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“Driven to Kill” is Steven Seagal’s second direct-to-DVD film this year. Yes, his second movie released on DVD in the year 2009, and movie #3 is already in the can. There’s really no way to keep track of all the DTV films Seagal has made since his career in theatrical releases sputtered out about 6 or 7 years ago. At this point, he’s pumping out generic action movies faster than Nadya Suleman pumps out babies. Alas, these days Suleman is probably in much better physical shape.
This time out, Steven Seagal is Ruslan Drachev, a former member of the Russian mob who served time in a gulag, and is now making an honest living writing crime novels. Yes, Seagal does a Russian accent here. His preoccupation with doing accents is one of life’s great mysteries, because he’s completely incapable of pulling them off believably. But then again, the faux Russian accent is a refreshing change of pace from the strange, Southern-fried, black-blues-musician accent he put on for his last nine films. But then again, his voice rarely rises above a whisper, so he may as well not be doing an accent at all.
Seagal is living in Los Angeles, I think, and one day he flies to New York, I think, to attend his daughter’s wedding. (It’s difficult to tell, because the movie was filmed in Eastern Europe, and the filmmakers don’t even attempt to make it look like either of those cities.) Once he arrives in “New York”, he reunites with his estranged ex-wife Catherine, played by Inna Korobkina, who’s wearing thick layers of makeup to make her appear older. There’s a reason for this: According to the IMDb, Korobkina is actually a year younger than the woman playing her daughter. You really have to wonder why they couldn’t find someone Seagal’s age to play his ex-wife, instead of a 28 year old model. But lately, it seems Seagal has developed an acute aversion to playing opposite any actress more than half his age.
Catherine is now married to a defense attorney, who shows extreme disdain for Seagal’s mob past, and for the sleazy books he writes. By the way, we get a scene of Seagal sitting at his computer working on a novel, and it’s a hoot: He’s hunched over the keyboard, hands splayed out, pressing twenty keys at once. He looks less like a novelist, and more like a bear about to tear apart a salmon.
Seagal’s daughter is set to marry a guy who, coincidentally enough, is the son of another ex-Russian mobster. And that mobster actually grew up in the same town as Seagal. Will wonders never cease? But prior to the wedding, hit men break into Catherine’s house, killing her and sending the daughter to the hospital. Together, Seagal and his would-be son-in-law track down the men responsible, and that’s when Seagal is… driven to kill. Hey, at least you can’t say the title is false advertising.
In some objective sense, this is the “best” film Seagal has made in a long time. The plot moves along quickly enough, the story generally makes sense, the action scenes are staged well, and unlike his recent films where you think maybe Seagal’s stunt double deserved top billing, we actually see Seagal himself doing a lot of his own fight moves. In other words, it’s pretty much free from the hilarious incompetence of recent Seagal efforts.
This is a double-edged sword for his fans. The main draw for Seagal films of late, sadly, is that they’re unintentional laugh riots from start to finish. Don’t expect to have that kind of fun with “Driven to Kill”. The whole thing is too competent to laugh at, but at the same time, it’s not competent enough to be worth watching. The action scenes are good, including a sequence where Seagal engages in all-out war with the bad guys in an intensive care unit, but there’s really nothing in this movie that you haven’t seen a million times before.
When you get down to it, it’s just a bog standard revenge plot, and most of it is depressingly paint-by-numbers. None of the characters have any real personality or depth. And alas, other than a fight in a strip club where they clearly used creative editing to stretch it out to a ridiculous length of time, there are simply no moments that make you question the sanity and/or sobriety of the filmmakers.
This is disheartening news. Seagal has actually returned to the level of mediocrity he reached back in the early 2000s. If this keeps up, he may be back in theatrical films soon.
Jeff King (director) / Mark James (screenplay)
CAST: Steven Seagal … Ruslan Drachev
Laura Mennell … Lanie Drachev
Dan Payne … Sergei
Holly Eglington … Regime
Mike Dopud … Boris
Inna Korobkina … Catherine Goldstein
Igor Jijikine … Mikhail
Aleks Paunovic … Tony Links