"If victory favors me, I will protect your child with my life."

"I ask you not to worry about that possibility. Because my son and I live on the Demon Way in Hell, we're prepared to descend into Hell through the Six Realms and Four Lives."

The Hard Way

THE HARD WAY starring Michael Jai White is not a remake of THE HARD WAY starring Michael J. Fox. It’s a totally different story and he’s co-starring with Luke Goss and Randy Couture in a picture that as far as I can tell has gone straight to Netflix (no disc release). I gotta be honest, I had low expectations, because I first heard of it in an awkwardly worded tweet from co-writer Thomas J. Churchill (LAZARUS: APOCALYPSE), illustrated with key art that looks like the cover for a self-published Christian thriller novel. The director and co-writer is Keoni Waxman, who has churned out more Seagal movies than anyone else (THE KEEPER, A DANGEROUS MAN, MAXIMUM CONVICTION, FORCE OF EXECUTION, A GOOD MAN, ABSOLUTION, END OF A GUN, CARTELS, CONTRACT TO KILL and eight episodes of True Justice). He also did the Stone Cold Steve Austin movie HUNT TO KILL.

It’s definitely more of a throwback to the sloppy DTV action of the oughts than the tightly constructed MJW vehicles I love like BLOOD & BONE, UNDISPUTED II, NEVER BACK DOWN 2 and 3 or even FALCON RISING. It’s filmed in Bucharest with a bunch of leather jacket/track suit/ponytail gangsters knocking around skinny models in a strip club, and the story is made up of completely generic elements put together in too convoluted a manner to be easily followed. Luckily there are no Avid farts, but every transition to another location has a meaningless fade in and out of black and white, which kept reminding me of the piracy protection on the screeners I watched many of those Seagal vehicles on when I was reviewing them for The Ain’t It Cool News. I mean, this is the kind of movie where when he watches a video file on his phone it has VHS tracking marks on it.

And yet I have to say I really enjoyed this movie because White brings both his badass warrior mode and his humor, creating a character I want to watch no matter what he gets up to. If this has to be one of his lesser adventures, so be it. I also enjoy those other two marquee names, or whatever you call the stars of the non-theatrical market, and they provide pretty solid support.

White plays John Payne, ex-Special Forces New York City jazz club owner. His nephew says he heard “all the crazy Black Rambo Fallujah stories, all the street fighter stories” about his uncle growing up, so he’s surprised to see him sitting around playing chess. Obviously he doesn’t know that’s universal action movie language for “guy who’s good at strategy.” He’s so good that it’s an electronic set that allows him to compete remotely with the best players he can find from around the world, and he gets a check mate while half paying attention to some wiseguys threatening him. Payne not only Michael-Jai-Whites the shit out of them, but reveals a cool backstory about buying the club as a fuck you to the racist mafia. I think he might also be a musician, because in another scene he picks up his dead brother Cody’s flying-V and flashes back to the two of them playing little guitars as children. Unfortunately he never busts out any licks.

Cody (Grant Campbell, COPS AND ROBBERS) was supposedly an even bigger badass, but he just got shot to death in a parking garage in Romania. Payne flies in for the funeral and sticks around for investigation/revenge/etc. He also has history in the area so there’s a funny situation where he goes to meet someone at the strip club and his dancer ex-girlfriend Sky (Andreea Diac) thinks he’s there to visit her. Leads to awkwardness.

Cody’s partner Mason (Goss, BLADE II, DEATH RACE 23) knows Mason was killed because of some video evidence he came across, and he’s supposed to give Payne a cryptic message about something being left for him. The two investigate and uncover a conspiracy that’s weirdly confusing for how not very complicated it turns out to be.

Trivia: White and Goss have been in a movie together before: SILVER HAWK, a weird 2004 Hong Kong super hero movie starring Michelle Yeoh.

