Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hard Target: The Extended Director's Cut

"Don't hunt what you can't kill." If only the hunted was someone other than Jean Claude Van Damme.
*
It looked like a John Woo film. It sounded like a John Woo film. It even felt like one sometimes. I kept looking for Chow Yun-Fat. There was something just a little off about the proceedings in Director John Woo's Hard Target [1993]. Well, two things really. A little thing called Hollywood got in the way of a visual master. Even funnier, in an odd sort of way, a fellow named Jean Claude Van Damme was cast in the lead. The actor wasn't the least bit Hollywood or even the least bit talented enough to carry the film. I've been informed Kurt Russell was once considered for the part. Oh the insanely criminal injustice of it all.

First, let me extend my thanks to Leopard13 [Lazy Thoughts From A Boomer]for being gracious enough to take time and mail me his sole copy of Hard Target: The Extended Director's Cut. Muchas gracias amigo! I've never taken the time to see the original cut of the film, but I suspect there isn't a need as I'm told this is THE best version of the film hands down. That's too bad too, because I imagine no extension of additional action footage will ever replace the fact Van Damme is in the lead. I thought the least I could do is share a few of my thoughts on the film, thanks to Leopard13, and my ongoing exploration of John Woo.

My desire to check out the John Woo picture stems from viewing John Woo's classic The Killer [1989]. To be honest, I had no intention of writing about it, but writing about film is like a sickness. You simply can't resist. Resistance is futile. No matter how hard you try or how certain your intentions, the next thing you know you find yourself with finger to keypad typing away as if touched by madness.

Van Damme: Rattlesnake Killer!
John Woo fans are a generally fierce and ferocious bunch, like fans of Star Trek or fans of just about any form of popular culture or artform. I'm not certain where Hard Target falls in the pantheon of Woo pictures, but it was definitely a solid notch below The Killer. I won't get into the picture with great length or too many details, but I'll attempt to point out the highlights and lowlights of this particular film for me.

"Watch how my mullet can dodge the bullet!"
Beginning with the lowlights, Jean Claude Van Damme is a questionable actor at least based on the evidence here. When you select a lead for an action film, the man must have the pre-requisite cache to carry the picture or it will ring hollow like Hard Target does without the charisma of someone like Chow Yun-Fat. Yun-Fat had charisma in aces with some to spare and it's no wonder Woo relished working with the actor. Van Damme simply doesn't have alot happening behind the eyes or in the face. He's fairly stoic, but more or less like a stone. Kurt Russell's expressive face worked better in Director Paul W.S. Anderson's dialogue-free Soldier and that's not saying much. There's an almost forgettable quality to Van Damme's presence in the film, ironically as forgettable as his character's name, Chance Boudreau. When you watch a film like The Killer there is an abundance of electricity and emotion in the air based on physical presence alone thanks to the caliber of actor like a Yun-Fat. The Belgian-born Van Damme simply doesn't have it at least for this picture. I feel it's not fair to label or hatchet Van Damme. I've not seen one of his films until now. Not one. He has a massive CV and I'd love to hear from folks out there who would recommend or defend one of his pictures. I understand JCVD [2008] was a fine picture, but on the whole when I see Van Damme in the credits I tend to run and run far away, which explains why I'm viewing this for the first time.

I'm making the exception based on the fact it was recommended by friends and that it's a Van Damme film directed by John Woo. Apart from the fact Van Damme is so limited as the film's lead, the role originally considered for Kurt Russell -oh the pain, there were other minor issues. What is going on with that hair on Van Damme's head? The mullet-type doo with salon gel was almost as disturbing as his inability to capture my imagination or attention when he was on screen. The excessive hair gel and floppy mullet was excruciating to watch. In fact, had Kurt Russell upped the ante with his presence, but retained this stye [or lack thereof] I would have been hard pressed to love that target too. I could certainly envision a Russell look a la Escape From New York or The Thing, but not this atrocity and affront to Tabatha's Salon Takeover.

Now, I love Wilford Brimley [The Thing, Our House], but the French accent was almost too much to bear and nearly as weak as the bizarre accented accent of Van Damme. What were the people thinking when they cast this film? It's bizarre. The romantic or female lead, Yancy Butler [Drop Zone, Kick-Ass], is also serviceable at best, but she does capture the semi-cheese factor that inhabits the John Woo world. After all, this is essentially a Woo action movie.

