Hard Target 2 (2016) Review

Hard Targer 2 posterDirector: Roel Reiné
Producer: Chris Lowenstein
Cast: Scott Adkins, Robert Knepper, Rhona Mitra, Tempera Morrison, Ann Truong, Adam Saunders, Jamie Timony, Pter Hardy, Sean Keenan, Troy Honeysett, JeeJa Yanin, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Patrick Kazu Tang, Thira Chutikul
Running Time: 104 min.

By Paul Bramhall

As a child of the early 80’s I, and most likely many others, had my first exposure to John Woo from his 1993 Hollywood debut Hard Target. A tale which see’s Jean Claude Van Damme on the run from a group of wealthy hunters, led by a menacing Lance Henriksen, despite Woo’s own complaints about what he felt was a rushed production schedule, the final version still arguably delivers an action classic. I still remember being on holiday with my parents as a teenager, and picking up a double VHS pack which contained Hard Target (the ‘Full Uncensored Version’ no less) on one tape, and Timecop on the other. While Van Damme’s time travelling action flick certainly entered the VHS player more than once, it was usually Hard Target which needed to be ejected first – simply put it lived in the player.

Timecop may have gotten a Van Damme-less sequel in 2003, with the Jason Scott Lee vehicle Timecop 2: The Berlin Decision, but Hard Target has had to wait a significantly longer time, with an equally Van Damme-less sequel being delivered in 2016. In place of the Muscles from Brussels, we have who many people consider to be his spiritual successor, British martial arts star Scott Adkins. Adkins has stated many times how much Van Damme was an influence on his career, and to date the pair have featured in four movies together, proving that in some cases, dreams do indeed come true. For the sequel, Adkins finds himself back in Myanmar, the country which also provided the stomping ground for his 2013 movie Ninja: Shadow of a Tear.

The story see Adkins playing an MMA fighter, who during a fight which pits him against one of his closest friends, sees him accidentally kill his opponent. To drown his sorrows, he ups and leaves the States to move to a ramshackle hut in Bangkok, in which he lives with a pet white dove (it’s never clearly stated if it is his pet, but it’s always hopping about in the hut somewhere), the digital watch his friend gifted him with before their fight, and plenty of alcohol. Adkins spends his time in Bangkok switching between American and British accents, drinking, and getting involved in a series of bare knuckle off the books fight tournaments. When a rich business man, played by Prison Break’s Robert Knepper, offers him a million dollar pay cheque to take part in a final match in Myanmar, Adkins takes the bait, and the rest as they say, is history.

Replacing Woo in the director’s chair for the sequel is Dutchman Roel Reiné, who’s made almost an entire career out of making direct-to-video sequels to popular action movies. It’s a long list – The Marine 2, Death Race 2, The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption, Death Race 3: Inferno, 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded, Behind Enemy Lines: Seal Team 8, The Man with the Iron Fists 2, The Condemned 2, and of course, the move in question. For me though, he’ll always be the guy that directed one of the better latter-era Steven Seagal movies, with 2008’s Pistol Whipped. Reiné may be used to working in the lower budgeted direct-to-video arena, but one thing he’s definitely not used to is directing a sequel to a John Woo movie. Who would be?

It’s evident from the start that he wants to pay homage to Woo’s original – from an opening that see’s the human prey on the run from crossbow wielding hunters, to the inclusion of randomly placed doves, even to Knepper and his right hand man, played by Temuera Morrison, clearly being styled after Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo. However there’s never any doubt that we’re watching a production which is never going to be in the same league as the original. Hard Target 2 is laden with a particularly awful script, full of painfully clichéd lines and equally embarrassing delivery of them, not helped by some poor ADR work that crops up here and there.

Reiné also takes a huge gamble by having Adkins first scene be an MMA fight in the ring. There’s little doubt that the stars most iconic and popular role is that of Yuri Boyka, from the Undisputed series, and fans have been clamouring to see him back in action since 2010’s Undisputed 3: Redemption. Any movie which puts Adkins in the ring is inevitably going to draw comparisons to his performances in the series, and here they’re not going to be favourable ones. Instead of going for something original with the choreography, the match, and also his bare knuckle fights in Bangkok, feel like more of an Adkins show-reel from the past 10 years. There’s no originality on display, and instead the action leans back on his trademark spinning jump kicks, all of which are shown in slow motion, while the person on the receiving end of them waits to be hit. It’s a letdown.

