Jarv’s Birthday Series: Hard Target (1993)
ALRIGHT!!! This is what I’m talking about. Hard Target (release date 20th August 1993 in the USA) was a film I saw on video at the mighty age of 16 and loved unequivocally. I knew nothing about John Woo or various conventions that would become tiresome in his American period (looking at you Face/Off), but this film rocked my little casbah. Man, for a teenager this had almost everything you could ask for: extreme ass-kickery, stupidity by the gallon, ‘splosions, more ass-kickery. All it lacked to my teenage mind was boob. To be fair, after the last few films that I’ve sat through on this list, I was owed this. Owed it big time.
Lance Henriksen plays “big game hunter” Fouchon. He’s turned up in New Orleans to hunt homeless scumbags for loads and loads of money. The film opens with him hunting down Douglas Binder (Chuck Pfarrer), who was an ex-services and therefore better than your average hunt. Killing Douglas, unfortunately, has the unexpected side-effect of bringing him to the attention of Nat (Yancy Butler). She hooks up with dirty stinking Cajun Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), and the rest of the film works on Lance and his gang hunting Chance and Nat down in the Bayou.
This film is, and bollocks to what anyone else thinks, John Woo’s best American film. It’s fucking more fun than a whole barrel full of monkeys. Incidentally, I’m not convinced a barrel of monkeys would be that much fun. I’m pretty certain that it would make lots of screeching noises for a while, before smelling bad and leaking everywhere. Not fun. Not like Hard Target anyway. If I wasn’t doing this film for this series, then I’d be recommending it for Droid’s blowing shit up run. Things explode in a fantastically entertaining way here.
Van Damme can act. I know that sounds like a bizarre thing to say, given his pedigree, but when he’s been in films that he’s required to show some acting chops (JCVD or Legionnaire) he can perform to an admirable level. He hasn’t really got anything on that scale to do here, because this is all about kicking henchmen through a car window, or standing on a motorbike pillion to shoot people, or on a duck in a carnival warehouse to shoot people with a bow and arrow. Still, he acquits himself passably leaving the rest of the acting pyrotechnics to other actors. Lance, actually, is awesome here. I love his deranged “You’re making me look bad in front of my dogs” delivered in a psychotic growl. It’s one of the better performances in his patchy career. Arnold Vosloo is hilarious as Lance’s henchman, but my personal favourite is Wilford Brimley as Uncle Douvee, he’s fucking awesome here.
Aside from the acting, though, Hard Target is a phenomenally stupid film. Chance kills one of Lance’s henchmen by biting the tail of a rattlesnake and then using it as a trap. Nevertheless, who honestly gives a fuck? I don’t- because I’m having far too much fun watching idiots get messily killed in entertaining ways or Van Damage kicking some motherfucker really hard. It’s so so entertaining that there’s no real point whining about it. Even the sheer dumbness of how Lance dies doesn’t matter- as by then I’m a giggling wreck sitting on the sofa periodically punching the air.
Hard Target is, and I’m almost disgusted at myself for saying this, a stylish film. Woo was firing on all cylinders here, and Hard Target fits right in with his much more regarded Hong-Kong films. There are directorial flourishes here that are so far ahead of the comparable American work at the time, and even watching it now, having sat through the misery of such films as Mission Impossible 2 (complete with GIANT DOVES), I’m astonished at how great Hard Target looks and feels. This really is one of the quintessential stylish dumbhouse films.
On that note, everything about this screams “dumbhouse”. The initial premise is stupider than a paste eating retard, the action is astonishingly dumb, the story is superbly moronic and the whole film just does not give a red fuck about how cretinous it is. Hard Target is a film that revels in its own stupidity, it rolls around in it like a pig in shit and at the end of the day comes up, covered in turd, with a big fucking grin on its snout. This is an epic piece of early 90’s cretinism, and as such almost defies any rational criticism.
Overall, Hard Target is a film that I feel incredibly nostalgic towards, and one that I still enjoy to this day. It’s incomparably dim, but Van Damme is on good form, the action kicks seven shades of ass, things blow up with no little elan, and the whole package is just a riot from start to finish. The flaws to Hard Target are intrinsic to how much fun it turns out to be, and it still makes me believe that, despite all evidence to the contrary, John Woo is capable of directing a great American film. I give Hard Target 3 John Woos not sucking balls out of 4, and I do have to say that if you get a chance when it’s on TV late at night stick it on. Hard Target does not disappoint.
Next up is the hugely controversial Natural Born Killers. I haven’t seen this in 15 years, so I’m a bit worried about it.
The full list in this series:
- 1978 – The Driver (3 out of 4)
- 1979 – Life of Brian (4 out of 4)
- 1980 –Xanadu (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1981 – An American Werewolf in London (4 out of 4)
- 1982 – Class of 1984 (3 out of 4)
- 1983 – Fire and Ice (1 out of 4)
- 1984 – Cal (1/2 out of 4)
- 1985 – Teen Wolf (3 out of 4)
- 1986 –Reform School Girls (2.5 out of 4)
- 1987 – Dirty Dancing (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1988 – Married to the Mob (1 out of 4)
- 1989 – Millennium (1 out of 4)
- 1990 – Darkman (3 out of 4)
- 1991 – Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (2 out of 4)
- 1992 – Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1993 – Hard Target (3 out of 4)
- 1994 – Natural Born Killers
- 1995 – Desperado
- 1996 – Freeway
- 1997 – Mimic
- 1998 – Blade
- 1999 – Teaching Mrs. Tingle
- 2000 – Bring it On
- 2001 – Heartbreakers
- 2002 – Simone
- 2003 – My Boss’s Daughter
- 2004 – Exorcist: The beginning
- 2005 – The Cave
- 2006 – Invincible
- 2007 – War
- 2008 – Death Race
- 2009 – Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
- 2010 – Piranha 3D
- 2011 – Conan the Barbarian