Here comes Mullet boy!
Speaking of the action, and getting to those highlights, the action sequences when they do appear, are arrousing and choreographed as only John Woo can based on his Hong Kong experience. There are some stellar, trademark, slow-motion moments from the hand of Woo and they are breathtaking in their Killer-esque style. [But, and oh boy there's that but.] But, the thing about those action sequences, in my humble opinion, is that they are only as good as the lead propelling them to fruition. Presence is everything in action. Hence, Van Damme does take me out of the picture a bit as he lacks the kind of radiating leading man presence that Chow Yun-Fat has in spades. The action sequences in Hard Target still aren't as good as the classic The Killer I'm sorry to say. Hard Target is still effective and solid in delivering John Woo's American-stateside action debut, but he definitely lost some control in wowing the audience.

"I really hate his mullet! He must die!"
Another high point is Lance Henriksen who easily delivers one of the most sinister bad guy rolls within the cliched genre. Henriksen is perenially underrated, but he is so damn good in the part and in most parts he accepts. He's frightening. There's a reason he inevitably landed the role of Frank Black for the Chris Carter series Millennium. His career is a fascinating one. This is yet another footnote on his amazing resume of films.

Supporting actor Arnold Voosloo [The Mummy] is also solid as Henriksen's right hand henchman. It's never a good sign when the supporting actor is more memorable than the lead.

In the end, I actually enjoyed Hard Target on its face. And like anything on its surface, you need to dig a little deeper for a film to get under your skin. The Killer achieved that for me. Hard Target lacks the masterful touch of an unencumbered John Woo. It also lacks some choice casting decisions. The film truly suffers as a result of these two factors. Despite my mixed reaction to the movie, I liked Hard Target and would recommend this particular Extended Director's Cut for a viewing. I'm told the action sequences are more intact as a result of this cut. Without those sequences, Hard Target would suffer. As it is, I would have liked more action to compensate for the film's shortcomings. This is clearly the only cut to find.

Check my mullet move boy!

Despite my conservative ways, I'm reminded of the brilliant line by late Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee, Lloyd Bentsen, delivered to Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Dan Quayle, "I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" [in response to Quayle's comparison of himself to Jack Kennedy]. Well, I've seen The Killer. I've experienced The Killer. The Killer is a personal favorite of mine. Hard Target my friend, you're nothing like The Killer. Chow Yun-Fat is also a far more fascinating hard target. I'm simply unable to avoid comparison. Still, for what it is, Hard Target is a decent action film thanks to John Woo. It's success rests squarely with Woo and the work of Henriksen. I don't know, maybe I have a thing against stocky, muscular Belgian leads running around the bayou as my hero, but was there not a more viable alternative to Jean Claude Van Damme? Getting that particular target right might have made the difference. Did I mention the plot? Really.

Hard Target: B

Actor Footnote: Jean Claude Van Damme [1960-present]. I do use the term actor loosely. His action highlights include: No Retreat, No Surrender [1985], Bloodsport [1988], Black Eagle [1988], Cyborg [1989], Kickboxer [1989], Death Warrant [1990], Lionheart [1990], Double Impact [1991], Universal Soldier [1992], Hard Target [1993], Nowhere To Run [1993], Street Fighter [1994], Timecop [1994], Sudden Death [1995], Maximum Risk [1996], The Quest [1996], Double Team [1997], Legionnaire [1998], Knock Off [1998], Universal Soldier: The Return [1999], Inferno/Desert Heat [1999], The Order [2001], Replicant [2001], Derailed [2002], In Hell [2003], Wake Of Death [2003], The Hard Corps [2006], Second In Command [2006], Sinav [2006], Until Death [2007], The Shepherd: Border Patrol [2008], JCVD [2008], Universal Soldier: Regeneration [2009] and The Eagle Path [2010]. His career path has been interesting working with Roland Emmerich, Peter Hyams [and his son], Tsui Hark to eventually directing himself. Have you noticed the box covers to these films look an awful lot alike? Perhaps I will give Van Damme a second chance with JCVD.

11 comments:

J.D. said...

"That's too bad too, because I imagine no extension of additional action footage will ever replace the fact Van Damme is in the lead."

That line made me laugh out loud. Ah, how true it is! No matter how much John Woo does with the well-choreographed action sequences, it does not cover the fact that Jean-Claude Van Damme is the acting equivalent of a black hole. I guess, in his own kitschy universe, he's fine at what he does and I did enjoy some of his early films in my youth but most of 'em have not aged well at all.

And he's pretty bad in this film. Not to mention he has zero chemistry with Yancy Butler, herself no master thespian but I can see why the studio cut out their "love scene" - talk about zero sizzle! Ouch.

