Decked out in a ponytail and an all-black ensemble, Steven Seagal resembles nothing so much as a particularly grumpy Eurotrash waiter. But with the help of his real-life wife, Kelly ”Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful” Le Brock, this hunk from nowhere is striving to become our next big action star. Hard to Kill was a money-maker,so it’s worth asking what makes Seagal different from the other bone-crushers.
Seagal doesn’t make dumb puns like Arnold, and he doesn’t preen like Sly. If anything, he’s a yuppie Chuck Norris: His husky voice has a friendly trace of irony and his martial-arts routines are steeped in hokey Hollywood Zen. But what most sets Seagal apart is the pleasure he takes in breaking bad guys’ arms in close-up: This guy’s an osteopath’s dream.
Hard to Kill, slickly directed by Bruce Malmuth, is quite watchable nonsense. The first half is devoted to plot: Cop Seagal is blown away by a corrupt politician’s hired guns in 1983, wakes from a coma in 1990, and is immediately on the run again with only a comely nurse (Le Brock) for company. The rest of the film is devoted to one Big Fight after another. They’re pretty good fights, too — well choreographed and, aside from the broken bones, not calculated to gross out the viewer. This is designer chop-socky, aimed at the broadest audience possible; it’s a smart formula that looks even smarter on video.
But while Hard to Kill shows Seagal’s star potential, it also indicates his limitations: The movie is professional, enjoyable — and totally soulless. Like its star, it never, ever sweats. C+