Thursday, November 3, 2016

Retro Review: HARD TARGET (1993)

Welcome to another installment of RETRO REVIEW, where we take a look at films made before the year 2000. Today we look at a classic 90's action film… John Woo’s HARD TARGET.

In 1993, Jean-Claude Van Damme was one of the top action heroes of the decade.  In that year alone, he appeared in three popular action movies. One of those movies was Hard Target, in which Van Damme starred as a 'lone wolf’ type Cajun-Frenchman living in New Orleans named Chance Boudreaux. The tile of the movie refers to the hunting of humans for sport because it pits the hunter against prey that is capable of being as smart or smarter than the hunter.

In Hard Target, which is written by Chuck Pfarrer and directed by John Woo, the movie begins with a homeless man named Douglas Binder (Chuck Pfarrer) running for his life, trying to outwit the hunters chasing him down through the back streets of New Orleans. He is the first ‘hard target’ and does not survive.  Enter his daughter Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) who has come all the way from Michigan to locate her missing father.  Chance Boudreaux rescues her from would be purse snatchers/rapists and becomes the man she eventually enlists to help her search for her father. The search leads both of them to cross the path of Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) and his lead henchman Pik van Cleef (Arnold Vosloo), who decide that Boudreaux would make the perfect ‘hard target’ for his next group of wealthy hunters to try and make their trophy.

It’s been a long time since I had first seen Hard Target so I should say that I was surprised to find that it contained less action and a much slower pace than I remembered. The amount of actual fight scenes between Jean-Claude Van Damme’s character and the bad guys was few and far between. Not to say that there wasn’t plenty of other action in the movie. There were motorcycle chases, car chases and one chase that even involved Boudreaux being on horseback.  The fight scenes, when they did happen, were pure Van Damme and amazing to watch. It's interesting in retrospect to note that in 1993, HARD TARGET had many critics calling it "the most violent film of the summer".

Looking back, I also noticed how many goofs and mistakes the movie had in it. From guns that never needed reloading, to a horse changing from one color to another and back again, and even self-repairing motorcycles. I would have expected more from a director like John Woo. Hard Target had some top-notch actors in the cast. Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lance Henriksen, Arnold Vosloo and Yancy Butler; all of which are favorites of mine.  Henriksen especially did his usual magic in bringing a villainous character to life even when his coat actually did catch fire in the big warehouse showdown scenes.  He just kept going in character and took the jacket off. I think it added to the character.

There were some interesting choices of weapons in Hard Target, including high powered Cross Bows that are meant to be seen firing Razor Point arrows at 350 Ft./Sec. Emil Fouchon’s ‘Thompson Contender’, which is a cool and elegant looking single shot weapon, although the .45-70 barrel he was using had no sights on it, making it impossible to shoot the Thompson Contender accurately like Emil was seen doing in the movie.

However, despite the excellent array of talent and cool weapons and crazy stunts, I was left feeling that Hard Target came across as if this movie had been rushed in production; so much so that no one, not even the director cared about all the goofs and geographical errors that ended up in the finished product.  That’s not what I expect from a John Woo directed movie. Though to be fair to Woo, Jean-Claude Van Damme and his editor decided to lock themselves in and re-edit Hard Target so that it was a 'Van Damme movie' rather than focusing heavily on Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo. Even with the goofs and re-edits that happened, Hard Target still became a domestic and international box office success for Universal Pictures and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and a film that I still enjoy to this day.

Marla’s Score: 6/10

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