Action star Steven Seagal stars as a government enforcer investigating a terrorist plot that leads him and his team to Istanbul. There, they uncover an extremist plan to use drug-smuggling routes to bring deadly weapons — and leaders — into the U.S. To prevent an attack on America, Harmon must turn these two savage forces against one another before his time — and luck — runs out.
It seems like the fate of every film geek is to see his favorite actors take a nosedive into cinema hell at the end of their careers. We have all seen it; whether they resort to straight to Blu-ray schlock, or the yearly dreck that gets pushed out every September or January. For me it is Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nicolas Cage, and Al Pacino. To see them do the dreck they do today makes my heart die a little bit each time. That is why even though Steven Seagal doesn’t quite make that list for me, I have a great deal of pity for those who have nostalgia for Seagal’s very short glory days. Every actor wants to retire while they are on top and without hitting their inevitable downfall, but very few have. Seagal seems to make a career out of not only embracing that downfall, but taking a full on kamikaze dive into the ground and digging his own hole there.
Steven Seagal sleeps through his role as John Hammond, an ex-hitman who has been on both sides of the law and has fallen off on the wrong side for the past few years. He is a no nonsense, too old for this curmudgeon that gets pulled back into the world he walked away from for one last job. He foolishly takes a hit against a man who he soon realizes is part of a larger operation; a massive drug cartel and a Middle Eastern terrorist are cooking up a diabolical scheme to terrorize the U.S. Only one man is the right person for the job, and for some reason, that man is John Hammond. But John can't do this alone, so he recruits old friend Matthew Sharp (Russell Sharp), and old flame Zara Hayek (Jemma Dallender), who plays the inevitable “love interest” young enough to be his daughter, that he beds; all in slow motion of course. I've seen Seagal do this numerous times in his films, and even though he doesn't admit it, it is awkwardly inserted here as an ego stroke.
Speaking of Seagal, lets talk about the man. While never the world’s greatest thespian, I have railed on him in the past for trying to come across hip with the slang and lingo he uses, but at least there he was trying something. Here, he is just asleep. He mutters and whispers his lines to the camera, then walks away to eat his next cheeseburger from the catering table. I would take thuggish Seagal any day of the week over the autopilot Seagal we get here. He even sleepwalks through his action scenes. You know those annoying scenes in movies where two characters are chasing each other through a crowd and you always wonder why everyone isn't reacting to these two guys chasing each other around them? I now know why they do those scenes in such an unrealistic way. It's because, regardless of the crowd’s reaction, it is exhilarating to see our characters on a high-speed chase amongst a crowd of civilians. This movie is littered with the most boring foot chases ever put to screen, with Seagal just casually strolling after a nebulously ethnic villain, and at the end pops out of a corner to do his patented twist of the arm flip trick that he does in all of his films. Of course, we also get his patented move done in about five quick cuts in rapped session because you can't have a Seagal film these days without him proving that he can't actually do these moves without an editor cutting up his action scenes like confetti.
Then there is this plot about terrorists teaming up with drug cartels. I don't think I need to tell you that given the politics of today, this comes across as a tad bit insensitive for people on both sides of today's debates. The worst thing about this plot is it is all just set up for another ego trip where Seagal saves our country from terrorist and drug lords alike. Literally, all I needed was the ‘Team America: World Police’ theme song as he judo chops nameless thugs to death. On top of that, there is the long-winded speech about Seagal taking a stance on terrorism that can be summed up in a few words. “You do what you gotta do, and I will do what I gotta do,” as he takes down his final kill. As if the topic of terrorism is that simple. And that is the biggest problem with ‘Contract to Kill.’ Because of its subject matter and the lazy way they want to handle it, I can’t have any fun with anything here, even if it is a few chuckles at Seagal's expense. Instead, this becomes a joyless, derivative, and limp film that deserves the obscurity that comes with these straight to Blu-ray action vehicles.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate releases ‘Contract to Kill’ on Blu-ray with a textured slip cover to hard cover casing that opens up to reveal a BD-50 Blu-ray and a Digital HD Ultraviolet download. Once I hit play, I was bombarded with every Lionsgate trailer known to man before eventually getting to the main menu that lets you navigate from there.
