Isn't it funny how the things you remember being cool years ago actually seem pretty silly today. Aside from the stupid hair and clothing I strutted around in — which I still feel confident I looked pretty rad wearing, by the way — I recall 'Hard to Kill' being better than this. Don't get me wrong, I didn't think it was great cinema back when I first watched it in theaters with a group of friends, but I remember the action getting us all riled up and being amazed by the fancy martial arts fighting of then-newcomer Steven Seagal. Along with every other action movie lover out there, we thought he and Jean-Claude Van Damme were going to take over Hollywood, replacing Schwarzenegger and Stallone as the new blockbuster megastars.
Now that I'm revisiting Seagal's second big-screen feature sober, the movie doesn't excite as much as make me bust out laughing. What was I doing buying tickets to this?! From the music and the dialogue to the acting and directing, 'Hard to Kill' is hard to watch in some spots. I found my rolling my eyes at the weirdest if not dumbest contrivances exploding into big action sequences. Seagal's grand escape in a Jeep from the ranch house has always stuck out in the back of my mind as the movie's highlight, but now it seems spectacularly over-the-top and ridiculous as henchmen with really big, scary guns come pouring out of every corner, riddling the vehicle with bullet holes yet managing to miss the star entirely. Seagal, of course, doesn't even break a sweat during the whole mess, but I remember being on the edge my seat the first time I saw it.
His escape from the hospital at the beginning is also pretty hysterical. Seagal is such a badass he can even get away from a man with a gun while stuck in a gurney. Okay, so he gets a little help from the drop-dead gorgeous Kelly LeBrock, playing a nurse suffering from a very serious Florence Nightingale effect. But on his own, give the man a mop or a pool cue, and you'll see what he can do when you mess with family. Although LeBrock perpetuates a long-time male fantasy of nurses, she also makes me a bit nervous, wondering if they really do sneak a peek under the covers while I'm sleeping and make inappropriate remarks. Later on, when she makes her moves on Seagal (Isn't he still supposed to be fuming over the murders of his wife and son?), the saxophone — quite possibly the most erotic of all the brass instruments apparently — blares through the speakers with its aphrodisiac sound. I starting thinking, if that's what happens after sneaking a peek, well then . . .
Well, anyhow, moving along. The movie does have some decently redeeming qualities, other than the unintentional laughter. Steven McKay's script follows a fairly straightforward revenge plot that's surprisingly engaging and fast paced. I liked the idea of one man standing up against large-scale government corruption, starting with crooked cops and their Captain (Andrew Bloch) leading all the way up to the state's Senator (William Sadler). I also thought the friendship between Lt. O'Malley (Frederick Coffin) and Seagal's Mason Storm (a totally awesome name for a big-screen hero) was a nice added touch, helping our get back at the men who did him wrong. Even during the narrative's slower moments, if we can call Seagal's recovery montage slow, director Bruce Malmuth takes his time with the material, allowing for the buildup to the inevitable showdown and testing audience's patience before suddenly unleashing the non-stop action.
But alas, these few positives can't hide one serious quirk in the narrative, serving almost as a warning to viewers. You never know who might be listening in on your phone calls, so it's best to never call anyone! If Storm hadn't called his partner about the video evidence he just obtained, he would probably still be with his family. And if O'Malley had simply informed the coma center of his early retirement and provided them with a new phone number, the endless shootouts and killings could've been avoided. On the other hand, we wouldn't have the action-packed feature before us had anyone bothered using common sense or logic, now would we? At one point, I even felt a twinge of suspense when LeBrock gives her phone number to a sweet old lady at a nursing home. Not sure if it was intentional, but it made the movie that much more fun. So, in spite of the several negatives, I found myself ultimately enjoying all the silliness and nonsense. 'Hard to Kill' is a flawed but weirdly entertaining 90-minutes of seductive Seagal cheese.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video releases 'Hard to Kill' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD25 disc inside a blue eco-vortex keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken straight to a still photo of the cover art with generic menu options.
'Hard to Kill' isn't exactly hard to beat on Blu-ray, but the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is a very nice improvement to its DVD counterpart. Fine object details are sharp and distinct, especially in daylight exteriors. Healthy facial complexions come with excellent, lifelike textures which reveal the smallest blemish and wrinkle. The 1.85:1 image displays a consistent layer of natural grain, providing a pleasing film-like quality throughout. Contrast runs a tad hot, but doesn't cause any noticeable issues, allowing for plenty of good visibility in the distance. Black levels appear accurate and often inky, particularly in some of the outfits worn by Seagal and LeBrock. Poorly-lit interiors could be stronger, but objects in the shadowy backgrounds can still be made out clearly. Primaries are quite energetic and bold with bright, clean secondary hues filling in the rest of the palette.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack also offers a terrific upgrade to previous lossy editions though it won't come close to bringing down the house. Most all the action takes place in the front soundstage, feeling quite expansive with tons of discrete activity. Panning across the three channels is smooth while vocals remain precise and well-prioritized in the center. Every once in a while, we get the echoes of gunfire and explosion spread into the rears, but it's nothing wholly exciting or immersive. Dynamic range is also not very extensive, but detailed and accurate nonetheless so that every bullet and punch can be heard. Low bass is appropriate and responsive, adding a good deal of weight and power to the music and gunshots.
Only supplemental feature is the original Theatrical Preview.
In only his second big-screen role, Steven Seagal proved he's 'Hard to Kill' and instantly became a box-office action star — though sadly, star status, like his waistline, didn't last. In spite of several negatives and some narrative flaws, the movie is ultimately weirdly entertaining and fun with all its corniness and silliness. The Blu-ray arrives with improved video and audio but no special features. Nonetheless, Seagal fans and those who remember it being a better movie will be satisfied with the bare-bones release.