Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Favorite Era: Hard Target (1993)

John Woo is one of the most respected directors of action films.  First achieving fame in Hong Kong, he brought a fresh, intense energy to the genre with tons of style and blood squibs.  In the early 90's, he was starting to get noticed stateside as his fantastic 1989 thriller The Killer was released.  In 1993, he made his first American movie, a reworking of The Most Dangerous Game starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Hard Target revolves around drifter Chance Boudreaux (our muscular lead) as he is drawn into a fight against rich mercenary Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) who likes to organize hunting parties where rich guys hunt homeless war veterans.  Chance hooks up with the daughter of one of these unfortunate vets (Yancy Butler) and much gunplay and chaos ensues.  Let's take a closer look.
  •  First off, you gotta love a film executive produced by Sam Raimi and directed by John Woo, two of the great directors of the 80's and 90's.  Sure, it's watered down John Woo but even then, it's still pretty cool.
  • The story setup is pretty good as we see how the mercenaries carry out one of their hunting parties.  An amusing tidbit is that the guy they are chasing is the film's screenwriter, Chuck Pfarrer.
  • I also love the fact that one of the hunters has a rocket launcher.
  • Not sure what's funnier: Jean-Claude Van Damme's thick accent being explained as "Cajun" or the horrid hairstyle he's sporting.  It's like a mullet that he decided to get half-permed but then said "Never mind, I'll just pour some motor oil on it and call it a day".
  • This may be one of the few action films I've ever seen where the lack of much law enforcement to get in the way of the mayhem can be chalked up to a police strike.  And no, Robocop 2 doesn't  count.  It never happened and neither did the third one.
  • The unquestionable highlight of the film is Lance Henriksen as the bad guy.  Henriksen is always good but here he puts on a full-blown aria of arrogant sleaze and malice.  Refreshingly for a movie villain, he's not overly hammy though he does have one or two moments where he begins to lose it.
  • I also have to give the man extra credit for doing a fire gag.  Granted it wasn't intentional but damn!  Now that's commitment to one's craft!
  • Arnold Vosloo is also good as Van Cleaf, Fouchon's main henchman.  He's just as nasty a piece of work as Fouchon plus you get an entertaining accent to boot.
  • The other performance I have to mention is the great Wilford Brimley as Boudreaux's uncle.  I can't honestly say it's good, but it sure as hell is entertaining.
  • The thing I really find amusing about this film is how John Woo's signature style is sort of mashed together with the standards of the typical action movie.  Whereas his films usually come off as a little artistic in terms of composition than most action movies, here the artistic flourishes seem somewhat forced and silly.  For instance, Woo tends to use doves as recurring motif.  They turn up here, in his much better Face/Off and Mission Impossible II...And of those three, only Face/Off manages to not make it goofy.
  • The slow-motion at random intervals also turns up and it works okay for the most part.
  • As for the action, it's pretty damn good (though not quite as good as Woo is capable of.  There's a gleefully stupid bike stunt and a fantastic, extended shootout at the end that's quite entertaining.
  • I also get a kick out of the mercenaries Fouchon brings together for the finale.  Not often you see Arnold Schwarzenegger's buddy Sven-Ole Thorsen in maybe the ugliest shirt ever made being kicked in the face by Jean-Claude Van Damme.
  • As entertaining as the film is, the most readily available cut is pretty heavily compromised.  Van Damme (no stranger to egomania) did a cut that had more of him in it and the MPAA required a ton of cuts in order for the movie to score an R rating.  Most of the cuts were made in the action scenes and I'd be dishonest if I said they didn't hurt the film's impact.
  • To end things on an up note, I love having Born on the Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival playing over the end credits.  Very cool.
As it stands, Hard Target is an acceptable, fun action movie that is both a middle of the road Jon Woo movie but also Van Damme's best.  Well, maybe not his best but it's in the top five at least.  It's got a great extended finale and a fantastic performance from Lance Henriksen and for me, that's good enough.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.