Steven Seagal's latest straight to video action extravaganza finds him playing a former Russian mobster named Ruslan who now makes a living writing tough as nails action books, some of which are based on his own personal experiences. When he gets a call from his ex-wife letting him know that his only daughter, Lanie (Laura Mennell) is marrying Stephan (Dmitry Chepovetsky), the son of his former arch nemesis, Mikhail (Igor Jijikine) he hops on the first plane from California to New Jersey he can get. He arrives in time to meet the fiancé and his ex-wife's rich new lawyer of a husband, but before you can say 'cliché plot device' some tattooed Russian mobsters show up and kill the ex and seriously injure the daughter.
Figuring the father of the groom is behind it all, Ruslan teams up with his daughter's fiancé to cruise through the Russian underworld of New Jersey to get revenge for what wrongs have been committed against his family and to uncover the real culprits behind the attack. The local cops are onto Ruslan, but he's got crazy Russian mobster skills to fall back on and a one track mind set on vengeance.
Original or though provoking, Driven To Kill is not. The packaging makes it sound like Seagal does Taken but it's nowhere near as intense, well made, or interesting as the Liam Neeson film, even if it does kinda-sorta share some plot similarities with it. That said, compared to other, more recent, efforts from Seagal, this one isn't bad. Keeping in mind that Seagal movies need to be graded on a curve and not really compared to what many would consider 'good' movies, but yeah, Driven To Kill is entertaining enough. Those familiar with a lot of his more recent pictures probably noticed that he had started using a lot of body doubles in the fight scenes. On top of that, he was generally being shot from the waist up and a lot of his dialogue was being dubbed. While Driven To Kill isn't prime Seagal, it does at least mostly eliminate those traits and he's definitely in better shape here than he has been in recent years. He handles himself well in the fight scenes, even if they do tend to be shot very close in and edited very quickly, and he doesn't appear to have used any stand-in's this time around.
The film does definitely have its shared of flaws, however. For whatever reason, the director really likes to repeat shots over and over again. If this is supposed to place some sort of emphasis on what's happening seems unlikely, as a lot of them are completely inconsequential shots to begin with, but for reasons known only to him we see them again anyway. Seagal's Russian accent, while not as bad as the screwy southern accent he's used in other films, also comes across a rather goofy and not particularly believable. Still, as a low budget b-action picture, Driven To Kill does deliver plenty of slam-bang-shoot-you-in-the-head moments. There's some pretty gritty parts to the film that, even if they don't add much to an already threadbare storyline, at least provide some superficial entertainment value. This might not be on par with his early theatrical efforts but it is at least a partial return to form for the aging action star, and a fun way to kill ninety minutes in front of the TV.
Driven To Kill looks surprisingly unimpressive in this AVC encoded 1.78.1 1080p anamorphic widescreen transfer. The image is inconsistent in its grain, meaning that some shots don't show any of it while others are riddled with it, and detail fluctuates quite a bit as well. Some close up shots look pretty strong, while the next shot could look smeary or messy. Color reproduction isn't terrible, though the picture doesn't have particularly pretty color scheme to really show off in the first place so expect a lot of browns and grays, and black levels are okay but shadow detail fails to impress. There's nothing here that really makes you stand up and take notice. It probably looks a bit better than the SD release does, but you'd expect more out of an HD transfer than what you see here.
The only audio track on this Blu-ray release is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that doesn't really sound all that impressive. While the dialogue is reasonably clear and the levels are properly balanced, those hoping for a lot of surround activity will be sorely disappointed as almost everything comes at you from the front of the soundstage and the rears are used very sparingly. Bass response is okay, if unremarkable, and there are no problems with hiss or distortion worth noting, but for such an over the top action movie such as Driven To Kill, you'd expect the track to pack more punch. Alternate subtitles are provided in English SDH and Spanish. These actually come in handy a few times as Seagal's penchant for hushed and semi-mumbled dialogue can lead to a couple of garbled sounding deliveries. The score, which makes use of heavy metal and bizarre traditional Russian folk music to very strange effect, doesn't have much impact and honestly, there's nothing here that really makes you go 'wow, HD audio is great' because this sounds like a slightly pumped up stereo mix.
While there are previews for X-Men Origins - Wolverine, Taken, and Wrong Turn 3 that play before you get to the menu, there are no other extra features on this disc, save for chapter selection.
Seagal's fan base might actually appreciate this one, as it's definitely more action intensive than the stuff he was churning out a few years ago. Is Driven To Kill a good movie? No, not really, but Seagal kills a lot of people, it's got some gratuitous nudity, and there's a lot of violence in it. It delivers pretty much what you'd expect a mid-level Seagal film to deliver. Fox's Blu-ray doesn't look so hot, and the sound mix is simply ok rather than impressive and the barebones nature of the release doesn't help things, but if you're into turning off your brain and enjoying some mindlessly violent escapism, this one can fight the bill. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.