H is for… Hard Target
Hard Target was one of the few action movies I could find that started with H. It’s also the first on my list to have a repeat director (John Woo) and a repeat villain (Arnold Vosloo, who was in G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra).
Coincidentally, it has a fairly unoriginal plot; it’s a modern rehashing of Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game.” Natasha (Yancy Butler) seeks her father and learns he’s homeless, and befriends a man named Chance (Jean-Claude Van Damme) to help her navigate New Orleans to look for him. They stumble upon a service wherein rich people pay a company run by Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) to hunt homeless veterans, and one of their victims was Natasha’s father. Fortunately, Chance grew up on the bayou and is able to navigate the hunters through the wilderness and lead them to a warehouse of Mardi Gras floats. A massive shout out occurs, and with the help of Natasha and his Uncle Douvee (Wilford Brimley), Chance is able to kill all of Fouchon’s men (including Vosloo’s Pik van Cleef).
That seems like… not a lot of plot for a 97-minute movie. Half of the move is spent developing the Fouchon/van Cleef business, and Natasha getting saved from thugs by Chance, and then getting him to help her look for her father. It’s quite a long build up considering the viewer is most likely watching for the action scenes.
That said, there is plenty with which to round out the categories!
A is for… Accents
Chance of course has Van Damme’s Belgian French accent, which really just sounds kind of strange in New Orleans.
Van Cleef has Vasloo’s South African accent.
Uncle Douvee has what I’m guessing is a French accent, to match Van Damme’s.
B is for… Bad Guys
Like with the film Commando, we see the villains before we see the hero (in G.I. Joe the viewer doesn’t know who the bad guy is at first).
At first the villains are dark shapes chasing a homeless man, and they eventually shoot him with arrows. Scenes of Fouchon, van Cleef, and their associate Randal (Eliott Keener) are intercut with scenes of Natasha and Chance searching for Natasha’s father. Van Cleef and Fouchon aren’t above torturing Randal, who provides them with the homeless veterans, when he doesn’t provide them with the proper victims. His job is to find war veterans with no human ties, but instead provides Natasha’s father, and she of course realizes he’s missing.
Fouchon’s base seems to be out of a beautiful planation home. He plays the piano and watches himself in the mirror, and wears saddle shoes. He and van Cleef offer the “opportunity to kill with impunity” to private citizens who are in their own “unhappy little corner of the planet.” Fouchon’s company has bought the cops and the doctor who does autopsies (Marco St. John).
Fouchon is actually very compelling, which is all due to Henriksen’s presence and deep growly voice. He’s much more interesting to watch than Chance, as he’s personally invested in what he’s doing and ensuring they don’t get caught at it. Ultimately Fouchon’s own pride is his downfall; he refuses to shoot Chance from a helicopter because it wouldn’t be a challenge. Forcing the confrontation happen on the ground is what leads to his death.
Van Cleef isn’t very well developed, though he is suitably creepy as Fouchon’s right-hand man. It’s notable that at one point he wants to give up, but Fouchon refuses.
Fouchon’s company charges $500,000 for each hunt, during which the clients are provided with a guide, trackers, and their weapon of choice. Fouchon’s men will also dispose of the body and provide an out of town, airtight alibi. The clients can’t talk over Telex or the phone (Telex being a precursor to fax machines and email). During the hunt the prey is given a satchel with $10,000 and is told he has to carry that satchel ten miles through the city to the river, and if he makes it he gets to keep it. He’s given a five minute head start.
C is for… Chases
Not surprisingly, there are numerous chases in this film about hunting, including Chance and Natasha being chased on foot through the bayou.
The film opens with a chase, as a homeless man is chased by bad guys both on foot and on motorcycles, which doesn’t quite seem fair.
Another veteran (Willie C. Carpenter) is chased through a cemetery, and after he escapes his hunters there they follow him through the city (him on foot, them in cars and motorcycles) and kill him in the middle of the street.
While van Cleef and his men are shooting at Chance, Natasha, and the police detective (Kasi Lemmons), Chance steals one of their motorcycles, and the bad guys pursue him, firing at him the whole time.
In a more diversified chase, Chance is riding a horse and is being pursued by a helicopter. He leads the bad guys to an old warehouse, and Fouchon and his minions follow in Jeeps and motorcycles.