Things do get a little more interesting once the action moves to the jungles of Myanmar (although the scenes are actually shot in Thailand). Knepper and Morrison lead 6 other hunters – a redneck father and his reluctant son, a big game hunter, a matador (who comes complete with sword), a first person shooter software developer (don’t ask), and a spoilt rich girl with a sadistic streak, notably played by British actress Rhona Mitra, who refined her action chops in 2008’s Doomsday. After narrowly escaping his first encounter with the hunters, Adkins happens upon one of the locals, played by Ann Truong, who becomes his guide through the dense jungle. Truong’s wardrobe makes her appear as if she’s just come from auditioning for the role of Pocahontas, but her character is a pleasant enough addition, and she soon has Adkins paying his respects to the “spirits of the forest” and ensuring her safety.

When it comes to the action, the vast majority of it consists of Adkins dodging arrows, being thrown into the air from explosions, and indulging in some fisticuffs. It’s a somewhat surprising decision that two of the one-on-one fights during the hunt don’t go to Adkins at all, instead giving us an all female showdown with Ann Truong vs. Rhona Mitra, and then later the actor who plays Truong’s brother fights the matador. Both fights are completely unremarkable, and plagued by quick cutting to disguise the lack of screen fighting talent. However it’s perhaps indicative that beyond the Adkins Greatest Hits book of moves, the choreographers really didn’t have much up their sleeve for him to do. There is a face off which pits Adkins against Mitra mid-way through, however it’s so stilted and one-sided that it leaves the memory almost as soon as it’s over.

Proceedings build up to a finale which attempts to rectify this, as events culminate in a New One Armed Swordsman style stand off on a bridge, which pits Adkins against 5 of Knepper’s fighters at once (two of which are played by Jija Yanin and Patrick Kazu Tang, clocking in about 30 seconds of screen-time between them), followed by Morrison, and then Knepper himself. It allows Adkins the chance to briefly let loose, in a face off which provides the most complex choreography of the movie, but there’s an inescapable feeling that it was rushed. Some camera angles are taken from rather odd positions, and there are kicks on display which clearly don’t connect, immediately taking you out of the action. It’s enough to make you wish that Hard Target 2 had a bigger budget behind it, combined with more time to film, as there’s a good action B-movie in there somewhere.

As it is though, the poor script and illogical plotting frequently see Reiné’s sequel tripping up and landing on its face. A scene which perfectly summarises these problems sees Adkins sneak up on the software developer, who’s secretly filming the other hunters. Adkins whispers to him that if he makes a sound, he’ll shoot him, as it would alert the other hunters that they’re there. However he then proceeds to playback the recording to check what it is, with the audio glaring out at normal volume, but somehow none of the hunters are able to hear it. It’s a scene which blatantly doesn’t make any sense, and with a little more care should have obviously been re-thought. But then again, they’re making a sequel to a John Woo movie, perhaps the whole idea should have been re-thought.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5/10 

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21 Responses to Hard Target 2 (2016) Review

  1. HKFanatic says:

    It’s certainly a bummer to see this sequel earn a 5/10, but I suppose most of us saw the writing on the wall. It was something of a red flag when I read that recent interview with Scott Adkins and he mentioned how Roel Reine serves as his own camera operator and basically does everything himself in order to get each shot as quickly and inexpensively as possible. On one hand, that’s totally admirable…but there’s just no way you can shoot a movie that cheap and dirty and come anywhere close to what John Woo accomplished with the original Hard Target.

    • Zach says:

      Just watched it. And yes, I would agree it’s a 5/10. I didn’t strongly dislike it, but it’s simply bland. Reine doesn’t quite know how to conjure up the same tone or excitement as the original, or the tone of 80s and 90s action movies in general. It’s technically proficient, and well shot, but all of the action is simply average. Not nearly as good as recent Adkins films Close Range, but infinitely better than say Zero Tolerance.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      I agree, shooting action is an art in itself, and one which usually takes a few times to get it right. I got the impression some of the sequences in ‘Hard Target 2’ were a one-take only deal, probably due to a lack of time, and unfortunately it shows in the final product. I’m sure if Isaac Florentine was behind the camera we’d have a very different movie.

