It rained that night, the night they screened the 1993 John Woo film Hard Target at the Nuart, so the guy who was going to intro the movie (from Bloody-Disgusting.com) wasn’t able to make it. I’d like to think lots of people were unable to make it for that reason, because even though there was a decent turnout, maybe there would had been more, but you know how it is in L.A. -- they take that term “acid rain” literally, given how scared people are to go out in it.
Anyway, this guy (I think it was this guy) intro'd the movie in the BD dude’s place, and he mentioned the rain and the effect on attendance. He also brought up how easy it was to get Universal to get a brand-spanking-new 35mm print struck for this showing; “Because it’s Hard Target” was their response and I’m still not sure if they meant it in a good way or a bad way. All I know is that I saw it back in '93 and it made a depressed lad (it was August and school was going to start in a couple of weeks) happily skip out of the theater like the fairy that I was, not knowing that it was about to get a whole lot worse before it ever gets better.
I used to complain about the attitude Marc Heuck seemed to have when intro-ing a flick at the Nuart, but I think I know why now, and I’m guessing it came from years of doing this shit. Everybody thinks they’re funny, especially at a midnight show, and unless you lay down the fucking law with these savages and pronounce every adjective and verb with a healthy amount of I Don’t Like You, they’re going to look at you like they’re better than you, and then think they can fuck with you. I noticed that kind of shit happening to the dude who was doing the intro to this movie. He was being too nice and you can sense the noxious fumes of disdain in the air coming from the audience. There was a quiz to give away some shirts for movies like Megamind and The Expendables which I think resulted in some of the audience happily putting their Ironic Douchebag hats on and being all “Yeah, I really want a fuckin’ The Kids Are All Right t-shirt“ and to that I say, Why Not? I was happy to win an Avatar shirt from one of those midnight Regency shows and that shirt is great for when I’m chillaxing around the house or washing my car. By the way, put a bullet in my head for using the word “chillaxing". In fact, give me two and then finish it off the Chinese way by billing the bullets to my family afterwards. That's what they get for raising a douche.
If you haven’t seen Hard Target, you’re probably still familiar with the story because it’s based on an old film called The Most Dangerous Game and many other updates and ripoffs of said film. There’s actually a short story of the same name that predates all the movies, but you didn’t read that shit, so don’t front. I remember the following year after Hard Target, there was another TMDG update called Surviving the Game, that’s how popular this premise is. Basically, a human being (or human beings, depending on the film) is being hunted by another human being (or human beings, depending on the film -- unless the film is Predator) for sport. That’s it, and it’s up to the filmmakers to put their own stank on it. For this one, they got John Woo fresh off the boat to tell this story as his 1st Hollywood film. Of course, once it was finished, the studio cut a lot of stuff down due to test audiences not giving a shit and then after that, the MPAA had their way with it. Welcome to America, muthafucka.
Now that doesn’t mean that Hard Target is some kind of neglected masterpiece, we’re not talking about The Magnificent Ambersons getting cut in half or The Red Badge of Courage being cut down to practically TV-drama length. No way. No way Jose. Story-wise, this is some Chuck Norris shit except Cannon Films wasn’t releasing this one, it was a Universal Picture, and since they aim higher, they hit up Kurt Russell but since he turned it down, they aimed lower and got Jean-Claude Van Damme instead. Basically, you got Lance Muthafuckin’ Henriksen running a business where rich motherfuckers pay him top dollar to set up hunts. He supplies backup, weapons, an air-tight alibi, and most importantly, the prey: combat veterans. The vets are picked from the street and they’re not hard to convince to take part in this shit because they’re homeless and they get $10k if they make it to the other side of town without, you know, getting killed.
Real quick, in case you didn’t already know how fucking awesome Lance Henriksen is -- the motherfucker let himself get set on fire for this movie. It’s actually him, it’s not some CGI bullshit, it’s not Black Dynamite’s photoshopped head on top of Spawn’s body going WAAAAANDAAAA while he burns to death, this dude has flames covering the back of his body, from the back of his legs to the back of his head. Holy shit. I don’t care if you can see the protective jelly covering him, that shit is bad-fucking-ass. The Jackass crew should make him an honorary member for that shit. Hollywood should just give him 20 million dollars as a kind of retroactive payment for previous awesome services rendered.
