Hard Target 2 (2016)

A mere 23 years later, with none of the original cast or crew returning, Universal decided to give us a sequel to the Jean-Claude Van Damme gem “Hard Target”, one of the dozens and dozens of cinematic riffs on 1926 short story “The Most Dangerous Game”. I suppose the name recognition of the original being directed by John Woo was just enough to get them to not just make an entirely new film. Or someone offered them a job lot of doves and they had that thing where a lightbulb appears above their heads?

Anyway, replacing JCVD is the guy who he must have been grooming as his replacement, as they appeared in a heck of a lot of movies together, Scott Adkins. Adkins is superb, although he doesn’t have that unusual charisma, he’s JCVD’s equal as a screen fighter and clearly superior as an actor. We’ve covered him in “Eliminators”, the last “Universal Soldier” instalment, and “Ninja”, and will review more of his movies soon. Well, when we’ve completed all the other half-done review series, probably.

Adkins is MMA star Wes “The Jailor” Baylor (I was irritated a little straight off the bat, as it’s “jailer”, but I guess it’s to match his surname, even though it’s stupid), and as we first meet him he’s about to have a fight with Jonny Sutherland, who he appears to be hated enemies with. Later on, we learn that the two of them are best friends who are only fighting because the money is so good, but there’s no love lost between the two in the ring, as Jonny fights dirty and Wes really seems to dislike his wife. I kept expecting some sort of explanation as to why the two of them had fallen out, but no. Maybe left on the cutting room floor? (It is quite long, unacceptably so for an action B-movie like this).

Okay, at this point, halfway through the fight, if you’ve watched any movies before, you’ll be able to tell exactly where the plot is going. Wes will kill his friend and leave the world of MMA behind, and then a few months later, living in some dingy hovel somewhere, he’ll be offered the chance to be the prey in a human-hunting expedition led by some rich assholes. That all this happens and I’m relating this to you after watching it might make you think I’m making it up, but it’s not exactly my finest moment of future-prediction. He actually doesn’t leave fighting behind, just moving to Thailand and kicking ass in a variety of colourful yet low-rent locales; before he fights at a wealthy person’s party on a rooftop terrace and is noticed by Aldrich (Robert Knepper).

Ah, Robert Knepper. For when you want an even sleazier version of Lance Henriksen, he’s your man. He’s an extremely busy actor, and as well as the stuff that pays the rent (big TV roles, character work in A-list movies) he also loves doing cheesy stuff like this, chewing scenery in a variety of villainous roles. Thank you, Robert, for elevating a bad guy like Aldrich. His business model is bribing a general in the Myanmar army to let him use a patch of the jungle there as his hunting ground, and apparently tricking the occasional Western idiot into thinking he’s going there for a million dollar payday in a real fight.

Wes is thus tricked, and is forced to run with a colourful group of hunters in hot pursuit. As well as Aldrich and his sidekick Madden (the great Temuera Morrison), there’s Sofia, the daughter of a super-rich oil tycoon (Rhona Mitra, who was once within a hair’s breadth of proper movie fame but is now stuck in stuff like this), Esparto the bullfighter, a redneck father and son, and a video-game designer.

From then on, until the last five minutes, it becomes a people-walking-through-the-jungle movie, which we here at the ISCFC have reviewed many of. So many. Wes escapes, occasionally kills someone (although he seems legitimately upset at having to do it) and his pursuers get angrier and angrier. He meets a beautiful local in the wilderness, who’s trying to save her village, so gets involved in her story, which gives us the opportunity to have one of those scenes where the beautiful local woman tends to the hero’s wounds. No romance in this one, though.

Because it’s a sequel to a John Woo film, they make an effort to make it look like one. There’s doves all over the shop, and the slow-mo arrow thing he used in the original makes a reappearance. The gun that the villain uses at the end is the same as the gun Lance Henriksen used; and the boat chase that Woo planned but never used (because JCVD wanted a horseback chase) is used here too. So, while director Roel Reine (the WWE wrestling-movie house guy) is no Woo, he at least uses the building blocks reasonably well.

There’s some odd little bits of humour here and there, like Wes being about to hit an elephant which has smacked him one, getting told off by his new lady friend, and saying “he threw the first punch!” Aldrich has some cracking one-liners too – nothing too much, but like a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

You know how these things are going to go. There is nothing new under the sun, and that’s doubly true for Most Dangerous Game-inspired B-movies. But the stars are fun, the action is decent, and although it mostly ditches the wealthy-hunting-the-poor text of part 1 (the two rednecks don’t seem particularly rich, just assholes) and therefore doesn’t quite have the engine to power the action, it’s still perfectly fine.

There’s something I want to get into, though, and that’s the scene that plays along with the credits, after the ending has the bad guys all dead and the good guys happy. There’s no drama left, no possibility of a twist or anything, so watching Wes go about a day of travelling through Thailand is quite curious. He gets on a bus, eats a little, walks around, enters a house…and that’s it! It feels like a filler scene that was cut, with good reason, but someone somewhere insisted it was included. It’s one of the most curious choices in modern cinema (I say this without fear of hyperbole) and leaves you sort of puzzled and annoyed when you just want to be satisfied with a good slab of action cinema.

Rating: thumbs up

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