At no point did I feel like I was watching THE HARD WAY to find out the motive for Cody’s murder or the identity of the mysterious Keyser Soze/The Blank character behind it. Instead I was just waiting for the little tangential incidents like the part where Payne is discussing it all with Mason in the club and sees some thugs pushing Sky into a room. He calmly excuses himself for a moment and generously gives Sky’s attackers a few outs: asking her if she’s okay, telling them “You heard her, right? Get the fuck out. Let her go.” They don’t do as he says. Which is a poor choice.

If this movie is remembered for anything it will be for the moment when Payne throws a guy across the room but keeps a tight grip on his ear, ripping it right off. Bonus points: when the wannabe rapists finally leave he yells at the guy about leaving his ear behind. Like he didn’t bus his table or something.

One advantage this has over other Keoni Waxman joints is fight choreographer Tim Man (NINJA: SHADOW OF A TEAR, BOYKA: UNDISPUTED, ACCIDENT MAN). So there’s a clear interest in showcasing White’s best moves. As in BLOOD & BONE he’s a total destroyer, a Gino Felino. There’s a great joke about this when (GREAT JOKE SPOILER) his nephew sees him beat up the mobsters right after claiming he’s not the warrior people say he is.

“I thought you said you weren’t much of a fighter?”

“I’m not. Fighting is the violent exchange of physical blows. It’s technically not a fight if I’m the only one giving the blows.”

Although the powerful punches and kicks are THE HARD WAY’s primary source of entertainment, we also get some of those good character moments that make us care. Back at the House of Payne jazz club there’s a bartender who’s deaf and banters with Payne in sign language. During the fight he keeps a gun pointed at the mobsters but eventually realizes it’s a wasted effort, puts it down and goes back to his drink.

There’s a completely ludicrous plot twist that would be pretty much impossible to not see coming unless you just kinda had it on in the background. So there are some good laughs as they keep trying to put off the reveal, awkwardly blocking an actor’s face and disguising his voice as if you don’t know who it is. It’s one of those basic math situations where the fact that they’re hiding it tells you it’s a character you know, which means it could only be this one character. Good shit.

At one hour and 8 minutes in it seems like it’s about to take a FROM DUSK TILL DAWN or SORRY TO BOTHER YOU level sharp left turn. There’s a meetup planned at some weird palace built over a hole called “The Gate to Hell.” Out of the blue Payne is narrating about its history and I swear to you that he says “Since then they say animal-human hybrids are reported to have crawled out of it, and dark-winged otherworldly creatures flew in the vicinity.” This colorful detail unfortunately never becomes relevant, but I appreciate the double take it got out of me – a good way to perk up any viewer who might be getting bored. George W. Bush once used the same trick in a State of the Union speech.

Though it doesn’t go supernatural, it does get pretty weird. The villain is using a voice distorter and, for reasons I was not able to ascertain, repeats the phrase “walks among the dead” several times.

I guess I’m pretty alone in this, but I still really dig seeing Couture (THE SCORPION KING: RISE OF A WARRIOR) in movies. Maybe it’s because he grew up near where I did. He has that cauliflower ear and the burly masculinity of an old firefighter, not a sculpted movie star, yet he speaks pretty eloquently. For those unfamiliar, he was a guy who did Greco-Roman wrestling in the army, became an Olympics alternate and a college coach, then started competing in UFC in the late ’90s. He debuted by winning UFC13, when it was still a tournament, and went on to have several championships in different weight classes even when he was in his forties. Meanwhile, he did some bit parts in movies, including getting punched out by Seagal in TODAY YOU DIE (2005). David Mamet liked him and put him in two episodes of The Unit, where he got to do some actual acting. He has a bigger part in REDBELT, but that’s doing MMA commentary. After playing Toll Road in the EXPENDABLES movies he started getting more speaking roles, thought mostly in forgettable stuff like SETUP and HIJACKED.

