Sunday, March 15, 2009

Steven Seagal Month, Week Two: Hard to Kill

So when we last left our hero, he had killed Henry Silva, saved the Senator, done a lot of nonsensical things in the process, and made himself a tidy profit at the box office while also garnering critical praise. Steven Seagal had arrived. Now he was set to be America's next big action hero, and in 1990 he made his return to the silver screen with his second adventure, Hard to Kill. Was it as goofy as Above the Law? Were there more Billy Jack references? Would are next low-rent villain be another Hal Needham cast-off? Most importantly: Would it be a hit? Let's find out!

Our film opens in the seediest of seedy locations: a damp back-alley just outside a smoke and sparks factory on a dark and stormy night. This is the kind of cliché place where the final battles usually happen in this kind of movie. Two cars arrive for what is surely some kind of underhanded deal, but no worries: Seagal is on the scene to scope it out. For no reason, he begs the bad guys to get on with it so he doesn't have to miss the Oscars. Whatever. He recognizes one of the mooks involved, but can't quite place the others despite his mega-zoom spy camera. What, are you blind? And you've got a fucking microphone, are you deaf too? Ruh Roh! The talk turns to getting a corrupt, criminal-friendly politician into office. There's also talk of some sort of plane-related terrorism (“We want it to take off. We don't want it to land.”), but then Seagal totally botches it up by making a noise and giving himself away. The villainous politician steps into the light and it's...

Bill Sadler? Really? The Grim Reaper from Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey is the bad guy here? Wow, this movie got lame in the first three minutes. Seagal takes out a baddie and then runs for his life. Where the fuck did his backbone go? He would've taken all these guys out single-handed in the last movie! Anyway, at the precinct police chief I Wish I Was Danny Glover – who is watching the Oscars - gets a call from our hero, Mason Storm as he is improbably named, who reports his findings from the meeting. Thanks for recapping what we just saw!

To the convenience store, where Mason asks A) where the keep the champagne and B) why the clerk isn't watching the Oscars. The clerk says he hates the Oscars. As is inevitable with action movie convenience stores, a bunch of punks waltz in. Before they've even done anything, Mason tells the clerk to call the cops and then he goes into Steven Seagal's patented “Angry Squint” mode. Oh, they have shotguns. Way to make that clear in the establishing shot, Mr. Director. So they hold the place up, shoot the clerk and then promptly get their asses kicked by Mason who makes sure the destroy the whole store with their bodies. The best is the last baddie, who Mason willingly gives the advantage to by getting down on his knees. But even with this edge, the dork still winds up face down on the ground with Mason TWISTING HIS FOOT OFF AT THE ANKLE. Holy shit that's the greatest thing I've ever seen. Suddenly, this movie rules!

Afterward, when the cops have arrived, a fellow officer jovially says “Looks like you won the Oscar tonight, Storm!”, to which Mason chuckles and winks in a most un-Seagal like manner. A triumphant Mason rides way into the night as “Feels so Good” by Chuck Mangione (if you can believe it), blares from his car radio. That's the most inappropriate song I can think of for this movie. Mason shares the sentiment and quickly ejects that tape from the radio and replaces it with the recording of the shady meeting. Finally, he arrives at home where he is greeted by his lovely wife. They head off to bed for a little fun, which is not the least bit interesting. What is interesting is how when they turn the lights off, the stairwell is suddenly bathed in a red glow. Where is that coming from? Along the way, they stop off at their son (the creatively-named Sonny)'s room where Mason gives him a stuffed monkey and then they say their prayers together. Aww. Always the family man, that Seagal. While Mason and his wife say their “I Love You”s, some gun-wielding hoods are sneaking into the house. They bust in and, in a first, they actually manage to shoot Mason a few times. Not that he slows down at all as he kills them one by one. At least, that is, until he suddenly freezes up as the last hood shoots the shit out of wifey. Elsewhere, Not Danny Glover also gets a visit from some hoods who blast him to pieces. Back at the Storm residence, the hoods plant drugs around the room, and little Sonny wanders down the hall to see what all the noise was. The hoods try to shoot him, but Sonny escapes out a SECOND STORY WINDOW. Geez, damned if you, damned if you don't. The kid's like five, for crying out loud.

At the hospital, Bill Sadler (we'll call him Trent. The movie hasn't bothered to name him yet, but that's what IMDb says his name is), is holding a tearful press conference about the apparent demise of Mason, who he says he worked closely with. Either he's full of it, or Mason is an idiot for not recognizing his voice. Trent is so obviously full of shit – he wanders about crying aloud about “What has society come to” and “Won't anyone think of the children” and all that kind of crap. He's a terrible actor, but everyone buys it. After that passes, some asshole cop says Mason was a coke-fiend (gee, ya think he's in on it?), and another cop (names, please?) threatens him with death for saying such a thing. For the record, the asshole is homicide and the second cop is Internal Affairs. Homicide wants IA to fuck off, but IA says the commissioner has put him on the case because of the money and the drugs found around the crime scene.

