Fox // 2009 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power (Retired) // June 17th, 2009
Steven Seagal is back, for what feels like the fortieth time this year. Russian mobster turned novelist (stop laughing, dammit! This is serious stuff!) Ruslan Drachev has come home for his Daughter's wedding to the son of an old rival from his mob days. When a violent attack leaves her in a coma, he's forced to return to the life of gratuitous ass-kicking he'd left behind. Something tells me Seagal's gonna come out of this one okay.
Driven to Kill is sort of the antithesis to Jean Claude Van Damme's rather awesome JCVD. It's not that the film follows any sort of similar course, but here we have an aging action star, barely capable of walking across a set without getting winded, attempting to convince an audience he's still a genuine ass-kicker. Seriously, Seagal just looks tired. Granted he's never been the most flexible chop-socky artist, but where Van Damme had the common sense to play his age and poke more than a little fun at his glory days, Seagal continues to wave the flag while looking more and more physically uncomfortable with each direct-to-video outing. It's kind of a shame really, as parts of the film work pretty well for a straight up actioner, while other bits sink the film like a rock.
The script is pretty straightforward. It's a simple revenge-driven plot, where Seagal tears through a den or two of Russian mobsters, slamming them around and shooting a few goons for good measure. He's dragging his soon to be son-in-law about town, attempting to learn the wither-to's and why-for's behind an attack that's left his ex-wife dead and his daughter in a coma. There are a ton of excuses for some solid violence, including gun-fights, knife-fights, and good old fist-fights. Even better, the action is shot in such a fashion we can generally tell what's going on. We also get a satisfyingly lengthy final showdown full of bullets and blood. Sure there are logic holes galore, and we all know what's going to happen right about where the opening credits end, but it's all in good fun.
Then the problems hit. Our leading man is too old for this shit. It's that simple. Seagal looks more like Marlon Brando circa Apocalypse Now than any kind of Russian Mobster. He probably stretches his chops more than ever, by attempting a Russian accent, but even that disappears from time to time. His Samoan looking personage is explained away pretty early, but this bear of a man never once looks like he's actually half as scary as he's made out to be. Put a gun in his hand and it gets worse. Seagal cannot shoot convincingly to save his life. Every time he busts a cap or two, he looks like he's scared to death. He also breaks into more than a few of his philosophical ramblings, but thankfully there are no games of "slaps" with roughnecks before questioning the essence of a man. The supporting cast does a solid job, particularly Igor Jijinke (that big Russian bastard from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) as the big baddie.
Many underestimate the work of good sound design, particularly where action films are concerned, and Driven To Kill's biggest detriment might just be the terrible foley work. Punches are weak, slashes are worse, and gunshots sound like air rifles and electronic toys. There's no immersion in the soundstage whatsoever. It's like they just took the on-set audio and didn't even bother to sweeten it. The entire sound-mix is completely worthless. You know it's bad, when you can hear Seagal's labored breathing in the heat of a full on gun battle. It doesn't get you pumped or add any beef to the action at all. It actually drains much of the life from the relatively well-shot action scenes.
Fox's 1080p AVC transfer is a tragedy, full of grain and noise, and laced with focus issues. Not that I would want to see Seagal's face in high definition, but the level of detail is not at all on par with even standard fare Blu-ray. By design, the film is probably meant to be a little gritty with some interesting color choices, but everything just looks too soft. There are times where haloing made me think I was watching a 3D movie. It's as though the thing were passed through a digital noise filter cranked to 11, and then artificial grain was re-added. It's a poor picture that actually makes some scenes hard to watch.
The audio is even worse. The front-loaded surround track is supposed to be a DTS-HD Master Audio track, but it sounds more like television stereo. Given the lousy job on the sound mix, it's probably a blessing, as more fidelity here could have caused some ears to bleed.
There are no extras. Terribly sorry. Move along, nothing to see here.
Props to Seagal for soldiering on, but this one is guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R