And I couldn't agree more about Wilfred Brimley... altho, his outrageous ragin' Cajun accent actually makes me laugh in the same way that Anthony Hopkins' outrageous accent in Coppola's DRACULA makes me laugh. They both are just having a blast chewing up the scenery.

And what can you say about Lance Henriksen that hasn't already been said? He's THE man and so good in this film, taking what is essentially a one-note baddie and making something out of nothing, much like James Woods did in THE SPECIALIST. Both these guys easily transcend the shoddy material with their performances and the choices they make with their characters.

I really enjoyed your indepth review of this film. Good to see you finally caught up with this one. I was curious to know what you thought of it.

Will said...

Hey,

Great review! JCVD is a tough sell man. For a time he was the B team action hero in Hollywood and around Hard Target's premiere date, JCVD was still a box office draw of sorts.

As a young kid growing up through puberty, JCVD films were always great for late night viewing: lots of action, not too much plot, lots of boobs and meaningless sex, and things going boom. At 10-13 years old, this is awesome.

I am shocked you haven't seen ONE JCVD film. He had a FEW enjoyable ones but I can't say any of them were GOOD films:

Bloodsport is probably his most classic action film and would hold up alongside Stallone/Arnold's lesser action films (I don't know if that is saying anything).

Timecop and Sudden Death are films I consider guilty pleasures. Sudden Death is actually probably his most quality film (not counting 'JCVD' itself) in terms of plot, pacing, etc. Timecop is great for it's sci-fi ideas and the fact you see Ferris Beuller's girlfriend naked (sorry, I last saw that when I was 14! What do you want from me) but it isn't the greatest thing ever made.

He did make some AWFUL films though: Street Fighter is ALMOST as bad as Super Mario Bros in terms of video game movies and Maximum Risk, despite being another 'Adolescent Classic', is simply mindboggingly bad (JCVD is incomprehensible in that film). Double Team (with Dennis Rodman) and Knock Off were, as far as I can tell, the last major marketed Hollywood films for JCVD and they resulted in his downfall.

All that being said, Hard Traget is one of his better films though, as you pointed out, it is the parts around him that help him: great action, visionary director, and awesome bad guy (LANCE YOU RULE!).

John Woo had a JCVD like fall himself. After Face/Off, he was never the same. Windtalkers was perhaps one of the worst films EVER made and Paycheck was a film made in Ben Affleck's dark ages. 'Nuff said there.

Great review my friend! I'd love to see what you think about Timecop!

le0pard13 said...

I'm with J.D. and Will on the quality of your examination of Woo's Hard Target, SFF. I'd also agree with Will in regard to Bloodsport being an entertaining action flick worth looking up. The "Muscles from Brussels" had a really peak career (steep ascent, not much of a plateau, and a steep descent).

For a little while, I actually looked forward to seeing his films. Then, it all started to unravel -- some of his action moves started to look inauthentic (and his acting didn't get much better). I can't remember the film, but his gun-handling sucked noticeably when he went for the overly dramatic. During one gunfight sequence in particular, he re-loaded a 9mm semi-automatic handgun with new full mag and charged the slide. Then in the next cut, inanely, he racked the slide once again... just for the effect! It's just one reason you'll never see JCVD in a Michael Mann film ;-).

If there's anything I look forward to in HT: Director's Cut, it's the work of the non-leads. Henriksen (how can you not), Brimley, Voosloo, and for the short bit they're there, Kasi Lemmons and Willie C. Carpenter. They all are interesting to watch and don't mail anything in, IMO.

This was really one fun and interesting read, SFF. I'm glad you enjoyed it enough to write a post about it. Thanks very much for this.

p.s., as J.D. mention, if there's anything worth finding and watching Stallone's THE SPECIALIST, it certainly is for James Woods villain role in it.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hey J.D.
Glad I could offer a little humor to your day. Boy, so right, Van Damme is like a black hole [speaking specifically to this film]. I mean, he just absorbs some of the energy right out of the picture. It's bizarre really.

Thespian Yancy Butler is a close second. Yikes. There was a planned love scene? WOW. You're right. There's absolutely "sero chemistry" between the two.

Brimley, despite a weak part, is always interesting to watch on film. Boy, how good was he in The Thing? Man.

Henriksen is in another zone. Like James Woods. Like, well, a whole host of REAL actors. : )

Glad you liked J.D. Thank you so much for your input. I really appreciate it my friend.

