I feel compelled to call HARD TARGET a guilty pleasure, but I’m doing the movie an injustice by categorizing it as such. For what it’s worth, the movie is an above-average action flick with a great premise and two great screen villains. Plus it has Jean-Claude Van Damme at his most charming (even rocking an epic mullet!)
Chance Boudreaux (Van Damme) is a down on his luck merchant seaman in the French quarter of New Orleans. He meets Natasha (Yancy Butler) who has come to the city to find her father who has gone missing. Not only does she discover that he was homeless, but he was murdered as well.
Boudreaux knows the city and helps her track down his last whereabouts. Unfortunately this leads directly to Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriken) and his sidekick Pick Van Cleaf (Arnold Vosloo). They are running a “Most Dangerous Game” for the wealthy of the world taking advantage of countries or cities in decay and of the denizens who won’t be missed and might want to wager their life against a large sum of money if they survive. It’s a cool twist on a classic tale.
HARD TARGET is notorious for being John Woo’s first American film and due to his track record in Hong Kong with masterpieces like THE KILLER and HARDBOILED, the expectations were a little too high for fans that weren’t aware of the creative struggles Woo had with the studio.
But on the flip side, I do feel that Woo got a little self-indulgent with his use of slow-motion photography. It is used in the film to almost hilarious lengths at time and one feels like the movie would have been much shorter if everything was shot at 24 fps.
Van Damme is fine as the lead and it helps that he’s supposed to be of Cajun decent. What really works for me are the characters portrayed by Henriksen and Vosloo. They are well-developed bad guys, more so than most action films get or deserve. They have a fascinating chemistry and take the characters in different directions then one would expect. Also their villainy makes complete sense and has logic in its execution.
You might think I’m crazy, but not only is this Van Damme’s best film, but it’s one hell of an action movie and holds up after all these years.
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