(Originally posted Jan. 11, 2017)
Kevin: “Looks like you won the Oscar tonight Storm!” That’s what a fellow cop says to Steven Seagal’s character Mason Storm in “Hard to Kill,” after Storm has just killed or horribly maimed several gangbangers during an attempted convenience store robbery (the fact that the convenience store owner lies dead from a gunshot blast does not affect the jovial mood). There is actually quite a bit of Oscar talk at the beginning of “Hard to Kill,” which turns out to be fitting since his delivery of just one line later in the film should have assured Seagal a slot in that year’s Best Actor category.
Released in 1990 but initially taking place during the 1983 Oscar ceremony, “Hard to Kill” begins with Mason Storm secretly videotaping some dirty dealings involving William Sadler’s character Senator Vernon Trent, who likes to use the distinctive phrase “You can take that to the bank.” Although Storm is unaware of who he has on film, the bad guys are on to him and gun him and his wife down while in the act of lovemaking before Seagal could assuredly bring her to multiple orgasms. But as you may have gathered by now, Storm proves to be somewhat difficult to kill, and after seven years in a coma is awake and ready for revenge.
What follows is a long stretch where Storm shaves his Rip Van Winkle beard, lifts weights to get his muscles back, runs like a girl, and gets over the death of his wife incredibly quickly when given the chance to bone his nurse, played by Seagal’s real wife at the time, Kelly Le Brock from “Weird Science.”
Eventually Storm starts doing the things we all watch a Seagal movie for: shooting bad guys, breaking arms in half, pulling grenades out of his pockets that seemingly came out of nowhere. But before he can do that he still has to figure out the identity of the man he caught on tape, which he finally does after catching a campaign commercial for the evil Sen. Trent in which he uses his distinctive “You can take that to the bank” catchphrase. The following scene would already feature some award-worthy pacing and approximation of “thinking” by Seagal while his character remembers previous snippets of dialogue, but it’s his delivery of the closing line that will forever cement his place in cinematic history:
Unfortunately the Academy did not agree, as the five Best Actor nominees that year were Richard Harris, Jeremy Irons, Kevin Costner, Gerard Depardieu, and Robert De Niro. Now perhaps they all might be better actors technically than Seagal, but can you imagine any of them delivering the line “I’m gonna take you to the bank Senator Trent … to the blood bank” with such unironic sincerity and intensity? He may not have taken home a statue in 1991, but every time I watch that scene Seagal will always be the real winner in my book.
PS: And just for the hell of it, here’s a young Steven Seagal demonstrating akido against a much smaller opponent on the “Merv Griffin Show” (with a last-second appearance by James Coburn at the end):