I can’t say this is that much better of a role, but he does well with the generic exposition deliverer part and gets more to do at the end. SPOILER okay in case you haven’t read between the lines he’s the secret bad guy, so he gets to put on a funny outfit, talk like an evil sorcerer and have the climactic fight with White. Though he’s forced into a cinematic fighting style there are traces of how we’ve seen him actually pummel people – lots of knees, a body slam. I like that his style is so blunt compared to White’s, and the stiffness that comes from decades of beatings only enhances the contrast.

In conclusion, THE HARD WAY is not a new classic, but it is that other kind of movie that we can enjoy in between the new classics. The mild charm and occasional WTF of crappy European-co-production enhanced by the superior element of MJW. If Netflix starts releasing more movies like this as penance for killing the video chain stores that used to make movies like this a viable business model, I’m not gonna stop ’em.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 11th, 2019 at 12:01 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “The Hard Way”

  1. I always get excited for Vern DTNetflix action movie reviews.

  2. Anyone seen Seagal’s latest not even straight to DTV flick ATTRITION? (Apparently its only available at 365flix)

    I am not a Netflix subscriber and probably never will be. The Cable Channels i have already are enough for me. There are too many movies/shows out there i haven’t seen as it is. Regret not being to catch Roma and The Night Comes For Us though.

  3. Did anyone watch the 2018 Bros documentary, where Luke Goss and his twin brother Matt reunited as crap 80’s UK boyband Bros for a the first time in decades and immediately discovered they still can’t be in the same room together? It’s been rightly heralded for the ridiculous quotes that spew out but it’s also a really touching, life affirming film, more akin to Anvil! than Spinal Tap. I highly recommend it. And it makes me doubly excited to watch this one with Luke Goss and MJW togeher!

  4. Felix – I’ve seen Attrition (it’s available to rent on blu-ray where I live!). I wouldn’t ever call it a good movie, but it certainly looks a lot nicer than anything Seagal’s been in in years, and I did enjoy the fights (again, they’re better than anything else I’ve seen since maybe Belly of the Beast).
    BUT, it really put to bed for me the question of whether Seagal can actually still fight, and it’s just directors/editors messing up. When his co-star Fan Sui-Wong (who must be well into his 40s but still looks and moves great) fights the camera pulls back and you can see several moves in each shot. His big action stuff at the end is pretty well directed.
    When Seagal fights however, it’s strictly one move per cut, with lots of close-ups. And if his opponent does anything fancy, or more than one move in a shot, then Seagal is doubled. It’s a crying shame, cos it looks like they’ve got him doing Wing Chun, which I think should suit him. But I’m pretty sure now that Seagal just can’t fight anymore.

    I look forward to reading Vern’s thoughts on it.

  5. Thanks for the review, Otto.

    I look forward to Vern’s take of Seagal’s recent work.

  6. Last Friday I tried to decide between this and REVENGER on Netflix. THE HARD WAY won, but I have to admit that during the foot chase at the beginning when the guy ran into a shopping cart IN A WIDE OPEN garage I turned it off. The I remebered that it was the International Womens Day and I watched PEPPERMINT and PROUD MARY instead. Then I watched REVENGER.

  7. I regret not seeing PEPPERMINT.

  8. There was a time when I watched every new DTV Seagal joint, but I finally reached the breaking point. Part of it is that he somehow got even lazier than he was in the early DTV period, often showing up for only a handful of cameo scenes in movies which sell themselves entirely on his name, and, in more than one case now, remaining fucking seated for his entire role. Part of it is that Seagal is such a flagrantly awful person that it’s not even funny anymore; I try to separate an artist from their work, but he’s been so outspokenly and actively fucked up that it’s a lot harder than it used to be. I worry that even watching his movies helps elevate his platform and facilitates him actively working to make the world worse.

