Sunday, February 5, 2017

Hard Target 2

   Once again, Scott Adkins is quite literally picking up JCVD's mantle in this quasi-sequel to Van Damme's early 90's action flick, Hard Target. Of course, Hard Target was more than just a Van Damme flick- it was a John Woo movie. Woo is the undisputed action of gun flicks, slow motion, and motherfreakin' doves. Hard Target might've been ridiculous and over the top, but that's exactly why it's well loved among action fans. So how does Hard Target 2 stack up? Well... it's no John Woo movie, but not for lack of trying. It's a serviceable action vehicle for Adkins, taking cues from just about every 80's and 90's action flick- from Rambo to Terminator 2.

   It's much easier to digest if you view it as its own entity and not as a follow up to Hard Target. Only the subject material carries over, everything else- from the cast to the setting is different this time around.Which actually works to this movie's advantage. The less you compare it to Hard Target, the better- speaking not about the quality of the film itself, but that it's differences are its strengths. It's set in Myanmar- not New Orleans. Scott Adkins is a disgraced MMA fighter, not just an ex-military drifter like Van Damme was. He gets roped into the hunting game directly as the prey, not an outside interference. These things definitely set it apart, but everything is just similar enough that it earns it's namesake.

   I am kind of disappointed on one front though: the action. Scott Adkins has done things in his movies that Van Damme never has. Adkins impresses with more than just splits and tornado kicks, but with a fundamental grasp of vicious The Raid-like choreography. Hard Target was about ten years too early for that brutality- yet the story here never takes advantage of that kind of action. Sure, there's motorcycles with mounted machine guns, explosions galore, and enough crossbows to make Daryl Dixon blush... but the epic Scott Adkins fights that I've come to love, in movies like Ninja, Ninja II, Close Range, and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning are unfortunately in short supply in Hard Target 2.

   Again, it ends up being an expectations game. Nothing is preventing Hard Target 2 from being a perfectly serviceable little DTV action flick- in fact, if you need a crazy survival-action fix, I do recommend it, but if you're looking for brutal gut-punching action... maybe pass over this one. Hard Target 2 plays less like a title from the modern action movie renaissance (The Raid, Ong Bak, John Wick, D:B13, etc etc) and more like a middling 90's actioner. It's entertaining in a wholesale way, that a lot of mainstream action movies aren't these days, and I enjoyed it throughout, but it's rather short on jaw dropping moments that make Adkins' movies such a delight to watch.

   On the flip side, his charisma and acting skills got a work out in this flick. He carries the movie fairly well, and I was legitimately engaged in his redemption arc, which ends up taking shape once he meets a local Burmese woman, Tha- played with an irresistible charm by newcomer Ann Truong. She's far more than just a pretty face, Truong has a great physicality and I'd be eager to see what she can do in a movie where more fight choreography is required of her character. On top of that, she's just so darn charming. Rounding out the principle cast is Rhona Mitre- who'll forever have a place in my heart for Doomsday, and Robert Knepper.

   His most prolific role to date might be the villain of Transporter 3, but I'll be damned if every other action movie doesn't need a villain just like him. He's not quite a Lance Henriksen, but damn. He fits the role, he's smart, cunning, and makes for an all-around great bad guy. So, where most of these movies usually fail- plot, acting, characterization, Hard Target 2 gets by more than well enough. Yet the stunning fight scenes that usually punctuate Adkins' filmography are- like I said -in somewhat short supply here. So it's a trade-off, but either way you slice it- Hard Target 2 is still a lot of fun!

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