D is for… Damsels
Natasha originally comes to New Orleans to look for her father, Doug Binder (Chuck Pfarrer), only to learn that he’s recently been homeless. She hires Chance to help her, to the tune of $217 for two days.
What’s really notable about Natasha is that while she doesn’t really help Chance a lot, for the most part she stays to the side and doesn’t get in his way. She’s rather undeveloped, but considering her storyline drags on unnecessarily and isn’t really required for the overall concept behind the film, that’s fine. Honestly, the movie drags through its first half, when it’s Natasha and Chance wandering around, up until they’re actually being hunted.
E is for… Explosions
During the opening chase scene, a building explodes when bullets intended for Doug Binder hit it.
During the chase with Chance stealing a motorcycle, another motorcycle explodes for no reason. Chance of course does a wheelie to pop over it.
Chance fires his acquired gun into a Jeep, and it of course explodes. It explodes a second time when it gets shot again by the bad guys.
When the snake gets shot in the head, its head explodes.
In John Woo style, bullets fired from the helicopter explode in a shower of sparks on impact with the ground.
Uncle Douvee blows up his own moonshine and home with dynamite.
Chance throws a gas tank into the air, which then explodes when he shoots it.
A grenade gets thrown at the pelican float that Chance is dramatically riding, and it explodes.
Chance shoves a grenade down Fouchon’s pants, and while he is able to get it out and disassemble it, it still sparks and ignites.
F is for… Flashbacks
Chance has a flashback to all the good guys who died during the course of the film, including Binder, the other homeless vet, and the detective.
G is for… Guns
Details at the IMFDB.
What’s interesting about the film is that the first weapons shown are actually a bow and arrows with three edges. This movie would be all the rage now considering the massive upheaval in the interest in archery thanks to movies and shows like The Hunger Games, Marvel’s The Avengers, Arrow, and Revolution.
One of the bad guys fires arrows from what looks like a gun, not a crossbow.
The men assisting with the hunting also have machine guns, which also seems unfair.
Another interesting but not gun-related use of weaponry occurs when Chance is attacked while investigating Binder’s murder; the minions attack him with a rope on a stick (like a catch pole) and a baseball bat.
Van Cleef fires a silenced gun through a peephole to kill the medical examiner.
Fouchon’s client Zenan hunts with what looks like an assault weapon. The tables are turned when his prey gets a hold of it and shoots him with it.
Van Cleef uses the butt of his rifle as a club to break Randal’s car window. He then shoots him with an explosive result, all over the car’s windshield.
Van Cleef and the police detective engage in a shootout, him with his rifle, her with her service weapon. More and more bad guys with machine guns join in as Chance fights back by snagging the service weapon and more and more of the bad guys’ weapons as they drop.
Fouchon has a notable single shot pistol that he aims by steadying it on his forearm, and he carries the bullets in a belt around his waist. It’s, frankly, a little strange compared to the amount of automatic weapons around him.
Uncle Douvee has kept Chance’s old shotgun in his home, though it’s quite dusty because he hasn’t seemed to be taking care of it.
The bad guys open up a storm of bullets on Uncle Douvee’s shack. Needlessly.
Uncle Douvee also uses a bow and arrows, and uses them to ignite his moonshine and ignite dynamite.
As Chance escapes his uncle’s shack, the bad guys fire at him, and hit an outbuilding instead. It proceeds to explode.
Chance seems to be a fairly accurate shot while on horseback, even though the men in the helicopter can’t seem to hit him.
The last 20 or so minutes of the movie is basically a shootout.
Hilariously, Chance strips a pistol off of a bad guy and doesn’t bother to turn it around before firing it, so he unloads the magazine into another bad guy with the gun upside down.
Natasha steals a gun and shoots a bad guy with it multiple times, which makes Uncle Douvee angry. He seems to like the finesse of quieter weapons.
Fouchon has Natasha load his gun for him as he’s holding her hostage, as Chance charges him. The confrontation becomes gun versus flying kick, and somehow the flying kick wins.
H is for… Helicopters
Fouchon has a helicopter he can call on to drop off more hunters and track prey by air.
I is for… Improvisation
Chance has to use what he can get from picking up bad guys’ weapons and vehicles. Jumping onto the train to escape the bridge is clever, though exiting the train in a muddy area was not.
An arrow is used to ignite Uncle Douvee’s moonshine, which itself is used to kill some bad guys and distract them from Chance’s escape.
