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ARROW IN THE HEAD REVIEWS

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Hard Target 2 (2016)
Written by: The Arrow
Director: Roel Reiné

Starring:
Scott Adkins/Wes
Robert Knepper/Aldrich
Rhona Mitra/Sofia
Temuera Morrison/Madden
5 10
PLOT-CRUNCH
A disgraced MMA fighter (Scott Adkins) is conned by a slimeball (Robert Knepper) in taking part in a hunt. Bad news is; he's the prey!
THE LOWDOWN

To say that I am a fan of John Woo’s 1993 American debut HARD TARGET starring Jean Claude Van Damme would be an understatement. It’s one of my fav JCVD flicks and action films of all time… period. Man just writing that makes me want to see it again. “How does it feel to be hunted?” “You tell me!” Why Universal hasn’t released the 116 minutes Director’s Cut of the film yet is beyond me! I have a shitty VHS of the work-print, it’s beyond used up, almost toilet paper at this point and I just ordered the 100 minute cut (the unadvertised unrated Blu-Ray)! But the film DESERVES the red carpet treatment. Get to it Universal – you’re LATE!

Until that happens (if it ever happens) we have the recently pimped out sequel HARD TARGET 2 (WATCH IT HERE) to keep us sane (well me that is). Kind of baffling to think that it took 23 years for a follow up to surface, but hey, better late than never! So how was it? I was half and half on it. On the upside, I dug that it did its own thing. It started off like WARRIOR gone worse, then became a morose version of LIONHEART to then finally kick into high gear and echo the get-downs in the original HARD TARGET. If there was ONE man that deserved to take over the mantle of the series, SCOTT ADKINS would be it. On the whole, he picked up where Jean Claude Van Damme left off in terms of his fine work in action films and has been owning it ever since. I’m a huge fan of Adkins. I respect that he does lots of his own stunts, his fighting skills are bar none and he’s a better actor with every movie. Here he often elevated the material – when the flick would falter (more on that below) Adkins kept me watching.

I appreciated the pace of the thing as well. I can’t say I was ever bored as for the most part the movie kept moving forward, one action set piece after another. The obvious use of practical effects, the engaging action score (by Trevor Morris ) and the random money shots (all about that Adkins double kick) were esteemed by yours truly too. I gotta say it; Rhona Mitra got one of the best “walking away from an explosion in slow motion” moment that I’ve seen in a long time; while witnessing Adkins jump like a Gazelle in slow-mo here and there, either to avoid a Kaboom or to sling an arrow at a bitch-ass baddie carved a smile on my face. Finally the nods to the original were cool (the doves, Henriksen’s gun making a comeback...) and Robert Knepper and Temuera Morrison were a hoot (yes, a hoot) to watch! Knepper in particular really chewed into the role. He obviously had a blast acting it out and I had a blast watching him go at it! Dude rocked it!

Unfortunately, following up a John Woo action film is a tall order when it comes to badass and stylized physical get downs and HARD TARGET 2 couldn’t match up – not even close. The gun-play was un-impressive and shamefully, Adkins wasn’t given enough room to do his usual INSANE martial arts thing (he was finally let loose near the end). Yup, the bulk of the hand-to-hand fights were underwhelming for whatever reason (that one at the waterfall was such a wasted opportunity), either due to the cutting (to hide that people couldn’t fight which resulted in some messy looking fist-ti-cuffs) or by having side characters kill villains instead of Adkins. Of all the Scott Adkins films I have seen, this one had the worst throw-downs. Much like Chance’s gumbo in the OG, it was a travesty. When you have a fighter of Adkins ilk, you gotta hire non-fighters that can keep up. End army of goons aside, Temuera Morrison was the only one that looked like he could handle the task at hand. Dude impressed me! Slick blocking there, son!

Moreover, the villains were a sad sack bunch of walking clichés: The redneck, the Matador (okay…), the geek, the wimp… grating and un-involving. They couldn't hunt a hamster yet alone Adkins! And allow me to nitpick - three things that totally popped at me in a duh fashion. 1- The bad guys used a drone at certain point and then, they didn’t… for the rest of the film. Why even bring it up in the first place? Was it a “on the set idea”? “Hey lets get that drone we’re using for areal shots and have it be part of a scene! Pointless. 2- Why did Adkins remove the Go Pro card from the GoPro (would have been more protected inside the case) and where exactly did he slip the thing when in the water? I know petty, but it annoyed me. 3- Why did people name drop the title? “That's why it’s called Hard Target!” Euh? The title of the film was never established as being an expression in the world of the movie... didn’t work.

Tag to that an over-complicated ending (a simple one on one man-dance would have sufficed), a couple of odd plot turns (Ann Truong's character came with all kinds of Zzzz BS) and the film failing to offer ONE action scene that equaled the ones found in the original and you get a sequel that should have stayed home! It needed the quality of say Adkins astounding NINJA SHADOW OF A TEAR (WATCH IT HERE), to have a shot at measuring up! When all was said and dropped kick, I still managed to milk some cheap thrills out of HARD TARGET 2's teets in a “time killer” kind of way, Adkins often saved it for me, but a worthy follow up to the badass original? At all! RELASE THE 116 min D CUT OF THE FIRST FILM ALREADY!

GORE
Not much! A nasty slit throat and a spike in the neck and that was all she wrote.
T & A
None! But Rhona Mitra still looks yum in skin tight outfits.
BOTTOM LINE
HARD TARGET 2 was a “could have been”! They had the right storyline (I dug the MMA angle), a swift pace, a cool score, did lots of stunts practically and they had the best leading man they could get to follow in Van Damme’s foot steps. Alas, the gun-play was weak, the hand to hand fights messy, the bad guys were jokes on two legs, dumb going-ons were ample and the finale was a bit of a cluster. It should also be stabbed that when you get Scott Adkins in a action film, a man with so much fighting talent, you go all in! Here it almost felt like they shot around him hand-to-hand fight wise, only giving him random moments to shine! At least Temuera Morrison was cool as bleep and Knepper went buck nuts with the role! So yeah. A disappointment. So one last time now: Universal! GET US THE DIRECTOR’S CUT OF THE ORIGINAL ON DISK por favore! Gracias! All the best, love and kisses!
BULL'S EYE
Roel Reiné also directed The Marine 2, Death Race 2 & 3, Scorpion King 3 and The Condemned 2.

The boat chase here was initially supposed to be in Woo's original as per the script. He changed it to the horse vs chopper scene instead.

Robert Knepper was also the villain in Transporter 3.
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