'Hard Target': THR's 1993 Review

Hard Target - H - 1993
An incendiary mix.

On Aug. 20, 1993, Universal unveiled John Woo's R-rated action thriller Hard Target, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.

If the body count at the box office for Hard Target equals the body count on the screen, Universal will have a hit with this Jean-Claude Van Damme/John Woo action blaster. The combo is an incendiary mix: Woo unleashes all barrels in vintage Hong Kong action style while Van Damme delivers not only his martial-arts prowess but some well-developed acting skills as well. Universal should nail some nifty end-of-summer numbers among the action crowd.

Woo's latest bullet barrage is set in contemporary New Orleans around the escapades of a sporting club. This club is not the usual type one finds in the French Quarter — it's a unique grouping of business entrepreneurs who offer up a sporting venture package for the adventurist who needs an added lift. Instead of stalking deer in the boonies or vermin in the Bayou, these guys supply a less-endangered sort of prey — homeless vets. They charge a pretty penny — usually about $500,000 — for the opportunity of nailing one.

This time out they've hit a snag: One of the prey's kin has turned up, a feisty beauty (Yancy Butler) who hires a local yardbird, Chance Boudreaux (Van Damme), to help her snuff out the bad guys. Chance is a vet himself, a martial-arts expert whose survival skills were weened in the Bayou.

A blazing blend of Woo's hard-boiled visual histrionics, Hard Target is a lean-and-mean scenario (courtesy of Chuck Pfarrer) smartly torched by Woo's technical expertise. Cinematographer Russell Carpenter's propulsive camera work and editor Bob Murawski's kinetic cutting, together with Van Damme's bone-crunching skills, are a lethal combination. Hats off to stunt coordinator/second unit director Billy Burton for the stunning stunts.

While Woo launches some standard action additives, including another warehouse shootout where, seemingly, the number of bad guys triples, Hard Target is a mesmeric movie.

Van Damme is no mere fighting machine: His performance is buffed with subtle humor and a sympathetic, self-deprecating demeanor. The bad guys are terrific: Lance Henriksen as the cold and cunning sporting promoter and Arnold Vosloo as his psycho hunting dog.

Graeme Revell's score is nicely spiced by the twangy tang of the Bayou. An added flavor to this gritty gumbo is Wilford Brimley's performance as Chance's Cajun-inflected uncle out in the Bayou. Hearing Brimley warble in that swampy patois is, indeed, a unique element. Brimley also rides a horse and shoots a bow and arrow. This movie has a sense of humor. — Duane Byrge, originally published on Aug. 16, 1993