Jean-Claude Van Damme delivers another action-filled adventure with Hard Target, John Woo’s first time directing a U.S. movie release. Set in New Orleans, Van Damme plays Chance Boudreaux, a drifting sailor who offers to help a woman, played by Yancy Butler, find her missing father. Soon the pair become entangled with some professional mercenaries and their ruthless leader, who are conducting some deadly games.
Head bad guy Fouchon, played by Lance Henriksen (Aliens), and his crew have invented a new brand of hunting – they solicit rich sadists and charge them to pursue and kill the game, unattached and defenseless homeless men. In the hunters’ words – the kind of people who won’t be missed.
Van Damme definitely has the tough guy-hero appearance, complete with long black coat and earring. But his acting is merely adequate, opposite Henrikson, an equally adequate villain. As the woman searches for her father, Wilford Brimley steps in as Chance’s gruff Cajun uncle with a pretty good accent.
Director John Woo really knows how to set up the action and he should based on his experience. His driving, poetic style, showcased in such acclaimed ventures as The Killer and Hardboiled, carries this Van Damme vehicle. His artsy camera manipulation depicts Chance as a brave and rare hero in a cruel, harsh world. The slow motion and head-on action duels give this movie a different feel from most other action movies.
For instance, Woo takes a long, dreamy slow-motion shot of Chance reacquainting himself with his old shotgun. He holds the weapon like a great sword recently bestowed on him by a great king. The shotgun becomes more than just a weapon – it’s the symbol of his heroism and courage – the tool to defeat his enemies and exercise justice. Thank Woo for making Van Damme so appealing.
Woo magnifies the action with his fine direction and gives Chance a very heroic quality. The slow motion action shots and against the odds action sequences give the audience a great hero they can cheer for. There’s scene where Chance rescues an innocent victim, then strides away in slow motion that rivals the portrayal of the gun-toting heroes in classic western movies.
The story is generally typical – woman in trouble, man helps woman, and then helps woman fight off a continuous amount of villains. The story moves a bit slow but includes some great action sequences. The story tries to get the audience to feel more sympathy for Chance and Butler because the odds against them are so great. In some instances, you wonder how Chance will get rid of all the seemingly insurmountable opposition. You may also feel more sympathy for the homeless characters who get caught in the mercenaries deadly web of evil intentions.
The action increases when Chance gets some help from his uncle which eventually leads to a final showdown in a huge warehouse. This movie easily eclipses Van Damme’s earlier roles in Lionheart and Double Impact. On the down side, a greater use of Van Damme’s martial art talents instead of a large amount of gunplay would’ve strengthened the movie. There’s not many people who can do what Van Damme does with his body – why not showcase it? Recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated R for a great amount of strong violence, and for language.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler