Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What's On Netflix?: HARD TARGET 2

Welcome to another installment of WHAT'S ON NETFLIX?, where we pick out a film or series currently playing on Netflix and review it for the viewers.  This week's selection is a direct to DVD action movie and sequel of sorts, HARD TARGET 2.

Last year, as one of my retro reviews, I did a piece on the Jean-Claude Van Damme action movie, Hard Target (read the article here).  To my delight, I recently found that Netflix is now streaming the 2016 sequel of sorts, Hard Target 2 starring British born action movie icon, Scott Adkins. 
I say that is a sequel of sorts because Hard Target 2 relates to the first movie purely in premise only. In both movies, a man unwittingly becomes the prey of a group of ‘hunters’ who are looking for the thrill of hunting down and killing a human target.  Beyond that simple premise, the two movies play out very differently. In Hard Target, the movie moved along at a slow pace with the occasional burst of action and martial arts, featuring star Jean-Claude Van Damme.
In Hard Target 2, from the opening credits to the ending credits, the action rarely ever slows down.  Scott Adkins, best known for playing “most complete fighter” Yuri Boyka in the Undisputed franchise and most recently seen as Lucian in Dr. Strange, takes on the role of Wes ‘The Jailor’ Baylor. Baylor is an MMA fighter who falls from grace when he accidently kills his best friend in a high stakes match up neither one really wanted to be a part of.

Suffering from self-loathing and the crushing weight of guilt, Baylor spirals down into the self-destructive world of booze, pills and dangerous underground fighting matches in Thailand. That’s where he meets a man named Aldrich who claims to be a fight promoter. Aldrich, played by Robert Knepper (Prison Break), has the deadly charm of a snake oil salesman. Aldrich says he wants to set Baylor up in a comeback fight and pay him half a million dollars for it.  Baylor is reluctant, but swayed into it for one million dollars instead. To him, it's atonement money for the family of the man who died in the ring. 
Hard Target 2 is a pure adrenaline rush action movie. Scott Adkins is a force of nature when it comes to being an action star in this kind of movie. It’s not just that he is an accomplished martial arts actor who moves with such fluid grace in the fight scenes that it's mesmerizing just watching him.  It’s not just that he can handle all the demanding physical scenes in Hard Target 2. What gives this movie its heart and soul is that the action star can act. Scott Adkins carries the emotional, the dramatic and the somewhat comedic scenes in Hard Target 2 with the same ease as he does the action scenes.
Robert Knepper is a great choice for the role of Aldrich. As an actor, he knows how to ooze the sleaziness necessary to make Aldrich a villain. He also bears a passing resemblance to Lance Henricksen who played the same type of character in the first movie and, in a perfect homage to that character, Aldrich carries the same weapon of choice; the Thompson Contender, which is a cool and elegant looking single shot weapon.

An arena match against one opponent is not what Aldrich has planned for the unsuspecting Wes Baylor and Hard Target 2 gets down to business as Baylor is thrust into the ultimate game of survival against ‘hunters’ whose only goal is to make the disgraced MMA fighter the next trophy on their wall.
Running for his life in the midst of treacherous jungle terrain and carrying a sack of rubies he is determined to hang onto, Wes must outsmart the heavily armed group that has paid to kill him and make it safely to the border. Along the way, he meets Tha (Ann Truong) a local woman who is searching for her brother Zaw (Thira Chutikul) who is being hunted as well.

The hunter’s think it’s going to be easy as shooting fish in a barrel to hunt down ‘The Jailor’, but Baylor is more cunning and fearless than they ever imagined; soon the prey becomes the predator.
Besides Adkins and Knepper, the cast of Hard Target 2 also includes the beautiful and talented Rhona Mitra as Sophia. She is a by far the most dangerous of the hunters in Aldrich’s party. A tough, merciless woman out to prove she is better than any man in the world of big game hunting, including her wealthy father. Her determination to kill Baylor borders on obsession.  
Rhona Mitra brings not only her talents as an actress, but the physical strength and grace needed to make Sophia believable. She has a strong enough screen presence to hold her own in the scenes with her male counterparts and in her intense scenes with Scott Adkins. The rest of the ‘hunting party’ is filled out by strong actors doing good work to bring somewhat clichéd characters to life.  
Speaking of homages, there were crossbows firing razor point arrows, motorcycle chases, and the highspeed boat chase that was originally intended by director John Woo to be in the first movie. Director Roel Reiné and writers Matt Harvey, Dominic Morgan and George Huang added other homages to John Woo in Hard Target 2, most notably the artistic use of doves in both the scene where we see Baylor at his lowest point and when he finds fire inside of himself once more.
If you want an action movie with a lot of really good action and actors who can act, then I highly recommend Hard Target 2.
Oh, and don’t miss watching the ending credits as they role by. Like I said, the action rarely stops and intermixed in with credits there are scenes of star Scott Adkins taking what appears to be a walking tour of the sights and food offerings of the streets of Thailand. Though I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be Adkins himself out for a stroll or if it is meant to represent Wes Baylor walking around as he contemplates taking Aldrich’s offer.

Marla’s Score: 9/10

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