  2. Andrew Hernandez says:

    I thought the movie was serviceable. Certainly not Adkins’ best, but it gave me my action fix.

    I was hoping Rhona Mitra would have a more significant role. Her two fight scenes were decent, but if Reine really does film that quickly, it’s a shame he didn’t give her more time to look better. I think the quick cutting was more to do with the quick schedule than a lack of action chops for the women.

    Temuera Morrison looked decent against Adkins. I would have liked their fight scene to go longer as well.

    The last 20 minutes though felt like total padding. When everyone stopped fighting, the movie should have ended, but it was painfully stretched. That was pretty poor.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      Hi Andrew, curious to know what you’re referring to by the last 20 minutes being total padding? In the version I watched the credits rolled 5 minutes after Knepper is dealt with. This is of course not including the bizarre end credit sequence itself, which plays as a kind of Bangkok travelogue with Scott Adkins, played over a strange choice of foreboding music.

      • Andrew Hernandez says:

        I guess I should clarify that it felt way too long. I didn’t actually time it. It felt like after Scott dealt with Robert’s henchmen, everything should have wrapped up, but instead everyone talked too much, Robert’s comeuppance took too long, and it just felt longer than it was.

  3. Just watched this on Netflix. I’ll tell you this much: I really liked the New One Armed Swordsman-style stand off on a bridge (great to see Jija Yanin and Patrick Kazu Tang) while the other bad guys watched and had a beer. I didn’t mind the main bad guy, even though he’s channeling Lance Henriksen a little too much…

    I honestly don’t think “budget” was the film’s problem. Its budget was fine. It actually looked pretty hefty, $$$-wise. The problem is the film itself. Pocahontas (cut her out of the story completely… horrible! Perfect English and all… get the hell out of here! LOL). Also, a female character who looks like a low-budget rendition of Jessica Biel from from Blade III (unless it’s related to the world of Mad Max or a comic book movie, we don’t need leather costumes like this…), over-usage of slow motion (Roel Reine got carried away with his iPhone 6’s slow-mo feature), awful editing (too many examples to list), and random WTF moments (same comments). And I know the dove scene was a nod to John Woo, but it just didn’t work. If you want to pull off a tribute to a master, put more emphasis on making a better film instead of injecting the master’s trademark into your film.

    Hard Target 2 served its purpose of being a low budget version of a cult classic John Woo/JCVD flick from the 90s, but with a better director (Ernie Barbarash or Isaac Florentine?), it actually could have been a solid sequel.

    I’ve definitely seen worse. It entertained. Part of my $9.99 Netflix package. I can’t complain.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      Agreed, Mitra’s wardrobe came straight out of a post-Matrix early 2000’s action flick. They should have just decked her out as Lara Croft.

      It’s a real shame about the inclusion of Jija Yanin and Patrick Kazu Tang as well, from headlining the 2009 flick ‘Raging Phoenix’ together, to barely a minutes screentime between them.

      • I like the sequence though. Much better than the train track sequence (that went on forever!). I believe that’s the same track where they filmed Casualties of War.

        • Paul Bramhall says:

          I’ve never seen ‘Casualties of War’, but the train track is part of the infamous Death Railway, which the Japanese built using POWs during World War II to connect Thailand and Burma (Knepper’s character actually mentions it in the scene).

          The track has been the subject of a few movies, most famously in David Lean’s classic ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’, detailing the construction of one of the railways bridges, and more recently in the Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman starring ‘The Railway Man’.

    • kami says:

      Ernie Barbarash a better director than Roel Reiné? You must be joking, did you see the lame action in POUND OF FLESH?

      • lol I actually haven’t seen Pound of Flesh, but I have seen a good chunk of Ernie Barbarash’s films and they seem pretty decent for what he has to work with. I know all the films vary in budgets, but it seems like Roel had a lot to work with in Hard Target 2 – based off its resources – I think a different director would have made a better film.

        • kami says:

          Roel Reine had less than 2 Millions to make this movie, which is less than any of the Ernie Barbarash movies I know, and they all look much cheaper. Reiné might not be the best action director, but he certainly is capable of achieving a cinematic look even for a dime and a nickel.

