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.

Until then,

Jarv.

The full list in this series:

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

38 responses to “Jarv’s Birthday Series: Hard Target (1993)”

  1. Xiphos0311 says :

    I’ve never seen this and from your wonderfully colorful review it sounds like a monumentally stupid but fun movie but I have to ask, how does one bite through a snake and then use it as a trap?

  2. Continentalop says :

    Seen it but can’t remember it. Just remember not liking it, but at that time I was going through a very snobby and pretentious phase (I actually thought Hal Hartley & Jim Jarmusch ilms were good back then). I might have to give this one another chance.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      you must have been really pretentious or real good at self delusion if you could make yourself believe those two humps made good movies.

      • Continentalop says :

        In my defense I was trying to get in some college girls pants. The Warriors and TCM don’t seem to get them impress them as much as those two.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        A broad not impressed by the Warriors is unworthy of your seed.

      • Continentalop says :

        I know that now, but if only I knew that when I was younger.

        Actually, one of the best and dare I say most romantic moments is when I took a date to the Warriors at the New Beverly. When I looked over and saw her just eating it up I knew I found someone special…

        …at least for the month.

      • Spud McSpud says :

        One of the first conversations Mrs Spud-To-Be and I had were about some of the movies we both loved. When she said THE WARRIORS – well, I KNEW there and then, she was The One.

        11 years later, I was right. Any chick that digs THE WARRIORS is a keeper. If only for the month ;D

      • Spud McSpud says :

        That said, Mrs S-2-B loves the quote about shoving a bat up my ass and turning me into a popsicle. I said if the combined forces of the entire Upper Sixth of the richest young Midlanders the mid-80s had to offer didn’t manage to, good fucking luck – it ain’t happening, now or ever :/

  3. Continentalop says :

    I’m not going to lie. I think I’m fucking drunk. I just went through three bottles of wine all by myself tonight and have barely eaten anything.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      so I guess you’re not training anymore?

      • Continentalop says :

        Sad thing is I am still in training. I decide to take one week off and of course I go to shit.

        Good news is I just got RushFit for my b-day so I should start that up soon. Hopefully that puts me back on track.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        What’s Rush fit?

      • Continentalop says :

        It’s a DVD exercise program by George St. Pierre, the UFC fighter. Not saying it is anything great, but a friend did it and talked highly about it. Said it would be perfect for me because I am more about getting in shape and less about worrying about my build, and I can also keep going to boxing and kickboxing while doing it.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        St Pierre is in love with the blue steel look and prancing about ain’t he? Does he enjoy batting with the same team?

      • Continentalop says :

        I actually heard from a very reliable source that GSP has the same taste as a brother and likes big fat chicks. Of course that would ruin his image so they have to keep it secret.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        is GSP a chubby chaser or is he a harpooner on a whaling ship?

  4. Droid says :

    A few reasons why Hard Target gets AWESOME out of 4…

    – The hero sets a booby trap by sucker punching a snake, biting its rattle off and setting it on a tripwire

    – Van Dammage has hair that would make Cage slow clap with respect

    – Henriksen is hilariously OTT “OOPS!”

    – Wilford Brimley appears incapable of bending his legs at the knee while riding a horse

    – Brimley’s ridiculous Pepé Le Pew accent “Good whiskey make jackrabbit slap de bear!”

    Love this movie.

  5. Droid says :

    I’ve had the workprint of this movie for a couple of years. Never got around to watching it, because it’s pretty terrible quality. But it’s 15 or 20 minutes longer and apparantly even more violent. Must watch that some time.

  6. tombandob says :

    I have seen S*O*M*E* of this–Van Damme running around in a swamp is what clued me in. Must see it again! this sounds like a 90’s version of Commando. Very cool.

  7. just pillow talk says :

    I haven’t seen this in ages, but I remember liking it quite a bit.

    I’m going to have to revisit it again.

  8. Spud McSpud says :

    Jarv, I don’t think I’ve ever agreed so whole-heartedly with any review you’ve ever given as much as I do this. I was 21, and an avid collector of Dark Horse Comics, when I saw HARD TARGET, and I went along to support the second ever Dark Horse Movie (the first being the enjoyable DR GIGGLES).

    HARD TARGET is a stone-cold fucking MASTERPIECE of dumbhouse action cinema.

    Not only that, but it is arguably Van Damme’s best movie, definitely the best Dark Horse Movie, and possibly one of Lance Henriksen’s best movies. And beautifully quotable:

    “God, why didn’t he go FISHING?”

    “Randall, Randall, Randall. I know you wouldn’t want to – hurt my feelings?”

    “It’s hard to put your hand out…”

    And yes, JCVD can actually act – you do begin to feel for him with the hard life he’s led in this, how he knows all the local homeless, seems to know the local cops, and still manages to keep a rudimentary code of honour regarding protecting pretty (Yancy hadn’t got into her pre-rehab antics yet) and rich young ladies who don’t know how to behave in a rough neighbourhood. It’s a nicely nuanced performance – I’d liken it to Rutger Hauer’s turn in HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, where his performance elevates the material while simultaneously being better that it. Not that JCVD is as good an actor as Hauer – nowhere near!! – but it’s the same kind of atmosphere. HARD TARGET is a rollicking good time, Arnold Vosloo is loving his badass right hand man role, Henriksen chews the scenery like a starving man just getting in from crossing the sahara, and Vand Damme has NEVER been better. And of course, Yancy Butler when she was still EXTREMELY hot. (That said, she’s quite the MILF in her brief cameo in KICK-ASS…)

    I should give Yancy a shout-out for WITCHBLADE, though, That was a decent series back in the day…

  9. Spud McSpud says :

    And yeah, Cage WISHES he had a mullet this legendary. Good call, Droid.

    • Toadkillerdog says :

      lemmesee if’n i got this straight, y’all a buncha cub scout dropping out, atheistic, juvenile delinquent, anal bat penetrating,chubby chasing, wine drinking , snake punching, nic cage hair wearing jcvd lovin, bad cajun accent speaking -how would brimley saying dia-beetus with a fake cajun accent? lovers of woo! and not tang or pootie either.
      well i was a boy scout – was one merit badge away from Life, when the scoutmaster got busted for taking bribes – he was the deputy mayor as well.
      how do you get drunk drinking wine unless it is thunderbird or wild irish rose?
      musta been a shitload of the vino! yes, i love this flick too! it truly is retarded fun!

  10. ThereWolf says :

    Um…

    I shall have to take everyone’s word for the awesomeness that is ‘Hard Target’ because I was sloshed when I watched it. The following day I told various folk it was crap but said various folk told me I was mistaken and that ‘Hard Target’ is ace. I think “entertaining rubbish” was my final summation.

    I just remember being horrified by JCVD’s hair and laughing uncontrollably at that rattlesnake business…

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