REVIEW: Hard To Kill (1990, Bruce Malmuth / S. Seagal, W. Sadler)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

  • Buy Hard To Kill as DVD disc from
  • Original Release: 1990
  • Director: Bruce Malmuth (Nighthawks)
  • Starring: Steven Seagal (Under Siege, Exit Wounds etc.), William Sadler (Die Hard 2, Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption etc.)
  • Also starring: Kelly LeBrock (Weird Science, Wrongfully Accused etc.), Branscombe Richmond (Renegade TV-series, Commando, Batman etc.)
  • Running Time: 95min
  • Rated: R
  • Reviewed format: Blu-Ray
  • Budget: $10 000 000 (est.)
  • Gross: $47 410 000 (USA)

Hard To Kill was released in 1990, a year after one of the most controversial 'love-or-hate' action star Steven Seagal had debuted in his first starred action movie called 'Nico', a nice little action movie to begin with. In Hard To Kill, the plot of the movie begins at year 1983.

Seagal plays a lone-wolf (surprise!) type hard-as-steel-cop Mason Storm, running a cover operation against senator Trent (W. Sadler), who's trying to eliminate his competitors with hired assassins, to ensure the win on re-election campaign. Storm (Seagal) is set to videotape a meeting at the local docks between senator Trent and some mobs for evidence that Trent is dirty. Storm succeeds to film the meeting and escape the scene silently.. well.. almost, with a quick brawl against one of the mobs. Afterall, what would a Seagal movie be without clashing with the mobs, even quickly, when they both end up on the same street?

Storm tries to call his partner Kevin O'Malley at the police station about the evidence tape, but ends up leaking the information to wrong people, local corrupt cops, who won't allow senator Trent's campaign be dragged into the mud. After the phone call, Mason Storm heads home for a nice romantic evening with his wife, without knowing that his identity is known by the crooked police officers, and the mobsters are about to pay not-so-friendly visit to his late night bedroom-party.

Few shotgun rounds and seven years later, in 1990, Storm recovers from seven-year-long coma. He soon finds out that his wife and son seem to be dead by the armed home invasion to his house, and that he's been on coma for years. Remembering, that he still has the evidence-tape hidden at somewhere, Storm realises that he needs to get out of the hospital rather quickly, for the corrupted cops are still after him after all these years, and they have just been notified about the coma victim waking up. While still powerless and weak, Storm doesn't manage to escape the hospital on his own, but the luck is on his side, as a nurse (Kelly LeBrock) who has warm feelings towards Storm, rescues him on the last second and takes him to a hidden place to recover his strength. Now Storm is training vigorously to get back in shape and lusts for a revenge...

(Seagal is not afraid of a shotgun, no sir)

Hard To Kill isn't quite your typical straight-forward Seagal movie where he just goes and kills everyone -- bam -- ending-credits. The movie contains just a bit more diversity and plot that there is to several other Seagal movies, especially those newer ones that seem to be lacking all of the good qualities that older Seagal movies have. I'm not a huge Seagal fan, personally. I think he has a few decently good movies, Under Siege being perhaps the best one, but Hard To Kill makes it in the Top5, if not even to Top3 best-of-Seagal-movies list.

Hard To Kill features rather typical avenge-death-of-your-family type of a plot. However, I don't think that I recall seeing Seagal often in very fragile state where he couldn't handle himself. You can find such sequence in Hard To Kill as Seagal wakes up from coma in the hospital and is unable to escape without the help of a witty nurse who rescues Seagal. The phasing and tempo of Hard To Kill is a bit exceptional due the plot and it's events, as in the beginning of the movie we see Seagal videotaping the mobsters, and then with very minimal effort of any violence escaping the scene. That sets quite weird tone to a Seagal-movie, which are often quite action packed with smashing and slashing (stealhy Seagal?). Sure, we see him soon after kicking butts of a shop-robbers, but then, Seagal gets his own butt kicked by the crooks invading his house and killing his wife.

A bit lacklustre beginning on the part of the action continues more weirdly after the home invasion, as Storm (Seagal) wakes up in the hospital being all helpless and powerless. I actually waited all the time Seagal just to jump up of the hospital bed and start kicking some ass, but that doesn't happen on this sequence of the film, not yet for a good while. Could this be the most "realistic" part of any movie done by Seagal so far?

A little bit more drama-type phase continues for a good while when Seagal, hidden by the nurse to a house far off the city, continues to build up his shape and strength, to be ready to seek revenge of his assaulters and dirty cops, not to mention senator Trent. This part is almost like a mixture of cheesy drama between Storm (Seagal) and the nurse (LeBrock) falling in love, and some Rocky Balboa-esque pre-match workout sessions. If just the nurse's name was Adrian and soundtrack featured Eye Of The Tiger, but luckily no, that would had been a bit too much! If Rocky ran up some steps and cheered on the top, Seagal conquers a small mountain by running it up all the way, Rocky-style. At least he doesn't raise his hands in the air on the top of the mountain and cheer like Rocky. Although, that could had been comedic.