          • HKFanatic says:

            I have to agree with you, I enjoyed Hard Target 2 far more than any Barbarash movie I’ve seen. Falcon Rising was decent and almost at the level of Hard Target 2, but the less said about Assassination Games and Pound of Flesh, the better.

            6 Bullets was alright but it was a bit too depressing and grimy to be really enjoyable as a DTV action movie. Hard Target 2, in comparison, was a fun ‘have a few beers and enjoy yourself on Netflix’ kind of flick.

  4. Alan Mount says:

    Personally I loved the movie and even thought it was better than the original. Scott Adkins is ten times the martial artist that Van Damme ever was and a far better actor too. I admire the fact that Adkins will happily make lower budget action flicks like this as this despite the fact that he gets roles nowadays in big budget movies like CRIMINAL and DOCTOR STRANGE. This was the action movie I have most looked forward to this year and I was not disappointed in the least.

    • You know, it is what it is. A “pop” action movie that entertained. It’s not trying to be The Godfather. It’s not even trying to be Enter the Dragon. But, it’s reviews likes these (Paul’s) that help keep the standards alive. Sure, we can be a little over critical despite the context of the movie being a silly, turn your brain off “action flick,” but if you’re gonna do it, do it right! 🙂

      • HKFanatic says:

        I agree with you, MPM – I think it’s important to take a movie on its own merits and appreciate it for what it’s trying to accomplish; clearly, “Hard Target 2” is not out to reinvent the wheel. At the same time, critics like Paul help make sure we’re all not just grading on a curve.

        For instance, I finally watched “Man on High Heels” via Netflix a couple weeks ago: probably the best Korean action/thriller I’ve seen since “The Man From Nowhere.” It’s a solid 8/10 movie. It wouldn’t make much sense if a so-so direct-to-video sequel to a 20+ year movie earned a score that high, unless it’s something as artistic and momentous as a John Hyams’ “Universal Soldier” entry.

  5. Scott Blasingame says:

    I found this to be quite enjoyable as a whole. It didn’t waste time either. I thought it had some solid action; lots of fights and stunt work. The plot was serviceable. I liked Adkins’ character Baylor, and I like Knepper as the villain Aldrich.

    Okay, yeah, there are a lot of similarities to the first Hard Target movie. Knepper does favor Lance Henrickson to such a degree they could be long lost brothers. There’s tons of slo-mo. The cheeky inclusion of white doves (a nod to John Woo). You’re not going to avoid that, and due to the title, it’s going to draw comparisons to the first film anyway, so you may as well include a moments that reference it.

    From an action standpoint, I was pleased. I love Adkins, but just as the first movie with JCVD was more action driven than MA driven, I knew what I was going to get, and I was good with that. Actually, they threw in some fights they probably didn’t have to. Seeing as Baylor is supposed to be an MMA fighter, you get to see him in a number street fights prior to becoming a hunting target. And in the extra features, there are a couple of those that weren’t included. Yeah, they’re short, and I wouldn’t say the choreography is substantial in any way, but they aren’t slapped together either or sub-par by any means.

    The Adkins & Rhona Mitra fight was meh. It had its moments, but for all the editing, it really didn’t help sell her as any kind of threat. Love how it ended though!:coveredlaugh

    I do believe I’ve become a bit smitten with Ann Truong.:blush

    I never thought Jeeja Yanin was going to show up.

    The end fight reminded me a bit of the dojo fight from Ninja: Shadow of a Tear. In fact, as Adkins was running through the jungle, as he did in that movie, I was hoping he’d stop somewhere and dig up a stash of ninja gear.

    Overall, I liked it and will certainly be watching it again. As much as I was hoping for more MA that what was there, I was pleased with what was on display and it was incorporated quite well and plentifully. Besides, the next MA heavy Adkins film coming is Undisputed 4 in January 2017. (I just knew we’d be getting that one this year, too. :angry)

    I will say this. I do wish Adkins would distance himself from films with or associated with Van Damme. The guy can stand on his own. I realize he picks the projects that he thinks are best for him and that the studios are committed to making, but he can stand on his own. And I’m saying he did this film to ride on the coattails of JCVD. He didn’t. He has already established himself. He’s just done enough movies with or around Jean-Claude that he needs to really stop now.

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