Will-

You crack me up! Based on your commentary of Van Damme films I should think you should write a cracking peace on Van Damme And His Way With Women. : ) Seriously, given your description of some of his other films I may need to check some of them out for my inner 13 year old. : )

Seriously, but you and J.D. made me consider something I had been considering before writing here. Perhaps I'm too hard on Van Damme and basing his abilities on one film isn't exactly fair.

By the way, HONEST, I've not seen a JCVD film til' now. But, I do have timecop on my radar for the sheer fact I may be mortified by the teaming of Van Damme and the awful Roland Emmerich. So I am considering that one. Also, Bloosport. As it turns out, both are coming out as a double feature on Blu-Ray in days and I may get them for the inner teen in me.

I certainly don't want to sound like a snob about Van Damme. i love action films, but I love guys like Yun-Fat in my action roles. Guys who can do action and act. Still, I'll give him another go. I'm also probably going to get the film JCVD because it got so many positive reviews.

By the way, really loving your Van Damme commentary Will. It's also interesting you mentioned Sudden Impact directed by Peter Hyams, given my vague interest in seeing outland and J.D. recent review of The Relic, which I loved. I may keep that on the scope. Any thoughts on the Universal Soldier series? Finally, Ferris Bueller's girlfriend naked may have just sealed the deal on my purchase of Timecop on Blu-Ray. Thank you for that noteworthy point!

All of the films you mention in your 6th paragraph I have no interest in whatsoever so I'm glad you have no real praise for those.

Anyway, your final point about Woo is really interesting my friend. I'm not sure about Paycheck. I didn't even know that was a Woo picture and I may give it a shot for that reason and that it's a Dick story despite Ben AFLAC! Not a fan. i did like Face Off, but never did see it again. I haven't seen MI2 and I really was Soooooo disappointed with Windtalkers. I'm right there with you. That film seemed like a guaranteed great film. I love the war genre and Windtalkers was positively BAD. I concur.

Anyway, about Ferris' girl and Timecop being sci-fi. That may have to happen my friend.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

L13,

Your additional insight was terrific. I have to tell you, you make a great point about JCVD weapon's handling. WEAK! It's noticeably weak too. Yun-Fat is a pro with a gun. Anyway, loved your exposition on that and you re-affirm my belief in giving Bloodsport a shot.

Thanks to everyone for their additional input on JCVD and what to watch and what to avoid.

Thanks again for the loaner L13!

J.D. said...

I just wanted to add the endorsement of BLOODSPORT as probably JCVD finest moment. I have fond memories of seeing it as a kid. And, oddly enough, CYBORG is a guilty pleasure but then I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic-y futureworlds like the one depicted in that film. Plus, the film's baddie, played by Vincent Klyn, has really freaky eyes in this one.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Upon further inspection by the way, Timecop is a Peter Hyams film too. That actually has me intrigued a bit more in seeing it than if it were Roland Emmerich so I'm definitely interested there.

I will also check out Bloodsport given Blood and Timecop are a Blu-Ray Double Feature as soon as the price dips down.

All of this while my interest in Universal Soldier dipped because Emmerichj is behind that one. Have a great weekend all.

Suchet said...

I think you (the reviewer) are being a bit harsh on Mr Van Damme - he is a theatricaly trained performer and has made some classics with great performances take AWOL that's a classic, Cyborg and Kickboxer and Timecop all showcased him as being a romantic hero with baletic talents

Really you have been biased in your review by singling JCVD out in an unprofessional manner - Hard Target is an enjoyable action movie with great performances by the cast -

Ok I'm not a professional reviewer but having spent 2 years in drama school, getting a degree in Animation and seeing thousands of movies gives me a certain credibility in saying your review is very bad because you have rated the credibility of an actor without watching his previous work and you rated a film in an extended version and not even seen the release cut version .

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Suchet-
I think to some extent you're not wrong.
I admitted to as much as well.
I really am not judging the scope of Van Damme's work and to be fair I do need to do that.
I actually have Timecop, Kickboxer and JCVD on my "plan to watch" list.
So to be fair, I do want to give him a proper look. The brief segments I have seen of the actor, and his work in this film, may not be a large enough sample, but I can't say I love his acting style.

Obviously we like the film for different reasons and may not agree, but I will take your advice and check out some of his other work someday. Thanks for your input Suchet.

best to you. SFF

Sean Gill said...

Wow- I did not know about the possibility of Kurt Russell- now to see him laying waste to Henriksen's henchmen with ragin' Cajun Wilford Brimley at his side...alas. Definitely a guilty pleasure for me, though. A very amusing writeup!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks Sean. I'm here for your amusement. : ) I loved your ragin' cajun comment. I love Wilford Brimley!!!