Anyway, the beginning of the film starts with this bearded homeless vet getting chased around New Orleans, eventually getting owned by some rich asshole with a rifle that shoots arrows. The actor playing the soon-to-be-deceased vet is also the writer of the film. Chuck Pfarrer is his name and he’s a former Navy SEAL who went on to write Navy SEALs but more importantly, he also co-wrote muthafuckin’ Darkman. They say if you survive the Nam, you get to live forever, but in my eyes, if you’re involved in Darkman, you live forever in my mind. Speaking of Darkman, muthafuckin’ Sam Raimi was one of the executive producers of this flick and his editor, muthafuckin’ Oscar-winning editor Bob Murawski was the, uh, editor.
Then you have Ted Raimi, Sam’s brother from the same mother, in a super-brief role as this flashy dude who’s out on Bourbon Street trying to have a good time with his girl before some wounded homeless vet stumbles up to him for help, effectively cockblocking him. My boy Ted’s trying to ignore him, then he’s trying to shoo him away all cool-like, but that shit ain’t working either, so he turns around and loudly declares to Smelly Bloody Vet that No, I Do Not Have The Spare Change That You Require. What’s even more awesome about that moment is that you know that flashy Ted Raimi isn’t lying, but he ain’t telling the truth, either -- sure, he doesn’t have jingle-jangle money on him (what self-respecting player would?) but you Just Fucking Know this dude’s got a fat billfold on him.
What was I talking about? Oh yeah, anyway, Yancy Butler (Red Mist's mommy from Kick-Ass) plays the daughter of the vet who got killed at the beginning of the film, driving her Z28 Camaro into The Big Easy to go look for him. Apparently, the cops in New Orleans have watched Robocop 1 & 2 and decided it was a good idea to go on strike, which is one of the reasons Henriksen and company can get away with their hunts and it’s also why Butler’s only help on the force is the director of Eve‘s Bayou. Somewhere along the way, Butler discovers her father became homeless and maybe I missed something here or I’m some kind of asshole, but the moment she finds this out, the whole audience was like BWAHAHAHAHAHA DAT’S SUM FUNNY CHIT MAN and I was like Wow, how very sad. Maybe they thought her reaction was too much? Really? I don’t know, man, let’s find out what faces you make after I tell you that someone close to you is now sleeping under newspapers in the cold, eating rotten food from the garbage cans, you fuckin’ piece-of-shit goddamn Every Movie That Plays At Midnight Is The Room To You Assholes asshole. Try throwing spoons at that shit and see if the pain goes away.
I’m not trying to be the muthafuckin’ humor police, but if anything in this movie is guffaw-worthy, it’s JCVD’s kickass combo mullet/jheri-curl, that shit is both Stamos-esque and Soul-Glo-riffic all at once. Yeah, so JCVD plays a merchant marine named Chance "My mama took one" Boudreaux, who needs to ship out soon to make some bucks, because paying for coffee with spare change sucks dick. I guess he’s kinda famous around these parts as a badass ass-kicker (yet that still doesn’t stop some asshole with a Big Stick and his Boyfriend from starting shit with him, rather than finding a bus to catch), which is why Butler pays him to help find her Daddy. By the way, is it a New Orleans thing for so many adults to refer to someone’s father as Daddy? At first I thought it was just a character thing for JCVD to do, much like how he always winks at people in this movie, maybe he just talks like that. But then Detective Eve’s Bayou solemnly refers to Butler’s father as Daddy as well. I don’t know, maybe it’s a N’awlins thing. Maybe my sister is from New Orleans, then.
Anyway, while Butler and Van Damme make like Nancy Drew and one of the Hardy Boys (after a stroke rendered him incapable of speaking clear English), Henriksen and his boys (including straight-to-video Peyton Westlake) are out looking to set up some other poor homeless vet so they can get another hunt started for another rich asshole. There's a lot of talk about killing between Henriksen and the hunters, about how it's like a drug to bring a man down. Normally, you figure it's some bullshit the screenwriter types down so the characters sound hard, and that's pretty much the case with this film's dialogue, except that the dude who wrote it, he has first-hand knowledge on this shit. Look up this dude, he's been in the shit, I bet you he's been close enough to feel a motherfucker's last breath hit his face, to paraphrase a great line from a great movie. There's something eerie about that. There's also something Pretty Fucking Cool about that, too. If this was real-life Hard Target, he'd probably be able to take out Henriksen, straight-to-video Darkman, Van Damme, and those asshole rich hunters without breaking a sweat. Then he'd probably go over to Yancy Butler and not give half-a-shit if she was married or not, he's taking her. I know he's in John Milius shape now, but that still doesn't mean he couldn't pick up a rifle and pick me off like a tick on a dog. I ain't fucking with him.
