I figured it was only a matter of time before I reviewed both a John Woo movie and a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Woo of course, is known for directing some of the best action movies from China-"Hard Boiled", "A Better Tomorrow" and "The Killer", which are loved by both action connoisseurs, critics and cinephiles alike. Van Damme, is known for staring in many action movies, with only a small handful being ones I liked, and a genuinely great movie in "J.C.V.D." Well thankfully, the Sam Raimi produced "Hard Target" is one of the ones I like, as well as Woo's U.S. directorial debut.
Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) is in search of her father, who has gone missing in New Orleans. Hiring the aid of homeless drifter Chance Boudreaux (Van Damme) who by coincidence knows martial arts, they discover that his disappearance has to do with a "Most Dangerous Game" style hunt headed by the ruthless Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen, back when he could get roles in major theatrical releases), and that they are he and his pals new prey.
There's little about "Hard Target" that will make you think "this is the best movie ever!" Van Damme is awful (and sports a mullet haircut), and Wilford Brimley sports the least convincing Cajan accent since...well, ever. That out of the way, it's an enjoyable little bit of "Saturday Afternoon Cinema", with enough B-Movie cool (you also get a pre "The Mummy" Arnold Vosloo and Henriksen chewing scenery in the best ways possible) to get on by.
It's also helped by a sense of humor, especially evident in a scene in which Chance knocks a rattle snake out via punching it. While many call this a bad movie moment, this is actually the most Raimi inspired moment, done with a clear wink and a nod. While this isn't the best John Woo movie, it's also far from the worst (remember "Paycheck"?), as he does a fine job with most the cast and directs with his usual eye for visuals and set pieces. Which leads me to the real star of the movie: the action. Granted, this is a Woo movie, but dammit if the scenes here aren't great. There's plenty of kicks and punches traded, bouts of bloody (at times almost gory*) mayhem occur, and people die spectacular deaths-I could go on really, but it's really fun to watch.
At the end of the day, this is anything but a classic. However, if your in the mood for an undemanding but enjoyable B-Level action movie, you should give this one a shot sometime.
*Apparently, Woo had to cut some of the violence down due to the MPAA breathing down his back over it, especially in a scene where someone has their ear cut off with scissors. There's a bootleg of the uncut version floating around.