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‘Hard to Kill’

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 10, 1990


Bruce Malmuth
Steven Seagal;
Kelly LeBrock
Under 17 restricted

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Ponytailed Steven Seagal, the GQ avenger, is back in "Hard to Kill," which is not a sequel to "Above the Law," though it's not far removed from it. This time Seagal is Mason Storm, not Nico Toscani, but he's still soft-spoken, sensitive, moralistic, a loving husband and father, as well as a martial arts master who is definitely at one with the Punch. He's a character you might pass on the street and stop because you recognize him, only to find that what you really recognize is his type.

Like "Above the Law," "Hard to Kill" is slick with tension and full of violence, though hardly of the super-graphic kind. Storm does have a grim penchant for breaking bad men's arms, legs and wrists, but the accent is on car chases, punch-ups, shootouts and exploding blood capsules rather than the hard-core gore so popular these days. Sure, there are some nasty kiss-off lines, and dollops of hetero aggression, but none of the glib humor and sexual sidebars of lesser films.

Storm is a detective who apparently is murdered, along with his wife and son, after he gets too close to a corrupt city official with mob ties. Storm doesn't die but goes into a seven-year coma, his whereabouts obscured by a fellow officer who renames him John Doe and squirrels him away in a suburban clinic, where he's attended by nurse Andy Stewart (Kelly LeBrock). No sooner does Storm wake up than a cadre of corrupt cops tries to finish the job, thus alerting him to his ongoing danger. Soon Storm rises, switching from defense to offense and looking to settle the score -- and that's the rest of the film.

There's not much mystery here, though there are a few plot twists (and a lot of loose ends in the script). Director Bruce Malmuth keeps the pace taut, the shots tight. Early on, a fellow cop describes Storm as "the most unstoppable sonuvabitch I ever met," and that he proves to be. In fact, Storm's so single-minded about his revenge that he spends 25 minutes of the film retuning his martial arts skills before bedding LeBrock (and folks, there's a much quicker cutaway from the action there than for any of the many fight scenes and shootouts).

As for Seagal, he's certainly more interesting than most of his ilk. For one thing he projects an intriguing serenity, possibly derived from extensive real-life studies of a variety of martial arts (he was the first non-Asian to open his own dojo in Tokyo). There's also an economy to his violence that suggests it's not simply posturing or special effects -- when Seagal hits, it hurts.

Like Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson, Seagal's a man of few words, but at least they're well-chosen, as when he takes time from the hunt to scrawl, "Anticipation of death is worse than death itself" (call it a misfortune reading). "Hard to Kill" suggests that Seagal is the next generation of avenger, and that's good news to those who have given up on Dirty Harry and Steven Kersey.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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