The eighties had a lot of action heroes – enough for two tiers of them… enough to churn out B-movie action flicks in plain, twisted, ironic and even extra-toasty. Tier one included names like Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold. Tier two included the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme and the star of Driven to Kill, Steven Segal.
Where Van Damme has re-invented himself through the very meta JCVD, Segal has, after trying to make movies that say stuff, returned to what he does best – revenge fantasies. Driven to Kill finds him playing a Russian writer named Ruslan who writes – as a former colleague [i.e. gangster] calls them, “snuff books” [presumably the Russian mob equivalent of The Mack Bolan, Executioner series].
When Ruslan returns to New York to give his daughter’s hand in marriage – to the son of a gangster – it leads to the death of his ex-wife [Inna Korobkina] and the near death of his daughter, Lanie [Laura Mennell]. But who’s behind it? Is it former colleagues Mikhail [Igor Jijikine], or Boris [Mike Dopud] – both of whom are unhappy to see him? Could it be Lanie’s stepfather, Terry [Robert Wisden – not always a good sign]?
Ruslan’s investigative technique is to force his potential son-in-law, Mikhail’s son, Stephan [ReGenesis’ Dmitry Chepovetsky] to help him – and to make him watch the ensuing brutality [something tells me that should Lanie survive, Stephan will be a most attentive husband!].
Driven to Kill is not Under Siege, or Above the Law, but it’s the best thing that Segal has done in well over a decade. He’s still the most wooden of the eighties action stars, and with his extra poundage and gravely voice, he resembles a martial arts Marlon Brando – minus the acting chops. Director Jeff King used some wicked editing to make the one-step-slower Segal look like a legitimate action hero – and the various action set pieces easily match the almost casual brutality of the early Segal flicks [which is why we enjoyed them, remember?].
Writer Mark James makes this standard revenge flick work by playing riffs on what has gone before. The shell game of who’s behind everything: the possibility that one of the victims might survive; making Ruslan a writer of violent novels [suggesting that he has sublimated his dark side by fictionalizing his past]; making the investigating detectives Harden [Ingrid Torrance] and Lavastic [Zak Santiago] less of an impediment than usual [Lavastic even suggests at one point that they just let Ruslan take care of business, then come in and clean up afterward], and even coming up with a uniquely horrible way to kill a guy [sharp objects of various sizes and shapes… and a grenade…].
Driven to Kill is a lean, relatively quick flick, coming in at under ninety-eight minutes [including about five minutes of closing credits]. The characters may be one dimensional, but characters aren’t why revenge flicks draw an audience. This is all about the vicarious expiation of our dark sides through the violence of the avenger. On that level, Driven to Kill gets the job done.
Features: None [though there are a bunch of trailers which Twentieth Century Fox has not tried to peddle as “Bonus Features”].
Final Grade: C+