Chance uses the floats in the warehouse to great effect.
J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects
Doug Binder falls through the dock early in the movie.
In the initial fight where Chance meets Natasha, he kicks a thug through a window.
At the warehouse, Chance leaps through a window, then does it again in a totally different position. Did no one in the editing room notice that at all?
K is for… Kill Count
Chance pretty much kills every single one of Fouchon’s thugs, with Douvee’s and Natasha’s help. They get shot, blown up, burned, or some combination thereof. For some reason Chance shoots most of them in the groin first.
L is for… Limitations
Other than being severely outnumbered, Chance doesn’t seem to have any limitations. He obviously has combat training, and knows the area better than the bad guys. Up until the very end, his uncle and Natasha don’t even get in the way.
M is for… Motivation
As usual, the bad guys’ motivation is money. Fouchon charges $500,000 per hunt, and $750,000 for the hunt against Chance.
As the film progresses, Fouchon is motivated to eliminate Chance at all costs.
Natasha wants to find her father, then solve his murder.
Chance wants money to help Natasha, but once they’re being hunted they want to live, which involves taking out Fouchon and all of his men.
N is for… Negotiation
Chance negotiates with Randal; he wants info about the homeless men, and threatens him for it.
Fouchon takes Natasha hostage to force Chance to put down his weapons.
O is for… One Liners
Maybe it’s the accent, or maybe it’s the writing, but a lot of Chance’s lines come out as sounding like one liners.
Thug: Why don’t you do yourself a favor?
Chance: I think the favor gonna be done for you.
Chance: You know it’s a shame. This used to be a nice part of town.
Chance: Would love to help you, but I’m gonna be out of town. (thinks about job on ship) Way out of town.
Chance: Maybe I’m sticking around to run for Mayor.
Detective: You have a real talent, Mr. Boudreaux, for attracting violence.
Chance: What are you going to arrest me for, getting beat up without a license?
Natasha: You look awful.
Chance: You hurt my feelings.
Detective: The wheels turn slow around here.
Chance: Real slow.
Fouchon: This is New Orleans, Mr. Zenan, not Beirut!
Fouchon: God, why didn’t he go fishing?
Fouchon: Now you understand why we insist on payment up front.
Chance: Looks like we missed the party.
Fouchon: It appears we’ll have one last hunt after all.
Natasha: Shouldn’t we be worried about alligators or something?
Chance: If it’ll make you feel better, yeah.
Chance: I’ve got some people after me.
Uncle Douvee: I know. I can smell them.
Uncle Douvee: Drink. But don’t spill. Kill the grass.
Van Cleef, to Fouchon: It appears your trophy is ripping you a new orifice.
Fouchon: He’s an annoying fucking insect, and I want him stepped on. Hard.
Uncle Douvee: Now we put arrows into everyone that’s not Chance.
Natasha: Can you get up?
Uncle Douvee: I cannot dance. But I can get up.
Fouchon: What made you want to complicate my life like this?
Chance: Poor people get bored too.
Chance: Hunting season…is over.
Uncle Douvee, about his flask with a bullet hole in it: This real catastrophe. This real bad.
P is for… Profession
When we first meet Chance, he has no money and playing with his food—soup or stew of some kind—in a dingy diner. However he’s clearly a skilled kick boxer, as demonstrated when he takes out the four goons trying to harm Natasha. During this scene he pulls aside his jacket as if to reveal something on his belt (like a badge or gun), but it’s just empty. Perhaps this shot—in slow motion—was to increase audience expectation that Chance was a member of law enforcement, then slam home the fact that he isn’t.
He stands on the dock tying a rope, and it’s then revealed that he’s a merchant seaman waiting for assignment. He had a problem with a prior captain, who was smuggling opium, and Chance broke his jaw. He owes $217 in dues before he can get back to work.
Fouchon learns that Chance, his new prey, was awarded a silver star and was a member of Marine force recon. He was also raised in the bayou by his uncle, and Fouchon describes the bayou as being Chance’s country. All of this, and Chance knowing the truth about what’s going on, makes Chance the perfect prey for Fouchon’s final New Orleans hunt.
Q is for… Quagmire
This is another one of those movies where the hero doesn’t have enough limitations for the viewer to ever think he’s truly in danger. Fouchon’s men can’t hit anything with their guns, Chance is ex-military and knows the region, and even while being grossly out numbered, he doesn’t seem to even break a sweat while killing all of the bad guys.