    And finally, I realized that I never really liked Seagal; I liked Vern, I enjoyed his take on these movies. It was always about this community more than the films. Post-90’s, the sole enjoyable thing about the films was reading Vern’s attempt to parse how they turned out the way they did, and catch little glimpses of the eccentric weirdo at their center. Since Vern backed off his role as the world’s foremost Seagalogist, there’s really almost nothing left to keep me watching; certainly not the actual experience of watching the films of one of the laziest, most slipshod and clearly disinterested “stars” in all of cinematic history. Cranking out films like THE ASIAN CONNECTION and SNIPER: SPECIAL OPS isn’t just shoddy, low-budget hustle, it’s active contempt for viewers, and frankly there’s nothing about Seagal anymore that makes me feel charitable enough to him to try and find anything interesting in such shameless dreck.

    But, the good news is that folks like MJW here are still actually trying, and making solid low-budget action that at least feels like they respect the audience enough to put some effort in, even if they’re not always able to overcome their financial limitations. Seeing something like DEBT COLLECTOR, or even the not-exactly-successful SAVAGE DOG is just such a complete night-and-day difference from pathetic, empty, openly-not-trying crap like Seagal has been churning out for basically a decade at this point (and that’s being almost absurdly generous about when he really checked out).

  9. I didn’t even make it that far with Seagal. Like any action fan, I loved his Golden and Silver Age stuff, but the quality control fell off so fast that the only ones from his DTV output I watched were the ones I was assured by the world’s foremost expert were in the upper echelons, like PISTOL WHIPPED, URBAN JUSTICE, and INTO THE SUN. And since even those were barely adequate as actual movies and not just Seagalogical case studies, I never ventured further. Like a lot of us I’m sure, I was a fan of Vern’s take on the material but not the material itself. I always felt bad about not exploring more, until the full truth of what a monumental scumbag this asshole is came out. You can be a great artist and a piece of shit or a lazy hack and a swell guy, but you can’t be a lazy hack and a piece of shit. There’s just no incentive for continuing to consume the output of someone like that.

    I DID watch CHINA SALESMAN, though, because it is fucking hilarious, and also because it’s very satisfying to see Seagal get his ass utterly, thoroughly, gloriously beat by Mike Tyson, especially knowing it was accomplished with his stunt double and almost certainly without his knowledge or consent. No way this toxic male Trumpian ego monster would consent to the humiliating defeat he suffered in this film, which he largely disappears from immediately after getting punked. He gets two more scenes and maybe three lines, then exits the movie offscreen, with a minor character saying he moved to South America in between scenes. Just utter disrespect to him and his supposed star power. I kind of loved it.

  10. I don’t want this to turn into a «I’ve never liked Seagal» thread, but I think I fell off right before THE PATRIOT. After that I’ve only seen EXIT WOUNDS and URBAN JUSTICE. Don’t know what it was, but 10 years seemed enough.

  11. God Damn it, Seagal’s new one has Jaguar Paw from APOCALYPTO? And Seagal wrote it and his character is just called “Axe”? Fucking hell. I just got done finally venting about how I was done with this turd, and not even a day later here I am seriously tempted by a fresh debacle. I wish i knew how to quit you, Steven Seagal.

  12. I am not sure Vern has ever really talked about it in length but I’m pretty sure we’ll never see a Seagal review again.

  13. Ah, yeah, I seem to remember some comments on twitter which gave that kind of vibe.
    I mean, you can try to dissociate the art from the artist, but when both are awful, why bother?

  14. Seeing i would like Vern give his final thoughts regarding Seagal. To close the book so to speak.

  15. Yes, it might be good to have a final close-the-book type deal for Seagal – the man who inspired the book that brought me, and probably others, to this site several years back.

    Back to the movie at hand, it was a bit disheartening to see MJW in Romania with the Keoni Waxman Players, but it was an interesting exercise in compare/contrast with what a similar Seagal joint would look like. The plot’s similarly incomprehensible (I had no idea what was going on regarding the money, the prostitutes, the “surprise” villain) – there’s nothing either actor could do about that probably – and at one point I thought the movie was going to follow the Seagal lead of having the main character go AWOL while the understudy (Goss here) does all the work, but in the end it turned out much better than the late-era Romanian Seagal efforts I’ve seen.

