Hard Target (1993)

Rating: **
Review Date: 6/24/19
Director: John Woo
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lance Henriksen, Yancy Butler, Arnold Vosloo, Wilford Brimley

"I don't get angry. I'm a professional."

Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) travels to New Orleans to look for her missing father. It turns out he was on the receiving end of a manhunt organized by the ruthless and maniacal Mr. Fouchon (Lance Henriksen). Fouchon seeks out homeless combat veterans for his version of "The Most Dangerous Game," where wealthy thrill-seekers pay large amounts of money to hunt and kill human targets. Natasha convinces a local ex-military drifter named Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) to help her out, and it doesn't take long before Fouchon wants both of them dead.

I recently read a 25th anniversary interview with John Woo that discussed the challenges of his first Hollywood movie and how difficult it was to work with Jean-Claude Van Damme, which is what inspired me to finally check it out. I had initially avoided it when it was first released because it looked so bad. Turns out my instincts were right, and it's only gotten worse with the passage of time. American action movies were really bad in the 1980's and 1990's, and even with John Woo's cinematic flair, "Hard Target" plays out like a cheesy Chuck Norris film. Van Damme sleepwalks through the movie, sporting a truly ridiculous mullet and performing an occasional slow-motion roundhouse kick. His acrobatics are even more outrageous, making you wonder if the movie was supposed to be a parody. The tone of the movie is all over the place, so it's no wonder that American audiences were confused by Woo's stylistic and melodramatic approach, which uses a totally different cinematic language. Despite the film's shortcomings and overall silliness, Woo's dynamic camera work is wonderful and it's always a treat to see REAL explosions instead of all the CGI crap that's popular these days. Perhaps the film's greatest achievement was opening the door for other Hong Kong filmmakers to try their luck in Hollywood, which slowly raised the bar for American action cinema and pulled it out of its stagnant rut.