3 out of 4 stars
Some time in late 2005, I received a mysterious package in the mail. It was addressed to my roommate Troy (a guest reviewer for Rental Rehab) and me, sent to us via our mutual friend Michael T. “What could this be?” we wondered, all-the-while sensing a great spiritual energy emanating from the box.
Inside were 2 cans of Steven Seagal’s Lightning Bolt energy drink; one for each of us. For a number of reasons—primarily owing to my intestinal fortitude and not wishing to test the boundaries thereof—my can of Lightning Bolt has remained unopened all these years, like an untapped vessel of cosmic force that awaits the appropriate hour in which to fill my being with the “untold natural power” of 100% juice.
Lightning Bolt would have been barely a glimmer in Steven Seagal’s often squinted eyes when he starred in the male vengeance fantasy Hard to Kill (1990), a tasty little morsel that is presumably much easier to swallow than the surely toxic swill awaiting me in that can of “Asian-inspired” energy dreck.
The Beauty of Low Expectations
People often ask how I can stand to watch such shitty movies on a routine basis. I say, when I get to watch a film that’s busting at the seams with non-sequitur one-liners, unintentionally hilarious training montages and laughably inept henchmen, how the hell could I resist? Most mainstream movies are a let-down anyhow (The Crappening, anyone?); why not go in knowing something’s going to suck and then enjoy the hell out of it?
And Hard to Kill is incredibly enjoyable. Here we have one of the most famous action adventure stars of all time, at his peak; black ponytail slicked into submission, taut greased-up muscles revealed under billowing tanks and readily-apparent delusions of grandeur.
Steven Seagal is Mason Storm, a cop who…wait for it…plays by his own set of rules. Not so much a loose cannon, but more the lone wolf with a fucking heart of gold.
The film opens in 1983, with Storm in the midst of a hush-hush surveillance operation down at the docks, naturally, where he is videotaping a group of assorted henchmen. These knuckleheads have assembled to very clearly spell out their plans to murder a California senator in very explicit language; “OK, guys, once again, let’s go over all of the pertinent details of this crime in very specific terms. And it would probably be helpful if we called one another by our full names and maybe also mentioned our addresses each time we speak.”
Storm, a bumbling buffoon of a covert ops expert, is easily discovered; a revelation that puts his wife, his son and him at immediate mortal risk.
After “breaking up” a convenience store robbery, witnessing the cold-blooded murder of a store clerk and killing and maiming several hoodlums, Storm heads home to deliver a bottle of champagne to the wife and a stuffed monkey to his kid (“Don’t mind the brain matter, son. That will wipe right off after it dries”).
While in the throes of making sweet, passionate love to his wife, Storm’s home is attacked by the dock henchmen. His wife is killed in the assault, his kid makes a dashing escape out the second-story window and Storm suffers a near-fatal injury that puts him into a coma.
O’Malley—an Internal Affairs guy and evidently the only other clean cop in L.A.—tells the world that Storm is dead and secrets him away in the L.A. Coma Center. And that’s when the real fun begins.
We find Storm in a hospital bed, 7 years later, sporting a full-on Jesus beard and long, flowing locks. Storm is safe under the watchful eye of a sexy nurse, Andy, who offers him “a little pussy” (she means a kitten, silly! No seriously, she drops a kitten on his bed.) and who surreptitiously peeks under his sheets, widens her eyes in appreciation and says “You have so much to live for; please wake up!”
I know what you’re thinking, and no; Seagal did not write the script.
Like the Messiah himself, Storm rises from his 7-year deathbed ready to save humanity from itself. After regaining consciousness in the severely under-staffed L.A. Coma Center, Storm is brought up to speed with the local cable news station’s daily segment “So; You’ve Just Woken From a 7-Year Coma!” before a man arrives to tell him; “My name’s Danny. I’m a physical therapist. I’m going to give you a massage, take you down the hall, make you feel alright. OK?” Jesus Christ; someone get Mason Storm a number for an L.A. med mal/harassment attorney.
Getting Strong Now! Did Someone Say…Montage?
Inevitably, Andy and Storm have to go into hiding together. Conveniently, she is house-sitting for a millionaire who lives in the country, with a working dojo on premises, a white horse and a nearby mountain. I smell a Getting-Back-in-Shape-After-My-Coma-With-Heavy-Handed-Symbolism-Montage coming on!
In a matter of hours, Storm is back to full strength, with nary a sign of the muscle atrophy and bed sores that would be inherent with 7 years of bed rest, even if the hospital staff were using your body as a personal playground.
O’Malley and Storm reunite so that Storm can play with his gun and speak/whisper about “We’ll get ‘em, buddy. Every. Fucking. One. Of. Them” while blowing the homeowner’s landscaping to shreds. “Those potted plants and wagon wheel been lookin’ at me crooked.”
While it’s nice that Storm’s friend would visit to supply him with a gun and one hand grenade(?!), it would have been nice had he brought him some men’s pants as well. I never knew until Hard to Kill that it was possible for men to have camel toe. Yowzah!
The piece de resistance arrives as Storm replays events in his head; various conversations, the faces from that fateful night 7 years ago and some news footage of the movie’s villain (Senator Vernon Trent). It is at this point that he finally connects the puzzle pieces; during his stakeout, the bad guy ringleader quipped, “You can take that to the bank,” a phrase so original and singular, that when Storm hears it 7 years later in a different context, he is able to put two and two together and identify Sen. Trent as the mastermind behind the mayhem.
Storm looks at a blank TV screen and utters; “I’m gonna take you to the bank, Senator Trent; to the blood bank.”
The blood bank? THAT’S your big throw-down?
“I’m gonna take you to the bank, Senator Trent; to the blood bank…Because I hear you’re O-positive and there’s a great need for your blood type at this time.”
“I’m gonna take you to the bank, Senator Trent; to the blood bank…because I get a little woozy after I donate a pint and I could really use someone to drive me home afterward.”
About That Dead Wife…
Like most vengeance fantasies, the Dead Wife serves as little more than a motivating factor to lose the spare tire and get back in fighting shape. For someone whose true love was brutally killed in his arms, Storm is able to put his past behind him—and shag the nurse—in less than a week, all the while, throwing around one-liners like so much candy.
Now, I’ve never written an action adventure script, but I know a travesty of a one-liner—let’s call them flat liners—when it passes the lips of an actor who is taking the words way too seriously. This movie is neck deep in ‘em:
- “I have one more take out order.” (Storm, while in Chinatown with his son, whom he is leaving after having just been reunited after 7 years.)
- “Now you’re a good cop.” (Storm, after killing a henchman/crooked cop)
- “I missed – I never miss. They must be have been smaller than I thought.” (Storm, after firing a gun at Sen. Trent’s crotch.)
- “You pea-brained Cub Scout!” (Sen. Trent to a cop as he’s getting the bracelets and being led away.)
- “Tomorrow’s weather report: Killer Storm Strikes Back.” (A cop, at the clean-up scene at Sen. Trent’s mansion.)
Storm, ever the trooper, is no worse for the wear once he’s done exacting vigilante justice on the seemingly endless array of thugs who tore apart his family with bullets. Dead wife, schmead wife, all he can think about is some much needed R &R and that promised “kitten”: “How ‘bout a vacation?”
You keep it classy, Sensei Seagal.
Rental Rehab review by Tricia