    Does that support the auteur theory for Seagal? He takes weak material and puts his stamp on it, making it even worse?

    By the way, that is awkward wording in the writer’s tweet. Or is it? Maybe he got somebody else to write the movie for him.

  16. Michael Jai White playsa recurring villain on the show ‘Arrow,’ which I wouldn’t normally recommend, as the show’s not very good (especially lately) and MJW has historically been under-served in his role. But there was one episode earlier this season that was one of the best they’ve ever done, and it finally made pretty good use of MJW. Season 7, episode 7, “The Slabside Redemption.” I would recommend it to MJW fans, even ones who haven’t seen the show, because the episode is pretty self contained. There are no side stories and almost none of of the regular supporting cast is in it. It’s basically a 42 minute action movie taking place during a prison riot. The set-up is that the main character, Oliver Queen (aka The Green Arrow), is a vigilante who turned himself in and was sent to prison, and now he’s about to be released and his archenemy is about to take his place. But even that is pretty well covered in the episode. MJW plays Ben Turner, a fellow prisoner and former enemy of the Green Arrow who maybe can be redeemed.

  17. Here we go.

  18. It’s funny, Seagal is always the example I go to when the issue of art vs. artist comes up. Even back in the ’90s, I knew he’d physically abused Kelly Le Brock so I knew he was not the admirable guy he plays in movies. And now we know he was even worse with multiple rape charges and collusion with Russia.

    The way I always looked at it was that his screen persona was the hero he either wanted to be or knew he should be, but he could never measure up in real life. The screen persona is still admirable and it still exists for us to aspire to even if the actor is disgusting.

    I actually wrote about this at length in case anyone’s interested in reading it.

    30 Years Of Steven Seagal: To Change The Essence Of A Man | We Live Entertainment

    Do Steven Seagal's movies represent the hero he wanted to be or knew he should be? I look back on 30 years of Steven Seagal to try to figure it out.

  19. Great article Fred.

    I think in my Seagal fan years I never truly believed all, or even most, of the allegations/rumours about him were false, there was just too much smoke to be no fire. Yet I was also aware there were a lot of loudmouths out there who thought dramatic range was an innumerably more valuable human quality than Martial Arts skills and consistent screen personas and liked to take every opportunity they could to take those who rely on the later down a peg or two. I guess I thought/hoped maybe some of it was false, and that there was enough decency to balance things a tad. In the first couple of years of YouTube I saw his Arsinio Hall interview for OUT FOR JUSTICE, and just couldn’t pretend any more. And that was how he chose to be seen in public! At his peak!

    (I think Gene Siskel actually references that interview in his (positive) review for OUT FOR JUSTICE, perhaps the first public occurrence of someone grappling with the art/artist conundrum in regards to Seagal)

    And, yes, his DTV work was thin gruel indeed. Those that weren’t insultingly inept managed only to be blandly passable but still faintly depressing. The only real exception for me was PISTOL WHIPPED, and weirdly I remember thinking THE FOREIGNER had some interesting elements. I know URBAN JUSTICE had a lot of fans but it just didn’t work for me. And yet there came a time when hoping for an INTO THE SUN seemed far fetched. But we’ll always have those first few films.

  20. Thanks, Pacman. I still have A Dangerous Man and Driven to Kill on my shelf though I can’t remember any reason why they stood out. Maybe one day I’ll watch them again to find out.

    I’ll have to look up that Arsenio appearance. I remember watching it in the day but all that comes to mind is Seagal saying he wants to make movies where he doesn’t hurt people. Wonder how it fares in light of all the revelations. Sounds like I should look up that Siskel clip too.

