Action Heroes – Van Damme: Hard Target

Chance is a bit of a poncey name for an action hero. But a guy with jeans pulled groin-huggingly far up and a Billy-Ray Cyrus haircut called Chance is perhaps a step too far. Enter Jean-Claude Van Damme in a rather special film. This is the one that brought John Woo to the states for his English speaking film debut.

Van Damme could well have fell in love with New Orleans in this film where it is set. He has returned there many times in his DTC days (Well it saves him making excuses for his accent). Here he is an out of work slacker who helps a pretty lady out in her hour in need and agress to help her find a relative – who it turns out has been killed as part of a deadly man-hunting game ala The Most Dangerous Game On Earth type scenario.

Yes Lance Henriksen (on OTT form) and his sidekick The Mummy, I mean Arnold Vosloo, are hiring bums with no life to do a runner from one point on a map to another while rich men who have paid well take shots at them with various weapons. Live of die. And yes more often than not they die. Once Van Damme catches wind of this he isn’t even offered the cash to run for his life, he is just hunted on the principal of keeping the whole damn thing secret.

So the second half of the film finds a group of stunt doubles, I mean various big men from around the country, get hired to hunt him down in the wooded area out of town. One by one they fall and Van Damme gets the girl. Hurray! Simple as that really.  And in fact this could have been an hour TV special if it wasn’t for John Woo insisting on slowing down every other god damn shot in the film. I don’t know how often we see the Dammage arrive in a scene with a tooth pick in his mouth in slo-mo with a guitar twanging away country-hillbilly style. But it gets bloody annoying!

Vosloo makes for a not too bad second in command bad guy. He obviously made an impression on the producers as he went on to do Darkman for them in two DTV sequels.  Van Damme also must have made an impression as the same team hired him for Timecop (And these may be the only times you see Van Damme and Sam Raimi’s name on the same films!).

Another pitfall of the film is the female lead. Yancy butler is just not a good actress, but then I barely recall seeing Van Damme with a leading lady that wasn’t annoying or just of poor stock. The Double Impact girl was an atrocious actress; the girl from Universal Soldier bugged me; shit!  Even Mia Sara (Legend, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) put half a performance into Timecop!

It’s basically left to the action to do all the walking in this film.  And it will be the second half that delivers most of what you have come for. You could probably shave a good 5-10 minutes out the first half to give the film a faster pace. When it gets going though it goes, and goes and keeps going. In fact someone put some bloody reins on John Woo, his action climax has become ultra-cartoony!

By the end of this flick one the bad guys have had the shit kicked out of them, shoved back in and then kicked back out again; and The Mummy has been used as a bullet cushion – Van Damme takes out the remaining head honcho with a grenade dropped into his trouser pit. And before you can sing Great Balls of Fire, it’s all over and the film doesn’t waste much more time before hitting the credits.

So a not bad effort for Woo’s first US film.  He would do better with Face/Off. Van Damme would also do better with the same producers. But Hard Target despite its flaws still stands out in terms of the style used. A shame the director/star did not get together for a second venture. I’m sure they could have come up with plenty more goofy antics. But we shall have to be content with van Damme beating up snakes instead.

Steven Hurst

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