends the bastard into his throes. An inarguably great way to start out, what would go on to become, a decade of over-killing greatness from Seagal.
[THE BEST OF THE REST]
Convenience Store Of Death
This fight at a gas station pits Seagal against a trio of weapon wielding robbers, who just happened to try robbing the wrong store, at the wrong time: When the Storm happened to be shopping. Like a pre-credits Bond movie action scene, this beat-down has little-to-nothing to do with the story’s plot, but unlike many of those pre-credits sequences, it doesn’t happen at the opening of the movie. Thus making it a random first-act pit stop for action. Clearly intended as a pre-coma display of Storm’s aikido skills, this short but brutal fight succeeds in it’s endeavor. The obvious high-point being when the last bad-man standing tells Storm, “I’m gonna cut your fucking heart out!”, to which Storm replies “Well, come ‘n’ cut my heart out, okay? Come ‘n’ cut my heart out! … Come ‘n’ get some. COME ‘N’ GET SOME!”. Did I mention Storm gets on his knees to say this? ‘Cuz he does.
Of course, the poor dumb bastard tests his luck, and Storm snaps his leg like one of the disheveled slim-jims on the counter behind him for the crook’s bold, yet foolish attempt. Oh Yeaaah!
Note: The runner up Epic Moment: Hearing an eagle screech after Storm climbs up a mountain. It was a close one.
Is arguably Seagal’s career best: When trying to piece together who the man is behind all his woes, Storm recalls his shadowy nemesis’s catch phrase after hearing it repeated on a television broadcast. Storm then turns the phase (“And you can take THAT, to the bank!”) into this bit of classic badass dialogue…
Seagal: I’m going to take you to the bank, Senator Trent.
Making this all the more awesome, is the fact that he’s alone in a bedroom when he says it–out-loud. So, in exchange for “wasting” the line when his foe was unable to hear it, Storm turns toward the audience and breaks the fourth wall for the delivery. Outstanding.
Whilst gathering evidence to use against a corrupt assemblyman (William Sadler, Die Hard 2) in his second bid to stop a senator’s assassination in as many years (Above The Law), LAPD Officer Steven Seagal (alias, Mason Storm) and his family are targeted by the mob. The effects of which bring about the death of his wife, an estrangement from his son and a seven year coma for himself. Now awake, due in large part to a nurse complimenting the ample size of his groin, Storm must re-train his body to peak physical “Hard To Kill” condition to enact sweet, sweet revenge. Which includes, but is not limited to; stalking, beating, shooting, stabbing and intimidation by way of giant graffiti murder notes.
This film marks a few firsts for Seagal in that he actually becomes physically harmed to the point of hospitalization, has sex with women, gets a training montage AND debuts his iconic ponytail. Not to mention all his now infamous cinematic traits from Above The Law make a glorious return: Shady foreign upbringing, multi-lingual talents, member of a police force, and he brutally beats and breaks numerous men and their brittle limbs with his vicious aikido skills.
Also similar is the attention paid to Seagal’s family and friends. In his earlier films, this seemed to be a solidified Seagalian trait. Eventually it went away as his gut enlarged and vocabulary shrunk, but it’s inclusion in Hard To Kill and other “Golden Era Films” (as Seagalogy scribe Vern calls them), really helped to make Seagal a relatable and human character. Which, when balanced with the ludicrous story of this entry, made for a great and grounded combination.
Steven’s interactions with other people and out loud self reflections are hysterical. Andy the Nurse (Kelly LeBrock) is simply a firm-assed pair of clown shoes with a goofy accent. And and the dialogue, situations and action sequences are all so ridiculously over-the-top, I believe the one “saving grace” that allows the film to be considered action above comedy, to be the shear brutal violence of the still oft hilarious beatdowns. Though this all strangely works in favor of the film.
But allow me to go back a bit and extrapolate on the parade of laughable nonsense. First, Storm’s interactions. He speaks to people as though he is some eastern guru—of pain. Which, he pretty much is… but it’s still weird/funny when he says stuff like the following:
Storm: We’re outgunned and undermanned, but you know something? We’re gonna win. And I’ll tell you why: superior attitude, superior state of mind.
Oh…Oh-Kay—but what the fuck does that mean? He wants it more, so they’re all fucked? I think Storm read ahead in the script. Plus, as discussed in the Best Line, he makes bad-ass proclamations out loud to himself. And he’s not even looking into a mirror. That’s just strange. And speaking of strange, Kelly LeBrock…
Well, she’s in the movie because she was Seagal’s wife, 1987-’94. Something I’m not fond of, but I’m OK with, mostly because she is great for a few laughs. The best example of which takes place near the end of Storm’s training montage. She happens upon him when he’s gotten “Hard-To-Kill” enough again to break a board of wood with his fist that he stuck in the ground, and says out loud with lust and awe, “Mason Storm!” Classic. So as annoying as I find her, she’s still better than Sharon Stone.
Then there’s the juxtaposition to all this goofiness: the action. Taking the best aspect of Above The Law (Seagal’s aikido skills), Hard To Kill one-ups it with even more lighting-fast brutality. And within the context of the story (a tale of justice and revenge), it works even better this time around. Meaning Seagal’s character has reason for being such a violent son-of-a-bitch, other than just being an Italian from Chicago.
The director, Bruce Malmuth, who previously helped to usher in Stallone to 80s action with Nighthawks, did much the same here with Seagal to the 90s. Building on the Sensei’s established new and fresh take on kicking ass, they worked together to drop the convoluted and preachy politics of his first film and just let the action breathe and carry the story.
Something Malmuth was unable to hat-trick when he worked with Dolph Lundgren a couple years later on Pentathlon. What a piece of shit that was. What were they thinking!? Sorry…
Also, I simply must once again (Above The Law) mention the score by David Frank (Code Of Silence, Showdown In Little Tokyo). From the bitchin’ guitar riffs for moments of sheer badassery, to the over-the-top sexy saxophone spikes when coitus is afoot, the “mood-music” is easily some of the best I’ve heard composed for the “Action-Cop” genre. Which some might consider a waste, considering the over-all quality of everything else, but a great score in an oft laughed at movie, is still a great score (The Phantom Menace, anyone?).
In closing, Hard To Kill is entertaining as all fuck. The violence, action and story are dumbed down and barbaric, but it has heart, plenty of laughs and as mentioned above, Steven Seagal’s first on-screen ponytail. And while it is surely of less quality, I still find it to be a better, more fun version of Above The Law, a film I liked very much. So this one is a definite win.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Steven Seagal is, without a doubt, hard to kill. His career however… much more vulnerable.
[THE AOBG ACTION CHECKLIST]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[X] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle*
[X] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[ ] Factory/Warehouse/Castle
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[X] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[ ] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[ ] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[X] Manly Embrace(s)
[X] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[X] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[X] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[X] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[X] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[ ] Torture Sequence(s)
[ ] Unnecessary Sequel
[X] Vehicle Chase(s)
[X] Vigilante Justice
*Mobile hospital gurney
[TOTAL: 18 outta 25]
Hard To Kill (1990) © Warner Brothers Pictures and Home Video / Review © AllOuttaBubbleGum.com and Ty ‘RANTBO’ Hanson