Woo Damme Clan
There is but one word which describes John Woo's "Hard Target" starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and that is gratuitous. Now you may think I am on about it being full of gratuitous violence when in truth I don't think "Hard Target" is any more violent than any other Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Nope what I mean is that it is gratuitous in style, over indulgent slow motion, less than subtle use of the musical score and a lot more which for me makes it gratuitous. But do you know what whilst the gratuitousness of "Hard Target" makes it corny as hell if you want gun and butt kicking action then "Hard Target" will entertain.
Nat Binder (Yancy Butler) arrives in New Orleans looking for her estranged father, but she discovers that he has gone missing and with little to go on hires a local called Chance (Jean-Claude Van Damme - A.W.O.L.) to help track her down. What they soon learn is that her father has been killed after being persuaded to become the human target for rich hunters who pay Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) to go after human targets.
If you were to strip away all of John Woo's excessive styling and what "Hard Target" becomes is your typical Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, highlighted early on when as good guy Chance he helps Nat when 4 men try to rob her and he gives them a butt kicking lesson. Now whilst this makes it typical Van Damme we do have the entertaining concept of rich men paying fortunes to hunt human targets, homeless guys whose absence from this world won't matter much. It is an entertaining idea, not necessarily original but means when it comes to action Van Damme is up against hunters rather than fighters and kick boxers.
But the thing about "Hard Target" other than Van Damme's extraordinary mullet is that it is a John Woo movie and Woo's sense of style lifts this Van Damme movie to be something else. And this is where it becomes gratuitous as we are delivered one slow motion scene after another be it an arrow flying through the air or the dust being blown off an old shotgun. We also get a musical score which rather than subtly sitting in the background is as prominent as the action and talking of the action whilst we have Van Damme kicking butt and numerous trademark Woo gun scenes we also get violence as a scene features an ear being mutilated. It's not as violent as it sounds and it is only because everything about the action is stylized that it seems so much more.
Now the knock on effect of Woo's exuberant use of styling is there are times when "Hard Target" becomes full on cheesy. I've already mentioned Van Damme's mullet and combined with the long coat, the slow motion, the element of mystery as well as all knowing and are introduction to Chance is corny. I'm not sure whether it was intentional or not because through out "Hard Target" there is humour, Wilfred Brimley as moonshine brewing Uncle Douvee is a comical character but there is an element of not sure about it, whether the gratuitous styling accidentally caused it go from cool to corny or whether it was intentional.
Aside from Van Damme and his distracting mullet and the humour of Wilfred Brimley as Uncle Douvee we do have the beauty of Yancy Butler as Nat, a typical female character in an action movie, attractive and in need of help. But there is also the duo of Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo as Fouchon and Van Cleef, yes we have a name in homage of the western star, and to be honest Henriksen and Vosloo make a pair of entertaining bad men, over the top and not scary but dangerous in a pantomime villain sort of way.
What this all boils down to is that "Hard Target" is on one hand typical John Woo full of stylish action and on the other typical Van Damme with him playing a good guy helping a woman in distress. But these two typicals combine to make something different, something gratuitous in so many ways but also very entertaining.