The Hard Bastard Gods have decreed that today shall be the turn of the Master of Aikido, Lord Steven Seagal, to show off his indomitable macho action man chops. I have never been the biggest fan of Seagal’s zen-but- mouthy, take-no-crap, dress like a hippy, sting like a bee schtick, but after this one I have definitely reassessed my feelings towards the man. Released during Seagal’s mid-nineties heyday, when the pony-tailed one was at the peak of his box office powers, Director John Gray’s the Glimmer Man teams The Great One up with jive-talkin’ Keenen Ivory Wayans, to incendiary, thrilling effect. Wayans’ wisecracking, Humphrey Bogart-loving L.A. Detective Jim Campbell is forced to partner-up with Seagal’s mysterious, mystic, bead-wearing New York cop, Lt. John Cole, when they are assigned to track down a serial killer dubbed ‘The Family Man,’ due to his habit of murdering entire families in atrocious, ritualistic fashion. Campbell quickly discovers that Cole, steeped in Buddhism and used to working alone, has a shady past that could actually hold the key to solving the case and unlocking a much larger conspiracy. Happily, this involves copious violence, sweet car chases and a whole load of stuff that blows up grandly.
Seagal is a commanding presence here, and though he often looks ridiculous in his bizarre, multicoloured tunics and beads, he glides through the narrative with such poise and confidence that he owns any room he walks into. Cole oozes self-belief and tackles some pretty hairy situations with a serenity that makes him look totally badass. No sooner than he’s been assigned to this homicide case, he’s strolling into a hostage situation in a school, purely because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. As his partner points out, it’s not even in their department jurisdiction, but before anyone even knows what’s going on, Cole has sorted the situation out by hurling himself and the teen gunman through a plate glass window. His methods are extreme, but dammit, he gets results. As it turns out, the kid’s dad is someone very important: shady crook Frank Deverell (Bob Gunton), who just happens to be a central figure in the whole conspiracy, and Cole becomes a marked man for refusing to testify that the boy was temporarily insane. Quite bodaciously, when Deverell presents him with a thinly-veiled threat, Cole explodes: ‘You tell your asshole boss that nobody threatens me…now take your ugly ass outta here!’ Seagal is supremely skilled at spitting such venomous censures and in this movie he gets plenty opportunities to vent his spleen. Cole is also quick to point out that he deplores violence, but will remorsefully resort to it when the baddies give him no other option. Thankfully, this happens quite regularly, resulting in some impeccable, squelchy bloodshed.
Though Cole is prone to sprouting weird, floaty spiritual nonsense like, ‘she is merely a broken vessel,’ and ‘crying cleanses the soul,’ he also exhibits some quite outrageous, sage, otherworldly skills, such as being able to work out where a murder victim came from purely by her ‘bone structure’, and is knowledgeable about mystical Eastern medicine. He even sneakily gets Campbell to ingest some ‘powdered deer penis,’ to cure his allergies, which becomes a whimsical, but tired running joke.
Constantly laughing, joking and ribbing each other, Cole and Campbell become an affable double act, with Campbell reliably bringing the blithe, street smart attitude, and Cole bringing the wisdom and the ultraviolent pain. Cornered by some baddies when they stumble across some hoods breaking into a car, Seagal warns them: ‘My friend, he’s a little bit country, I’m a little bit rock n’ roll!’, nicely summing up their relationship, before it all kicks off. With the bad guys attempting to rob them, thinking them unarmed, Cole quips, ‘do you take plastic?’ before whipping out a credit card containing a sneaky hidden blade, slashing up his assailants quick style, before kung fu-ing the shit out of them. It makes you wonder: what kind of guy would carry such a thing? He’s resourceful and tough, and throughout the movie he does it all with no small measure of style and finesse. As Campbell points out, ‘He speaks Chinese, dresses like a monk and he’s like Bruce Lee in battle!’ Amen to that.
When his ex-wife is found butchered and he’s stitched up for the Family Man murders, Cole shows what he’s made of and comes out fighting, looking to track down and punish the powerful figures from his past who he figures must be behind it all. When the chief informs him that he’s suspended pending an investigation, following a heated exchange in the P.D. men’s room Cole enquires which urinal the boss has just pissed in, before tossing his gun and badge straight into the manky piss-pot. Nice.