A doctor wanders into the scene to inform them that Mason is officially dead. Homicide is humbled by the news and walks off hanging his head in shame. And then another doctor approaches IA (Lt. O'Malley, they call him) and says he has “a live cop!”. Yes, Mason has survived if just barely, but O'Malley wants the hospital crew to keep it quiet so Mason can be disappeared for his own safety.

Well, part one of the vague nefarious plot was a success, as the plane sure didn't land, and it took a Senator down with it. This is good for Trent, the local assemblyman, as he is, as planned, named the new Senator. And then it's briefly montage time as Mason goes through a long coma and Trent rises through the ranks to become Vice President!!!

And I mean a long coma. Don't hospitals usually keep coma patients neatly trimmed and shaved? Or did they think “You know...I think the Mongolian look would work well for this guy.”? Things get even worse when we meet Nurse Creepy McStalksalot (Kelly Le Brock!!!!!!!!!), the woman who has way, way too much affection for Mason's lifeless form. She flips out when she hears he moved his head, she talks too him like a lover, and she even bought him a pet cat. He's fucking comatose! Back off! She even lifts up the blanket to admire his schlong and then begs him to wake up!!! FIRE HER. Her weird brand of loving seems to work, though, as Mason wakes up amidst a torrent of memories of the night his family died. While the doctors rush Mason off for treatment, Nurse Creepy follows her shadowy instructions to inform now-Captain O'Malley of Mason's awakening. Too bad O'Malley is no longer with the precinct, meaning they'll have to defer the call to his replacement. In the meantime, Nurse Creepy checks in on Mason, who says they need to get out of town soon or else they'll both be dead within the hour. What, do the hoods have an insider in the medical community? Would Trent even still have them around?

Well, I guess he's right, as a mystery man in a doctor's coat walks into the hospital, heralded by a creepy synth chord. Even though no one has seen him before, they still let him have access to the patients list for the coma unit, and then they let him go in. I'm having flashbacks to Tom Cruise using “I'm a doctor” to get his way in everything in Eyes Wide Shut. Evil doc finds that Mason is gone from the ward and just to be a dick, he shoots a security guard. And then, as Mason is being wheeled back to the ward, evil doc kills the orderly too. Improbably, Mason, who's practically paralyzed after seven years without movement, manages to pull his gurney along the wall and through a door to hide or something. And then he makes it onto an elevator. What, is it going to be a gunman vs. man in a bed chase? I can't wait to see Mason speeding down the highway in his hospital bed. Well, actually, Mason is dumb enough to send the elevator up instead of down (cornering yourself on the top floor is such a great idea right now), but then he fixes the problem by going all the way down to the basement. ONE. PRESS THE ONE! GO TO THE FIRST FLOOR AND LEAVE. Lucky for the dumbshit, the elevator stops on the coma floor along the way and Nurse Creepy hops on. She rushes him out the door and into her car for a speedy getaway.

Later, the inept gunman reports to Trent about the epic fail of an assassination attempt, and Trent's great idea is to blame the mayhem and death at the hospital on Mason. Are you fucking stupid? Who's going to believe that a man awoke from a seven year coma and immediately went on a killing spree? He's practically a quadriplegic from the muscle atrophy! Oh, and Trent is being referred to as Senator so that whole VP thing was a red herring I guess. At an improbably palatial country estate, Mason recuperates and even takes in a little TV. The Geraldo show is on. What a cruel new world Mason has awoken into. Desperate, Mason rolls out of bed and crawls on hand and knee to escape the horror. He then spots a local news report making him out as some kind of crook and calls the station to let them know they can have the scoop on proof that he's innocent. When the news of the alleged proof hits the air, Trent has his men put a tail on the reporter in hopes that he'll meet Mason in person somewhere.

And now it's time for a tender moment as Mason and the nurse (fuck it, I'll just call her Kelly Le Brock) chuckle at how hokey Mason's beard looks. Yes, I'm serious, the movie just called out it's own makeup department for doing a shitty job. And then it's time for the Steven Seagal semi-autobiographical backstory of the night. Mason tells Kelly to go to Chinatown with a grocery list, which he has written in “Chinese”. That's not a's either Mandarin or Cantonese, guys. Anyway, this sparks Mason to discuss his history with the Chinese: he was raised in the orient, where his father was a missionary. Being the only whitey around, Mason learned to fight for protection. His sensai, however, taught him that it is more important to heal than to hurt. Aww.