Whether it’s action or drama, John Woo only operates on one level -- absolute fuckin’ sincerity. His films are kick-ass spectacles bathed in pathos and melodrama, and if you go with it -- if you fuckin’ allow yourself to go with it -- then you are going for a fuckin’ ride. We Americans don’t want that shit, not in our action movies, at least -- we love that shit in a movie about football-playing retards like Forrest Gump or The Blind Side (aka My Pet Negro), but as far as action movies? Fuck that -- don’t fuckin’ put your peanut butter in my chocolate, Mr. Woo. I don’t think you can show something like Bullet in the Head to a contemporary American audience without them reacting to it like those studio execs in Ed Wood, when they were watching Glen or Glenda.
I shouldn't judge others; maybe it's because I grew up watching telenovelas with my parents that I can stand for some overdone dramatics. I know he overdoes it with those fuckin’ doves, but when it comes down to it, I think John Woo is too pure for the United States, especially with this generation of moviegoers. I remember some interview where John Travolta was practically in tears going on about what a beautiful man John Woo is. Michelle Yeoh once talked about how if you go over to John Woo's house for dinner, the motherfucker makes like Martin Yan and prepares you a huge delicious feast. And he makes mostly good movies. He doesn't deserve to be treated like an asshole by some guy who can quote lines from Tim and Eric, Awesome Job You're Show Makes No Sense On Purpose! And you know what? I love those fuckin’ doves. Yeah, I said that shit. Doves forever.
Supposedly, Woo wasn‘t really that hot on the script for Hard Target, or on casting JCVD in the first place (or second place), and because Woo didn’t have complete control and kinda had the balls taken from him and put away in some studio head's drawer, the end result is this weird hybrid compromise of an ass-kicking JCVD movie with the kind of movie that lingers a little too long on shots of homeless people sitting in their own filth, looking like all the hope has been sucked out of their bodies by one of those Lifeforce vampires. It gives people the giggles, is what I’m saying. I don’t know what I’m saying. I never do. Neither do you, because you're not here. Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?
Having said that, it’s still a badass flick, especially when you compare it with the kind of action movies that played that summer of ‘93. Shit man, compare it with action movies today and it still holds up. Is it ridiculous? Fuck yeah, it’s ridiculous -- but this is mostly a ridiculous genre. You gotta remember this was back when people actually got up, went to the theater and paid money to buy tickets to see guys like Van Damme, Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris do their thing, and they were completely sincere about it -- irony never entered the motherfucker. Back then, people went to see a Sylvester Stallone action movie because it looked like it was awesome, not because it was some kind "how quaint" throwback to a simpler time. I remember watching this with my dad and right after Van Damme stands on top of a motorcycle and shoots at the SUV like he was born to do that shit, and then rolls over the truck, falls on his ass, rights himself back up and proceeds to plug an entire clip of 9mm bullets from his Beretta into the truck and causes it to explode, my dad was like "Oh Come On". Really Dad, “Oh Come On“? Of course it’s Oh Come On! The entire action genre, fuck, the ENTIRE EXISTENCE OF CINEMA ITSELF is Oh Come On!
I've seen the longer workprint version, and I would say that's the one to catch if you haven't seen Hard Target before, except for one caveat: the final showdown between Van Dammage and Henriksen is shorter and slightly anti-climactic in comparison to what was added in the studio cut. But then again, there's a lot more overkill and bloody squibs and a higher body count and even a couple extra crashed cars and motorcycles, that it more than makes up for the end. There's also an overseas version you can get on DVD if you have a multi-region player; it's basically the NC-17 version of the studio cut (still missing the ear cutting, though). Wow. I just realized I've seen this movie 4 times already: theater in '93, VHS workprint in '99, uncut DVD in '05, and now theater again in '10. What the fuck, I'm like a fuckin' Hard Target historian in this motherfucker.
After the movie, I overheard the intro dude talking to Marc Heuck in the lobby about, I'm guessing, his hard time doing the intro. Heuck said something like "sometimes it can be a meathead convention" and either he was referring to the audience or maybe a bunch of Rob Reiner lookalikes show up to these midnight screenings sometimes. Some other dude then looked at Marc and nodded, which I guess was his way of agreeing or maybe it was some kind of prelude to a threat, I don't know, what do I know, I'm drinking free water while checking out the cute concession girl with the low voice over here.
Anyway, if you like movies where lots of people get lots of holes put in their bodies in slow-motion, see The Killer. But if you don't like looking at Asians, then see Face/Off instead. But if you saw that one already, and/or you've always wanted to see that Quaker Oats-eating, Cocoon-using, Diabeetus-suffering motherfucker put arrows into anyone who isn't Chance, then see Hard Target.
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