Cole then tracks down his old army buddy-turned Senator Smith (Brian Cox), who he suspects might have something to do with it all and becomes caught up in an electrifying restaurant smackdown. Before he’s even entered the eatery, Cole sparks out a mouthy maître d’, and when Smith’s bodyguard suggest he leave quietly, the Buddhist ballbuster retorts ‘I have something in my pocket that will completely clear up that bruise on your forehead.’ Before the confused enforcer can finishing asking ‘what bruise?’, Cole has knocked him into next week and is soon taking on five very angry, highly trained bad guys. Effortlessly messing them up, tossing them through windows and taking a chance to show off his brilliant close-quarters combat style, Cole swaggers off, point made, and coolly enquires, ‘Do you validate parking?’ This one really is a masterclass in ridiculous action movie quipping, with the wisecracks coming thick and fast, making for a bloody good, riotous laugh.
We soon find out where Cole got his particular set of skills from when, plotting to take him down, co-conspirators Deverell and Smith reveal that he is ex-Special Ops, the best-of-the-best, a Vietnam vet nicknamed ‘the Glimmer Man’, who has seen some serious shit. Of Cole’s past form, Smith explains, ‘there’d be nothing but jungle…then a glimmer…then you’d be DEAD.’ Cole was apparently so tough that he went rogue and started making up his own assignments, before disappearing to Thailand where he found spirituality and peace, eventually dedicating his life to law and justice. Unfortunately for the villains, setting Cole up seems to have only succeeded in flicking a switch in his head that makes the violent acts of justice we’ve seen so far look like a goddamn picnic. When two hoods posing as cops try to kidnap him, from the backseat of a speeding car the steamed-up Spartan beats one of them to death with his own gun. He then fearlessly smashes the vehicle right into a massive gasoline truck, spectacularly rolling out the back window just before the inevitable fiery mushroom cloud signals that this most definitely means WAR.
Next time the partners encounter Smith, proper procedure goes out the window, as Cole shoots him in the foot to get him to squeal, then promptly blasts him in the hand just to prove he ain’t messing about. After he’s spilled the beans, (some convoluted nonsense concerning a cover-up, Deverell, chemical weapons and Russian mobsters)Smith confesses, ‘I miss you Jack…our men these days, they just won’t go that extra mile.’ This is the level of Hard Bastard we’re dealing with – he’s so nails, he’s getting compliments from the guy he’s just shot! Then, as Smith begs them for leniency and to at least call him an ambulance, Cole spits, ‘I only shot you in one foot – hobble to the hospital!’
With the info he needs, Cole shows off his smarts, playing the bad guys off against each other and leading them into a ferocious, riveting gun battle. When, during the assault, Campbell is blasted right out of a window and left hanging precariously from a ledge, Cole shows how selflessly courageous he is by abseiling down the side of the building to rescue him. This is very cool indeed.
Finally getting to go mano-a-mano with the real Family Man killer - Deverell’s nefarious right hand man Cunningham (John M. Jackson) - Cole pulls out all the stops in a brutal, bloody final fight that shows just how unstoppable The Glimmer Man really is. Urging his foe to ‘take your best shot,’ Cole seems unsatisfied, despite the crunching blow to the face he receives for his troubles. ‘No! Your best shot,’ he roars, inciting the guy to wallop him even harder. ‘Boring!’ he cries, quite splendidly, before composing himself and calmly quipping, ‘That’s the best you got, I’m gonna have to kill you.’ Then he unleashes hell in the type of classic, furious fight that sees scenery demolished marvellously, and blood and teeth fly through the air like gristly bullets. The duel reaches fever pitch with both men trying to strangle each other to death, before Cunningham receives his comeuppance by being sent hurtling through a window to be impaled on spikes below, just as the church bell tolls. It is a suitably stylish end to a thrilling physical encounter.
With Cole’s name cleared and the war finally over, injured Campbell is led off on a stretcher, stopping to tell Cole that ever since he’s met him he’s been nothing but trouble. Smirking, Cole says he’ll keep that in mind, shooting his comrade a look that implies he ain’t seen nothin’ yet, before swaggering off into the crowd: ready to right some more wrongs and kick a whole lot more ass. He’s The Glimmer Man. That’s just how he rolls.
INDESTRUCTIBILITY: 9/10 – Cunningham kinda gives him a run for his money, but to be honest, Seagal barely breaks sweat.
COMBAT SKILLS: 7/10 Great with his hands, a piece or even a credit card. Not bad.
ATTITUDE: 8/10 Strives to do what’s right, takes cases that are outside his department, and tells bribing baddies to kiss his ass. However, possibly did some questionable stuff in Nam…
OUTRAGEOUSNESS: 7/10 Leaping from moving cars, abseiling down buildings during a firefight, maiming baddies with credit cards, he’s pretty damn crazy!
BODY COUNT: 14 kills in 91 minutes – A lot of room for improvement! 2/10
SEAGAL’S SCORE: 33/50