Hard Target (1993)

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*. In going from Predator to Predator 2 we moved from jungle to urban jungle, and that same movement has taken place with this chestnut of a hunting-humans story, where we’ve gone from the tropical island of The Most Dangerous Game (or Mexican jungle of Run for the Sun) to the streets of New Orleans (described here as just another “unhappy corner of the planet” where the Organization can ply its trade). The “game” has gone undercover by hiding in plain sight. Hell, one victim is gunned down in the middle of the street, with dozens of witnesses, but nobody seems to care.
*. I’d add there’s a similar sort of movement in the Hostel franchise, with the first two films being set in an Eastern European backwater and Hostel: Part III moving to Las Vegas. (In this movie Fouchon is planning on taking the hunt back to Eastern Europe, as New Orleans has become too hot.) I think the point being made is that the cruel war of all against all is as much, if not more, a feature of modern, “civilized” life as it is a harkening back to some primitive state. It’s war, but war as entertainment, and there are rules to the game. As Fouchon tells one of his clients, “This is New Orleans, not Beirut.”
*. A final observation, following on this same line of thinking. Not only have we left the jungle, we’ve also left behind the idea that homicidal savagery is the mark of a maniac. Leslie Banks as Count Zaroff was an obvious candidate for the asylum, as was Balleau in Bloodlust! But the corporate killers in this film, like the members of the Elite Hunting society in the Hostel movies, though they may be evil sadists, are not eccentric in their psychopathy. We take them for granted, as recognizable types of bloodthirsty capitalists who just want ever more exotic and expensive ways to blow off a bit of steam.
*. This was John Woo’s English-language debut. The Killer and Hard-Boiled had made quite an impression but he wasn’t just given the keys to the Hollywood kingdom, in part because he didn’t know English very well. Sam Raimi was tasked with overseeing the project.
*. I don’t know how much Raimi was involved. It looks like a John Woo film. What that means is lots of slow-motion action scenes. Lots of guns blazing. A climactic battle that takes up the final third of the picture. And pigeons.
*. Aside from all that, Woo also has a weird habit in this film of letting his camera seem to drift aimlessly around people’s faces. He likes to isolate on eyes, but this rarely makes any sense. I couldn’t help thinking he just didn’t care what any of the characters were saying, because he didn’t understand it anyway. I believe Leone had some of the same issues.
*. I don’t think the slow-motion helps very much, and in some scenes it actually makes the stunts look bad. Take the shot of Chance (Jean-Claude Van Damme) kicking the man off the motorcycle. They show three different cuts of that and none of them and they’re all terrible.
*. Why do none of the motorcycle killers take their helmets off when they’re in the warehouse? I think that would have really cut down on their range of vision. They don’t even raise their dark visors! I wonder if they were all being played by the same stunt man.
*. Woo doesn’t make this movie good, but he does it give it moments of interest that raise it above the usual ’90s action fare. The script is mostly a throwaway to hang the battles on, but the poverty angle is different. The homeless or down-and-out are the natural prey of serial killers, as they have few if any friends or family and the police don’t really care when they wind up dead. They are also susceptible to Fouchon’s offer to make them “a man again, instead of a shadow of your former self.”
*. The plight of the homeless is underlined in the scene where the hunted (black) man can’t get anyone to help him. They all just walk by or tell him to “get a job.” He has become the invisible man. Chance will be their avenger, a social justice warrior taking the side of poor people, who, he tells us, are just as capable of getting bored as the idle rich who hunt them. The World, in an action film, is actually a very boring place. It needs a lot of gunshots and explosions to bring it to life.
*. Van Damme has a fantastic mullet, but seems somewhat disengaged. It wasn’t originally imagined as a martial arts film (Kurt Russell was supposed to star), so that stuff is kept to a minimum. Indeed, what little there is comes across as supererogatory, as, for example, Van Damme shooting bad guys a dozen times before polishing them off with a roundhouse kick. He also keeps his shirt on despite the Louisiana heat and, for the record, doesn’t do the splits once.
*. Lance Henriksen at least looks like he’s having fun. Yancy Butler, in her debut, appears to have been told to just make her eyes go wide every time she sees the camera pointed at her. Wilford Brimley as the Cajun moonshiner Uncle Douvee is one of the funniest miscastings you’ll ever see. But since he’s only there to lighten things up, why not?
*. I’m sure I saw this movie when it came out, but re-watching it now I had almost no memory of it. There’s really nothing here to hold one’s attention, or to spend any more time discussing.

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