Almost Spot On: 'Hard Target' Review
Not a porno or Die Hard in a Target, the plot is fairly simple: A woman looks for her missing father, hiring the help of a mysterious drifter while bad guys are after them. Unlike the previously reviewed The Quest, at least Hard Target gets a lot of mileage from such a simple story. And in sudden bits and pieces, it looks like it’s going to be something else other than just an action vehicle for Jean-Claude Van Damme.
The movie begins with a brutal murder that quickly highlights the best part of the film: the villains. Lance Henriksen does a great job as Emil Fouchon, the leader of an organization that hunts homeless people. Along for the ride is Imothep, I mean, Arnold Vosloo, playing a henchman who sure loves his grenades.
When the movie is introduced Jean-Claude Van Damme as the drifter, I found myself groaning.
Here was Van Damme again, giving a wooden performance with a character that has only been created to make him look good. The performance by Yancy Butler isn’t much better, although she’s not given much to do aside but to be amazed at Van Damme’s martial arts abilities. If you recall my Roadhouse review, a star vehicle aims to get the lead to look as good as possible. In that regard, Van Damme’s Chance Boudreaux comes off as the ultimate superhuman. He’s flawless and therefore boring.
But the movie truly picks up when it spends a considerable amount of time with Fouchon and his gang. Their scenes are brutal with Henriksen fully committing to the role. He comes off as a class-A jerk, and is also very scary. There is even a bit of social commentary in these scenes that made it all the more impactful. All this happens at the movie’s halfway point and from then on, it doesn’t let up. It gives us scenes with Van Damme punching a snake and later using it as a trap for the bad guys.
John Woo’s highly stylish filmmaking sometimes detracts from scenes. He abuses slow-motion and freeze frames like there’s no tomorrow, but he also brings a certain beauty and precision to the violence. Every hit is seen and felt, with the choreography always feeling realistic and fluid. I read that John Woo’s original cut was more interested in Fouchon, and I wonder how that would’ve turned out. It’s a movie that’s clearly about the good guys’ journey, so what could Woo originally have intended?
All in all, Hard Target more or less does what it sets out to accomplish. Despite a sluggish and ridiculous first half, the movie manages to redeem itself and give a violent and entertaining action film. But unfortunately, the movie has too many weaknesses to make it a solid recommendation. But when it's good, it’s fun, and the action scenes are impressive. I am genuinely curious if the longer cuts of the movie make it better. If you decide to watch it, you are probably better off skipping to the second half.