R is for… Reality
Perhaps it’s just that the idea has been used countless times since Connell’s story, but the overall plot doesn’t seem too far-fetched at all. It’s almost too easy to believe there are people out there who organize hunts of other people.
I will, however, call nonsense on the way Chance is able to shoot accurately while standing on the seat of a moving motorcycle.
S is for… Sidekicks
As I’ve mentioned, Natasha is a sidekick in the sense of she at least doesn’t get in Chance’s way and in fact kills a guy in the warehouse. He’s even more her sidekick as she tries to find her father. But she’s definitely more of the “damsel” than a full-fledged sidekick.
Uncle Douvee is an amazingly amusing man who obviously loves Chance and is willing to do just about anything for him, including blow up all of his possessions and moonshine. He participates by getting Chance and Natasha horses, giving Chance a gun, distracting the bad guys with explosions, and bringing his bow and arrows to the warehouse to help kill some bad guys. He has a thick accent and says the funniest things while helping Chance and Natasha.
T is for… Technology
Unlike John Woo’s epic masterpiece Face/Off, there is very little technology in Hard Target. There are no computers, the movie is pre-Internet, and the plot doesn’t lend itself to gadgets and electronic toys, or at least not in a rundown area of New Orleans.
U is for… Unexpected Romance
The future relationship of Natasha and Chance is left utterly open. The film ends with Chance, Natasha, and Uncle Douvee leaving the warehouse. There was no overt romantic or sexual interaction between Natasha and Chance, and odds are they part ways after explaining everything to the authorities. They don’t even live in the same city, and Chance is probably going to go back to his merchant marine job.
V is for… Vehicles as Weapons
The opening chase scene has a motorcycle being used to knock Doug Binder off a fence.
Most of the rest of the vehicles seem to become weapons on their own after they catch fire, while not necessarily being intentional weapons driven into people or objects.
W is for… Winning
In one motion, Chance runs, slides under a table onto his back, and shoots up into van Cleef’s legs, ultimately killing him. Likely many times over.
Chance shoves a grenade down Fouchon’s pants, after kicking him and knocking his weapon away. Fouchon is able to get it out and try to dismantle it, but after taking the top off he kind of chuckles at it instead of throwing the pieces in opposite directions. The grenade of course proceeds to explode.
The entire hunting organization seems to be destroyed at this point; there’s certainly no indication that Fouchon was part of a larger project.
X is for… X-rays, or Maybe You Should See a Doctor
Chance is injured but not too badly. His uncle actually patches him up. I don’t think he’s hurt at all during the final fight.
Y is for… Yesterday’s Problem Becomes Today’s Problem
Randal using the wrong homeless guy led to Natasha looking for her father, Chance getting involved, his own death, and ultimately the downfall of the entire organization. Fouchon needed to hire somebody better.
Z is for… Zone, in the
In order to demonstrate how much of a badass Chance is, he has to fight four thugs without weapons, and does so neatly.
He also manipulates the floats and the warehouse like he owns the place, so perhaps he’s been there before or is really good at assessing locations and how things work in them.
So, that’s Hard Target. It takes quite a while to get started, but once Chance and Natasha are finally being hunted it’s quite entertaining. Lance Henriksen is extremely convincing and creepy as Fouchon, and Vasloo adds a sinister second-in-command in van Cleef. I’ve read reviews ragging on Van Damme’s acting, but considering the part, he seems fine. He has a lot of cheesy lines, though. Natasha was an okay character, though her thick, dark eyebrows were kind of distracting.
I do want to point out the ridiculousness of Chance punching out the rattlesnake, because such a silly thing deserves mention. It may not even be the action, but the sound effect used, that’s so amusing.
The final battle scene in the warehouse full of floats is unique, and provided a lot to look at.
But oh my God, the SLOW MOTION. The movie probably could have been five minutes shorter if there wasn’t slow motion trying to lend gravity to so many seemingly inconsequential things. We get it, there’s action or something happening here. Hopefully. Slow motion is not a way to add edginess and severity to action scenes! It loses its effectiveness when used too often. But yes, along with birds and the split screen standoff thing, it’s obviously a Woo trademark, as Face/Off had some of it, too.
Hard Target has a lot going for it, but it could have been streamlined, and Chance more developed. Henriksen’s Fouchon is excellent, though.