On a stakeout slap-happy maverick cop Mason Storm (Steven Seagal), yes that really is his name, captures America's deadliest criminal mastermind on camera. What he does not realize is that the mystery man is corrupt district attorney Vernon Trent (William Sadler). Before Mason can present the evidence Trent sends a cadre of dirty cops and mob hit-men to wipe out the entire investigative team. In the ultimate coitus interruptus, his assassins gun down Mason and his wife (Bonnie Burroughs) in bed though their little son manages to escape. Mason's partner, O'Malley (Frederick Coffin) tells the press he is dead when in reality he is in coma. Seven years later a hirsute, dazed and bewildered Mason wakes up in a coma only to find himself hunted anew by hit-men working for the now even more powerful Senator Trent. Aided by smitten nurse Andrea Stewart (Kelly LeBrock), Mason goes on the run and sets out to find his son, avenge his wife and take Trent down once and for all.
Popular consensus has it pony-tailed Akido master Steven Seagal was at his peak in the early Nineties. Back then Warner Brothers placed him in slickly packaged action thrillers more polished than the trashy Eastern European direct-to-video junk he has been farting out for the last decade and a half. In terms of production value at least if not plot. Though it spins a fairly threadbare story and like a lot of Seagal vehicles is far talkier than die-hard fans would admit, Hard to Kill is one of the star's better films. This has less to do with the action which is fairly anemic compared to films like Die Hard (1988) or certainly the Hong Kong heroic bloodshed movies then amassing a huge fan-base. For a martial arts star Seagal has no real physical presence and over-relies upon the 'chop-edit' style of action filmmaking.
On the other hand Hard to Kill sees Seagal offer one of his more engaging characterizations. More often taciturn, surly and frankly none too likeable, here despite the silly name writer Steven McKay likely only concocted just to include the obligatory "a storm is coming" joke, Mason Storm proves a hero we can root for. A caring family man with almost gentlemanly manners, a keen sense of right and wrong and a disarmingly goofy sense of humour. Equally goofy is the heroine essayed by Kelly LeBrock, a nurse who strokes a stuffed toy cat and makes godawful pussy joke in front of a coma patient! Seagal and future ex-wife LeBrock had been together several years by this point and so, while equally limited actors, share solid chemistry. Once Mason sees Andrea in a sexy dress he forgets all about his dead wife leading to a saxophone-scored love scene by the fireplace. Or does he? In a nice ambiguous touch it is implied this might be Mason's dream of what could be were he not still haunted by memories of his slain spouse.
It is a rare and welcome subtle moment courtesy of director Bruce Malmuth. Malmuth, who made the offbeat Sylvester Stallone thriller Nighthawks (1981), imbues the early scenes with a similar shadowy noir tone, somewhat at odds with the Fifties comic book plot. The cartoon mobsters spout dialogue more suited to villains in Dick Tracy (1990) but a solid supporting cast invest B-movie lines with a surprising degree of conviction. Frederick Coffin is a particular standout as the faithful partner who risks all for the sake of his adopted son. Malmuth stages a fair few suspenseful scenes, in particular the scene where Mason tries to escape a hit-man whilst semi-immobile and strapped to a gurney. Writer Steven McKay weaves an amusing line in satirical humour throughout as Mason acclimatizes to the Nineties watching tacky talk shows and desperately upbeat news reports about President George Bush Sr. Hard to Kill also features some admittedly ham-fisted yet irresistible Steven Seagal dialogue including the legendary "I'm going to take you to the bank, Senator. The blood bank" and my personal favourite: "That's for my wife. Fuck you and die!"