  21. Fred — I think there’s a whole lot of wisdom in that approach. I don’t recall exactly where I read it (perhaps it was the NYT piece linked below?) but I recently encountered an interesting discussion about how hypocrisy has gradually metamorphosed from a relatively minor peccadillo into our culture’s gravest sin. It’s such a tempting rhetorical weapon because it allows us to feel confident ignoring a hypocrite’s message without directly addressing it, but of course that results in a tremendous loss of actual consequential discourse for very little gain. Frankly, we’re all hypocrites on one level or another; nobody gets through life without some failures, and as increasingly everything we do is documented for all the world to see, we’re discovering more and more of those failures in people that we also look to for role models. The culture currently affords two options to address this fact: we can either take from that an outlook that we can cleanse the world of these failures by denouncing them when the appear, or we can adopt an attitude of total nihilism towards any hope of being, or even attempting to be, a good person. I would suggest a different way of looking at it: artists create fantasies to inspire us, not rubrics upon which to grade the measure of a human life. We’re in what I hope is a transitional period during which our natural inclination towards puritanical judgement or reckless nihilism will eventually be roundly rejected as hopelessly brittle and unsuited for anyone trying to live a happy life. But we’re not there yet.

    Of course, none of this need necessarily apply to Seagal, as his modern artistic output is just as painfully unpalatable as his public persona. It’s like his filmography is his own personal picture of Dorian Gray.

    Opinion | The Real Problem With Hypocrisy

    The reason you dislike it may come as a surprise.

  22. I really like how you put that, Fred. The part about his screen persona still being admirable. I need to remember that.

    For the record, I do want to write more about Seagal, whether or not I ever change my position about reviewing his new movies. At some point I need to finish reading that horrible book he wrote and do a piece about it. I just haven’t been able to find the right form for all my feelings about the matter, but I agree with you all that there’s more to be said/written.

  23. Thanks, Vern. Yeah, a guy who stands up to bullies, won’t let corrupt governments get away with it, defends the environment and aspires to spiritual growth is someone we can all look up to. Too bad that was all acting. In real life he’s a bully who welcomes corrupt governments and a climate change denier, and certainly doesn’t live a spiritual life.

    Mr. S, I like that too. I’ve found it exhausting in the last few years to call out hypocrisy when it’s clear the hypocrites and their supporters don’t care. I will still make the effort to set the record straight, but maybe there’s something to your link. Pointing out hypocrisy doesn’t mean we get to avoid dealing with the issue.

    I always found it funny in courtroom dramas when an expert witness is discredited due to some personal indiscretion in their life, and the jury disregards all their testimony. Well, whatever they did personally doesn’t make them any less of an expert in their field. (Like the expert in A Time to Kill who’s found to be a pedophile. He’s still an expert, albeit one who should be charged with sex crimes now, but still he knew what he was talking about in the case.)

    I happen to quote Gandhi a lot and I was surprised when someone told me his views on rape victims. Gandhi was 100% wrong about rape victims, but you know what? Being the change you wish to see in the world is good advice, and passive resistance is pretty dope. So I’m not throwing out all of his wisdom because he was wrong about other things.

    Seagal is no Gandhi but you see where I’m going… And once abuse is found out it should absolutely be punished. Seagal should answer for his crimes, and I’m totally fine if that means there’s no more future art by him or other artists who’ve committed crimes. But the past work will still exist and I think this is a more nuanced way to dealing with it than to “cancel” it as it were.

  24. I should add I’m not trying to convince anyone to keep watching Seagal. No one ever has to watch Seagal again, including Vern. This is just how I explain my fascination with the persona.

  25. Fred- from what I remember Siskel didn’t go that deep on the matter, he just mentioned that he found Seagal unbearably “unctuous” on chat shows (teaching me a new word in the process” and took against him, but would go to his films and find he enjoyed them and watching Seagal on screen.

  26. Looks like Lionsgate will be handling the distribution of Steven Seagal’s GENERAL COMMANDER.

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