Lionsgate has a ‘Contract to Kill’ your television set with this 1080P MPEG-4 AVC encode, and features a transfer that I am largely ambivalent about. While technical specs are sparse, if I had to judge by my trained eye, I would say this was shot on film, probably 35mm. Detail and clarity are fine throughout without grabbing me at any point in time. Sure, you get great detail in certain close ups, but because of the fact that the editing here is the equivalent of throwing the entire film into a blender, you don't get to linger on any shot long enough for it to really make any impression. Shots are also filmed extremely close up even in exterior shots (to hide the fact that they actually filmed this in Romania I am guessing), and as a result there is a lack of dimensionality and detail in the background.
There are a handful of interior scenes that feature a tad bit of unwanted film noise in low lighting shots. One in particular was the scene where Hammond get the contract in the bar. It is a very underlit scene that doesn't display the same consistency as the rest of the transfer. But that is a small nitpick in a transfer that is largely here to be serviceable and not ruinous, and at that it succeeds. I have just seen so many straight to Blu-ray releases that feature quite striking transfers (one of which was a Seagal film from just last December), that I can't help but knock this transfer a bit for being so by the books. Lionsgate is a company that usually produces top notch straight to video presentations; unfortunately this one just didn't hook me.
‘Contract to Kill’ puts a hit on your home theater with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that feels a lot like its video quality counterpart. Lionsgate also produced some pretty impactful and robust audio mixes in its time, but I feel like the action in this particular movie doesn't lend itself to a robust or dynamic track. We are used to massive explosions and things going boom in typical shlock like this, but instead what we get is a lot of hand to hand “combat” (if you want to call it that). Entire action scenes are comprised of Seagal’s patented twist of the arm flip trick and that doesn't lend itself to a dynamic mix. I personally would have liked to see more gunplay, which would have contributed to a more active audio track.
Surround and the LFE Channel are largely used for the score and the occasional gunshot. Fronts are the area that need to be the most dynamic with films that feature hand to hand combat, and that is where this track is lacking a bit. It isn't a huge misstep, but speaker separation with the fronts is sparse, and moments where they do happen are few and far between. Dialogue and overall volume are crisp and clear. This track would be fine for a straight to Blu-ray release if it came out two years ago, but recently, straight to Blu-ray material has stepped up their game and truly impressed me. For that reason, I had to knock the audio of this track down a peg.
The Making Of “Contract to Kill” (HD 14:46) – A featurette that is mainly an ego piece for Seagal. They talk about how he wanted this movie to be a return to form for him. He also talks a lot about his actual work with law enforcement and how it “prepared him for this role.” Very little information is given about the production of the movie.
Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:04)
In the Special Features, they say that ‘Contract to Kill’ was made to be a return to form for Steven Seagal. While I know for a fact that isn't true, if anyone actually believes that is true, then they can keep it because I don't want it. Give me a ridiculous plot that ends with huge mindless explosions any day of the week over this. At least I can have some base level fun with dumb action. This is just a tired, limp attempt at forcing us to take Seagal seriously. But to be quite honest with you, I never took him seriously, and he shouldn't take himself so seriously. Not like I think he would listen to this one reviewer, but my advice for Mr. Seagal is to leave your ego at the door. All of this feels like wish fulfillment. He wishes people took him more seriously, he wishes he could get a woman as young as he gets in this movie, and he wishes he held the answer to saving our country from drug lords and terrorists alike. For that I plead with our readers to skip ‘Contract to Kill’ and indeed kill this dour Seagal and bring back the ridiculous, but kind of fun, Seagal action vehicle.