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Guilty Pleasures: Hard Target

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When? 1993

What's it rated? R

Where's it available? DVD, Amazon, iTunes

There's no reason to try to sit here and sell you on Jean-Claude Van Damme's (JCVD) Hard Target. If you don't like JCVD, action movies, stilted dialogue, and crazy rich sportsmen that hunt homeless people in their spare time, maybe you should skip it.

TARGET ACQUIRED John Woo's Hard Target kicks so much senseless ass that you'll be checking to make sure yours wasn't roundhoused off after watching it. - PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Photo Courtesy Of Universal Pictures
  • TARGET ACQUIRED John Woo's Hard Target kicks so much senseless ass that you'll be checking to make sure yours wasn't roundhoused off after watching it.

But you'd miss a lot, like JCVD's Jehri-curl mullet that holds enough grease to keep a torch burning for days. His character wasn't really given much thought (his name is Chance Boudreaux), and I'm pretty sure the script is the product of a four-hour quaalude binge. The film crew seemed to be fine with all of this because the only reason you are watching is to see JCVD kill like five dudes while standing up on a speeding motorcycle, even though no one is driving it, and it doesn't make any sense. What's in a name anyway?

John Woo directed the movie, but I don't really feel the need to tell you that because there are more doves flying across the screen than there is coherent dialogue, and every single villain at some point wears a black leather jacket. This may be an exaggeration. It may not be. But Hard Target doesn't care. And neither should you.

This was Woo's first foray into the American film market. He was already an established star for his martial arts films in Hong Kong and this was a chance for him to work with high-powered American talent. Woo originally asked for Kurt Russell to be the lead, so, of course, Universal gave him a 5-foot-10 Belgian whose specialty is high kicks and the splits. Not that this is a bad thing.

Oh yeah, the creepy guy that raised JCVD in the woods outside the Big Easy? Wilford Brimley, the dude asking you to check your blood sugar in between showcase showdowns on the Price is Right. He's in it too. Except here, Woo and his fellow filmmakers expect us to believe that he's a native cajun living in the backwoods and we are, for whatever reason, not supposed to laugh at his outlandish outfits or anything he says in a thick (and very fake) accent.

The first time I saw Hard Target I told my friend, "There is no way it could be dumber than Face/Off" (another Woo film). I was wrong. John Woo continues to surpass himself, time and time again.

For example, in one of the movie's more memorable scenes, JCVD catches a snake trying to bite him in the throat with his bare hands. He ties the serpent into a sailor knot and pins it to a tree as a booby trap for bad guys following him. If this sounds stupid to you, then you have not been paying attention and maybe you should stop what you are doing and watch Hard Target right now.

I think Brimley as Uncle Douvee is really my favorite character. He drinks homemade alcohol so strong it kills grass on contact (but he still offers to share with everyone). He can also fire a bow and arrow accurately up to hundreds of yards away. At one point, he blows up his own illegal moonshine still to kill a bunch of bad guys, and then rides away epically from the explosion on horseback. It's a scene I still have trouble describing. Uncle Douvee is like a hillbilly cajun Liam Neeson, except you can't understand anything he says and you're pretty sure he just called your mother something awful in French.

The villains in the film are pretty run of the mill. (Well, except for the hunting-homeless-people-out-of-sheer-boredom thing. That kind of feels unique.) Arnold Vosloo (who plays the mummy in the 1999 remake with Brendan Fraser) is the right-hand man to Lance Henriksen's character, the rich guy who likes to hunt the homeless. Both of them give serviceable performances, given the material they have to work with.

Hard Target is a derivative, confusing, mess of a movie. But for some reason, it works. It's one of the funniest films I've ever sat through. And even though I'm pretty sure that wasn't Woo's or the studio's intention, it gets two spinning roundhouse kicks of approval from this corner. (97 min.) ∆

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