OCTOBER 5, 2008
As you may have guessed from yesterday’s October Extras entry, I am a big Dolph Lundgren fan. 2nd to him, however, is Steven Seagal, and Hard To Kill was the film to beat when I was a kid. I guess you never forget your first; this was his second movie but I actually never saw all of Above the Law until very recently. But like a lot of films I loved as a kid, it somehow never got carried into high school and beyond; I honestly don’t think I’ve seen it since 1992 or so. Does it hold up?
Well, kinda. Obviously it’s still fun to watch, but in that whole “let’s laugh at the corny dialogue and ridiculous Seagal-isms” way, not in a genuine “wow this is a great movie” way, like I Come In Peace. It holds up better than some of Seagal’s other films of the era, and was always better than anything he made past Under Siege 2, but it’s certainly no Out For Justice (a movie that just gets better with age, IMO).
The main problem with the movie is that it’s terribly edited. There is not a lot of story here, and like many 80s films, it seems to only have two acts instead of three, but it’s STILL too long, due to the fact that editor John F. Link just didn’t know when to cut a shot. If someone needs to exit a house and then drive away, we see the whole process: the guy walks out the door, down the driveway, opens the car door door, gets in, closes the door, starts the car, and finally drives away. Move along!!
Also, something I didn’t notice as a kid is that Seagal’s kind of an asshole in this. The whole thing is supposedly about him trying to avenge his wife, but he nails another broad without even the slightest bit of resistance or “I shouldn’t be doing this...” attitude. Also, when he first sees his kid for the first time in seven years, he gives him a slight pat on the head and more or less says “Yo” before continuing to beat the piss out of a dude. Now, the older, more cynical me thinks this is pretty great, but it makes the ending frustrating. Seagal finally gets his man, and he... lets him get arrested. Since when do you have any sense of decency? And what the fuck kind of action movie is this where the hero doesn’t kill the main bad guy? Then again, Seagal always stiffed folks on the goods, such as in Under Siege when he just blew up the boat Gary Busey was on, depriving us of a kick ass Seagal v Busey brawl.
Otherwise though, it’s still a blast; a perfect example of how great action movies used to be, before all this PG-13/plot bullshit got in the way. Nowadays, you’d never get a movie as simple as this (it’s even pretty simple by Seagal standards), nor would there be as many fights. Outside of Bourne, I don’t think any modern action films feature a significant amount of hand to hand combat, and Seagal was always good at balancing the fighting with the shooting/chasing style. One thing about Van Damme movies, especially the ones from around this time – they were always about fighting, and nothing else. Did the dude even touch a gun until he already had like 5 movies under his belt? Seagal caters to all action crowds.
And it has a lot of the weird moments that are sort of a tradition with Seagal. The milk man part is probably my favorite (in the middle of a car chase, someone offscreen yells at a milk man for some reason), but there are a lot of others. For example, they keep talking about how its Oscar night, but the actual Oscars never figure into the plot (a la Naked Gun 33 1/3 or Bodyguard). And Kelly Le Brock’s character is entirely weird; she pines for a guy in a coma, brings him a flower for no reason, and doesn’t seem too fazed that everywhere she goes with this guy ends up becoming a battlefield.
One thing about seeing the movie at the Bev that kinda sucked is that the crowd actually drowned out some of the best lines. For example, when Seagal sees the bad guy on TV uttering his catchphrase “You can take that to the bank!” he replies “Oh I’ll take you to the bank. To the BLOOD BANK.” But everyone cheered at the first part of the line, so no one could hear the even funnier 2nd part. Then again, since he never actually really harms the guy, I guess its an empty promise anyway.
After the movie they showed a whole bunch of Seagal trailers, and it’s funny how once they stopped using his situation as the title (Seagal IS Hard to Kill, Seagal IS Out For Justice, etc), the fans lost interest. Some pictures were more successful than others, but his first flat out bomb was Fire Down Below (Seagal IS Fire Down Below? Nope, doesn’t work at all), and his next movie went DTV. Then he came back with Exit Wounds (his only non “is” hit), but Half Past Dead referred to someone else, and he hasn’t had a theatrical release since, regardless of how the title related to his character. I also noticed a similar thing with Adam Sandler; once he stopped naming the movies after his character (either their name or their occupation), they became unfunny and boring. Maybe they should do a movie together.
What say you?