HARD TARGET (1993)
Rating: 3 out of 4 /Buy the DVD Here
Tagline: Don't hunt what you can't kill.
Directed by John Woo
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lance Henriksen, Arnold Vosloo, Yancy Butler.
THE PLAN: If you live in Louisiana and have enough money, you can get your kicks by hunting homeless vets with Lance Henriksen and his pals. Sounds awesome right? Well, that little twisted paradise is gonna go to hell now that Van Damme is in town! (Along with Wilford Brimley at his side.)
THE KILL: Hard as it is to believe, I remember the mini-event that was HARD TARGET's release. Nowadays every other horror movie is directed by an Asian import, but John Woo's first American flick was cause for quite some anticipation; it was really the first time I consciously thought about the coolness of bringing a director in from another country to ply his trade on our turf. I was one of the few in my circle of friends who had actually seen THE KILLER and HARD BOILED - two flicks the likes of which I had never really seen and had been totally blown away by - so I was ready for some of Woo's trademark action choreography and tough-guy sentimentality.
How am I supposed to work under dees conditions?
Add to the mix our old friend Jean-Claude Van Damme in the lead role of Chance Boudreax: friend to homeless people, avenger of the innocent, scourge of the pompously evil - and owner of one of cinema's great mullets. Playing the role of an ex-Merchant Marine with one of the most awkward ways of talking you've ever encountered (he doesn't exactly try to hide his Belgium accent, but combine it - half-heartedly - with a Cajun drawl; the result is fascinating), Van Damme again brings his puppy-dog earnestness and his uncontrollable knack for making roundhouse-kicking someone in the face the most entertaining thing you've ever seen. Needless to say, he and Woo get along well (especially since neither of them can speak English).
To say that HARD TARGET would suffer without Woo's presence is to understate it. The plot is nothing new ("The Most Dangerous Game", anyone?) and the basic set-pieces aren't exactly enthralling. But Woo's vision injects most every scene with electric life. A simple ass-kicking of a bunch of rednecks becomes a whomping stomping ballet of kicks and arm-breaks. You've never seen the most basic and dopey of confrontations become something so viscerally cool. He patented the lovely slow-mo-snap-to-fast-mo maneuver that's still popular, only his technique is to not settle for an average camera angle, instead often mixing it up dizzyingly between close-ups, wide-shots, swooping crane-shots, and everything in between. Of course, he's got an unhealthy hard-on for birds - usually doves - but in this case, pigeons. The man makes pigeons look cool.
Also looking cool are Lance Henrikson and Arnold Vosloo, as two severely slimy bad guys. Although Henrikson is reliable as always (his patient, gravely voice makes even the stupidest of threats sound plausible), it's Vosloo who walks away with the film as the psychotic, snake-like Pik Van Cleef (certainly a reference to that other snaky screen badass, Lee Van Cleef). Van Cleef is Fouchon's #1 henchman, but for much of the movie he's the central figure of evil, and Woo loves photographing his deadly smirk almost as much as Van Damme's blank stare.
Speaking of blank, Yancy Butler plays Nat, and she's terrible. She has this strange expression on her face the entire time, I suppose it's supposed to be shock, or fear, but it's more the look of someone whose ass is being creepily grabbed off-camera. Hmm... wonder why that is... Anyway, when she and Van Damme share the screen and attempt to communicate with each other, all Woo can do is walk off the set whistling and thinking "Not even I can make lemonade from a bucket of piss."
Post-Hard Target, pre-rehab Yancy lookin' fine!
No matter - we're not here for those scenes (although they're actually pretty entertaining in their own right), we're here for an ass-kicking, and Woo delivers that, in typically over-the-top style. Of course he went on to do bigger and better things (FACE/OFF being his epic), but there's always something reassuring about a simple "lonely drifter kills 800 bad guys and gets the girl" tale, and that's what you get with HARD TARGET!
TOP DEATH: Jean Claude kicks a can of gas at some schmuck on a bike, then unloads on it with a shotgun. KaBOOOM!
TOP ACTION: Lots of great stuff, but since we're all about old-school here, how about a good ol' "kicking the crap out of 4 guys" sequence?
The man's a wordsmith, what can I say?
FEMALE EXPLOITATION: Yancy Butler is kinda cute, but we don't see her ta-tas. Like I said, she mostly sports a look of bewilderment on her face throughout the film, which is probably the way she'd look if I pulled down my pants in front of her.
HOMOEROTIC MOMENT: John Woo's got a thing for showing Jean-Claude in slow-mo... but who's idea was that anyway? Jean Claude IS pretty gay for himself...
TOP DIALOGUE: Chance: "What did you arrest me for? Getting beat up without a license?"
DRINKING GAME: Toss back a shot whenever you're struggling to understand one of Van Damme's lines. You'll be kickin' bottles off the counter (and falling on your ass) soon enough!
TRIVIA: This flick earned an NC-17 by the MPAA the first couple times around. It received an R after a few more submissions...