The next day, Mason has lost the shitty beard and cut his hair and Kelly Le Brock has found some archival newspapers from the aftermath of the murders. An angry Mason does what any Steven Seagal hero would, and studies some Eastern mystical bullshit and lifts a bunch of weights. What a weird training montage. He's alternating between some kinda acupuncture (with flaming needles!) and doing weight training and punching a piece of wood. After that bit of strangeness, Mason finds a phone number in his hospital records. It turns out to be some kind of retirement village or something, and somehow Kelly Le Brock has reasoned that O'Malley must be there (he's not that old!). The lady running the place says he isn't, but Kelly finds a badge in the office and scribbles something down.

After a rather pointless love scene, Kelly heads over to her friend Martha's place, which happens to be being staked out by the inept gunman and crew. A neighbor informs Kelly that Martha is dead and that she was found in, wouldn't ya know it, Kelly Le Brock's house. While the baddies tail Kelly, Mason arrives home to find O'Malley waiting for him with the good news that Sonny survived, but was vanished by the cops to keep him safe. He's grown up to be a prime athlete. O'Malley also reveals that he spent years analyzing the audio tape of the meeting on the dock and found nothing. Fucking Trent is all over TV and no one can recognize his voice? Christ. He continues on to say that he doggedly investigated Mason's seeming demise but found nothing and was repeatedly told to back off, though he refused to do so until his mother was run off the road and paralyzed. Mason vows revenge. Later on, whilst thinking, Mason connects the audio tape and Trent when he remembers hearing Trent say “you can take that to the bank!”, which wound up becoming his campaign slogan. Dun dun dun!

“I'm gonna take you to the bank, Senator Trent. To the BLOOD BANK!” I can't believe Steven Seagal actually said that. That's something Loren Avadon would say in King of the Kickboxers. Kelly arrives home and Mason decides it's time to hightail it. But while they're packing, the baddies rush in armed to the teeth, which means of course that they are quickly and easily disposed of by Mason. After hopping into a jeep, Mason and Kelly are confronted by more baddies who, luckily, are straight out of an A-Team episode and have an easier time shooting the dirt than their target.

Driving into the city, Mason stops when he sees a group of Latinos and offers to trade them his shot-up jeep for their low rider. And they accept. Why?! Later, in an inexplicable moment, Kelly and Mason pose as real estate agents to get into Mason's old house so he can look around. And, oh yeah, retrieve the footage of the meeting from his hidey spot. They head off to a hotel to meet the reporter, but O'Malley hasn't shown up with the audio yet. The baddies have tailed him to where Sonny is being hidden. Whilst O'Malley is busy rushing Sonny off, some crooked cops (including homicide from the hospital) have followed some leads right to the hotel where they find Mason and Kelly. The chase is on as Mason and Kelly steal a car from the valet.

Elsewhere, O'Malley and Sonny are at the train station and soon find themselves cornered by baddies. O'Malley valiantly gives his life to allow Sonny time to run. Luckily, Mason and Kelly show up just as the baddies are going after Sonny. After a long foot chase, Mason stops the baddies in Chinatown and totally wrecks an obligatory Chinese restaurant in the process of whipping ass. After delivering the Neck Crank of Death, Mason takes Sonny and runs. After dumping the brat in Kelly's lap, Mason heads off to Trent's mansion. He quickly stumbles upon a room of henchmen and rather than just shooting them, he puts the gun away and engages in hand to hand combat. Why? Because he's Steven Seagal, dammit. The fight is short and ends with inept gunman getting a pool cue through the neck. “That's for my wife! Fuck you and DIE!”. Now THAT's a Steven Seagal line. Finally, Mason finds Trent hiding in a closet and SHOVES A SHOTGUN DOWN HIS THROAT. But rather than simply killing him, Mason leads Trent around like a dog on a leash and vows to put Trent behind bars. “A nice petite white boy like you won't remain anal retentive for very long!” THAT IS A STEVEN SEAGAL LINE!!!! SWAT shows up to arrest Mason, but then the chief walks in and says he saw the film and knows Mason was set up and all is OK and Trent is under arrest. Sonny and Kelly show up for a tearful celebration as the footage plays on the news.The End. The anti-climactic end.

Well, Hard to Kill is better than Above the Law. But that's like saying a TNT original movie is better than a Sci-Fi channel original movie. It's silly and total nonsense, but it's also got a darker edge to it and Seagal has some sweet catchphrases and some way more bad ass moves, and that's what it's all about, really. Hard to Kill is perfectly acceptable as brainless time filler. I'd even go so far as to say that I actually kinda liked it. Yeah, I'll pick at the really stupid parts, but I'd watch it again to fill a Saturday afternoon. Good job, Seagal, you improved, as did your revenues as Hard to Kill brought in $47 million, more than twice what Above the Law earned. Now Seagal has two films and two hits under his belt. Will this trend continue? Find out next week with Marked for Death!

Oh, by the way, do you think Seagal wanted an Oscar? I got this funny feeling...

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