(Dizzy Seagal waking up from coma, could this be almost realistic Seagal moment?)

But all-in-all, the first half of the movie with home invasion, getting out of coma, romance and training for shape do set the tone and meaning (cause of the revenge) finely for the the rest of the more action packed movie. At least this movie has the plot, but does it cut down the speed and action by too much? I suppose it's matter of taste.

It won't be until perhaps 1/2 movie gone, with a one decent fight and all that plot-grounding, before the attitude of Hard To Kill gets all action-packed and rough. Good thing is, that the movie doesn't really ever slow down after the more slow first half, and action movie fans get what they desire, if they haven't given up on the film and fell asleep already (though I hope they haven't!).


First off, I want to state that the Blu-Ray quality of the film was solidly satisfying. The image had enough of the original grain/noise left, which I personally like, grain noise contains detail. Yet minor details were noticeably sharper than what you would expect of DVD. Solid image quality.

About the movie...

Overall, I think Hard To Kill as a movie is entertaining, but slightly average. It's not your typical in-your-face Seagal movie, since it has different phasing and it has more plot to it. Seagal isn't, surprisingly, invulnerable all the time. I'm not actually sure whether the slower more drama-style beginning is a good or a bad thing for a Seagal starred movie? It's just a bit different. For a first half of the movie I certainly felt like the movie would be a bit letdown, but the pace picked up on the end half, exploding. Hard To Kill is like a medium-sized dynamite, but with overly long fuse. I always laugh at the name Mason Storm, it's to overly cheesy too. "I'll get you Storm!!".

Well, the plot about coma and revenge was pretty good, and it worked, sort of. I left with feeling, that the director Malmuth didn't quite know how to capture the plot very well, and what could had been great set of events in the beginning was now just average. I have to give credit to Seagal though on this one, as it's usually so stiff Seagal that makes the first slower half of the movie work nicely. Fight scenes, especially when the movie takes the pace, are very good! I'm sure that any action movie fans that prefer martial arts over the guns on the part of the action will be pleased to see Seagal break some bones. Only complaint would be a few parts where Seagal breaks some arms, and while action on his own part looks fine, the 'special effects' look quite amateurish, in a bad way (injuries).

(Kelly LeBrock, scene from 'Weird Science')

Rest of the cast does varying job. LeBrock is sexy as hell as a nurse (she looks like being spent too many hours under surgical equipment these days, though), and she can definitely hold her own as a 'female hero' of the film -- strong and smart, yet not so over-the-top that female heroes in nowadays films tend to be (overly powerful physically). A good old 80's style female hero, I could say. William Sadler also does good job a Senator Trent, with some solid funny acting. I especially liked his interpretation of "get lost" when he hears the bad news about Storm's return, while on a luxury hot tub with his hot date, when he tells the girl to beat it and empties his glass with a priceless look on his face. Sadly, Sadler's lines are quite a few, but he still does a solid side-kick role just like he's done several times on many different movies. Only complaint on the rest of the cast would be that Hard To Kill doesn't really contain any great anti-hero character, that could possess powers to match Seagal physically. Sadler's just man hiding behind his mobs with a little screen-time, but none of the mobs don't really stand out or build real tension and suspense between him and Storm. But then again, it's Seagal starred film, and on his films he often owns the mobsters with ease, so...

Hard To Kill left me with a bit undecided taste. Undecided, between if it's average or a good movie. It's got so weird tempo that it surprised me as a Seagal film. Plot idea is fine, but execution of it is just average. Seagal makes a very solid acting and fighting though. If you're not afraid to spend more drama-movie moments with Seagal (believe me it's not as horrible as it sounds, at least this time!) the first half of a movie, and want to see some of the Seagal's top moments on the action-department on the last half -- if you want a Seagal movie with fair amount of plot and good fighting, the go and get Hard To Kill! It's a mixed bag that could had topped Under Siege if the director did slightly better job, but it's still quite solid! Don't expect too violent gore though. One of the better Seagal movies for action movie fans, coming close to a level of Hard Target by Van Damme for example, in comparison.

This movie packs up action (amount) worth of 6/10 and gore & violence worth of 5/10. That's due several slower moments in the movie, and solid amount of fighting, which however, isn't so bloody and gruesome. One line to remember:

Mason Storm: This is for my wife. Fuck you and die!

The Good

  • Martial arts
  • One of Seagal's better films
  • Sexy LeBrock
  • William Sadler's funny
  • Plot (as in idea)

The Bad

  • Cheap effects (especially broken arm)
  • No memorable mobs with much screen-time
  • Weird tempo

6 Bullets out of 10

(Mixed bag with some kick, and one of the Seagal's best)
Buy Hard To Kill as DVD disc from

1 comment:

  1. Hello Tane, I'm here again, seeing updates. Excellent post, congratulations.
    Greetings from: