Film

‘Contract to Kill’ Showcases How Hard It’s Gotten to Make Steven Seagal Look Like an Action Hero

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Steven Seagal, the flamboyantly brutal action hero, is a shadow of his hyper-violent self in Contract to Kill, a dreary espionage thriller that never lets the Nineties genre icon cut loose.

Instead of snapping Russian mobsters’ necks or throwing Jamaican druglords into elevator shafts, Seagal — as government-trained black-ops assassin John Harmon — delivers endless debriefings to instantly forgettable sidekicks Matthew Sharp (Russell Wong) and Zara Harek (Jemma Dallender) about two newly allied criminals: Hezbollah leader Ayan Al-Mujahid (Sergiu Costache) and Mexican cartel boss Jose Rivera (Mircea Drambareanu). The dry info dumps are visually complemented by drab Bourne-style area maps, file photos, and statistics.

Seagal doesn’t even look good when he breaks arms or chucks heavies down flights of stairs. Writer-director Keoni Waxman (recent direct-to-video Seagal flicks like A Good Man and A Dangerous Man) tries and fails to make his star look slimmer — his gut is only accentuated by a too-tight black leather jacket — by mostly filming him in head-and-shoulder-centric medium close-ups. Seagal’s clumsy body language is evident in a handful of overedited, poorly paced action sequences: He fumbles with a pistol and awkwardly kicks over a coffee table. It’s usually so hard to follow that you can barely tell whether it’s Harmon, Sharp, or Harek who’s braining an enemy to death with a metal pipe.

Granted, tedious dialogue and spatial incoherence probably aren’t major deal-breakers for Contract to Kill‘s target audience: undemanding Seagal devotees. But even the most masochistic filmgoers should avoid Waxman and Seagal’s latest collaboration, a boring vanity project that doesn’t even competently flatter its star.

Contract to Kill

Written and directed by Keoni Waxman

Lions Gate

Opens December 9

Available on demand

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