Forget that Kill Switch and Against the Dark ever happened - it's just not worth remembering those two catastrophes when you can group together the overall string of recent victories for Steven Seagal's DTV career that are Urban Justice, Pistol Whipped, and now "Driven to Kill". Wait, don't get your hopes too high: it's not quite as good as either of the two, but is nonetheless one of the best things that Seagal's done in the last half-decade.
The story: Ruslan Drachev (Seagal) is a former member of the Russian mob and current novelist whose daughter Lanie (Laura Mennell, Watchmen) is set to marry the son of his arch nemesis, the mafia kingpin Mikhail (Igor Jijikine, Indiana Jones 4). However, before the wedding can take place, his daughter is attacked and left in critical condition; Ruslan suspects Mikhail and sets out on a trek of vengeance with the aid of Mikhail's son and his daughter's fiancé Stephan (Dmitry Chepovetsky, ReGenesis).
The pressing questions that make or break a Seagal film... 1) is the storyline coherent, 2) how obvious is Steven's stunt double, and 3) how much of his voice is dubbed? I'm happy to say that in the case of all three, Seagal has improved: the story is straight-forward with virtually no subplots, Steven's voice is not dubbed at all as far as I can tell, and his ever-consistent stand-in Dian Hristov is not even listed in the credits. There aren't a lot of instances in the film where it seems to indicate that it's someone other than Seagal doing his own work to begin with, so if he is using a stunt double, it's not very often and it's been covered up very well.
Yes, Seagal is sticking to his higher standards. He seems more alert and in better physical shape, his character is fairly intriguing this time around, and his fight scenes are well-choreographed and surprisingly vicious. He has seven of these: four shootouts and three hand-to-hand fights. The gunfights are largely old hat (save for the machinegun battle at the end, which is mildly awesome), but when he's using his fists (and feet - he actually kicks above his head once), Steven is formidable once again: he stabs a guy in the face with broken glass, literally beats a fellow to tears, cuts a man to ribbons in a very bloody knifefight, impales a man's head on a spike, stabs a mercenary in the neck and forces him to bleed to death, and stabs/shoots his final opponent through the eye. This older, more sadistic Steven is loads more fun to watch than the supplier of endless "pattycake battles", even though he uses next to no martial arts. There is some unnecessary and unwanted quick-cut editing to these fights, but the fact that it's clearly Seagal doing his own work saves them from being any less impressive.
There are some silly editing techniques used in other parts of the movie to kill time, but the important scenes remain untainted. The supporting cast works well: Jijikine as the head villain, Robert Wisden ("Da Vinci's Inquest") as the two-faced husband of Ruslan's ex, and Chepovetsky as Ruslan's quasi-sidekick all do good jobs as immediate co-stars, while ex-wife Inna Korobkina, daughter Laura Mennell, policewoman Ingrid Torrance, and mercenary Aleks Paunovic all make up a good supporting base. The casting of actual Russians helps a lot in setting an atmosphere for the film, since there's a lot of Russian being spoken and it all sounds authentic. Seagal does his best with his own version of a Russian accent, and while it's nice to see him make an effort the second time around (see Half Past Dead), it's far from passable and he drops it every now and then.
There's some definite ego masturbation for Seagal and I wish there had been more fistfights and/or some innovation of the gun battles, but regardless of these qualms, the film is proof that Steven Seagal is not done being a force in the action realm. It's not quite as no-nonsense as "Urban Justice" or as sophisticated as "Pistol Whipped", so it just misses a four-star rating...but only just. Distancing himself from Sony has paid off for Seagal, and fans ought to take notice ASAP.