Wilford Brimley, Bayou Action Star
The best thing about Hard Target is Wilford Brimley playing a heavily accented Cajun moonshiner, escaping on horseback, while shooting deliciously evil movie villains with a bow & arrow. Hard Target employed camp before this, like Jean-Claude Van Damme steering a leaking motorcycle into a head-on collision, exploding the bad guy’s car. Nothing matches Brimley though.
Hard Target is notable because of director John Woo. It’s a goofy, campy blend between Hong Kong cinema’s audacious hyper-violence and America’s well-muscled heroes, blended into a Most Dangerous Game remake. Sparks fly around scattering doves and pigeons as the two sides war, theatrically showy in the most ‘90s of ways. Despite the switch in nationality, Hard Target is still pure Woo.
Hard Target is still pure Woo
Hard Target is still pure Woo
While never a great action movie, the script finds a careful nuance to justify itself. Based from a southern plantation house, Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo scrounge up targets for rich clients looking to hunt humans through the city. Henriksen chooses the homeless. And not just homeless, but homeless veterans, making the entire operation more despicable than it already was. Cops on strike let the lawlessness breed, and people on the street show no care toward those being hunted. It’s cynical, cruel, and a contemporary backdrop to remake this story.
Van Damme plays a genre hero, if not in Woo’s style, than a Sergio Leone archetype. First appearing in a corner saloon, Van Damme sports a knee-length jacket, rescuing the damsel from an assault in daylight. The motif is obvious. Van Damme’s awkward execution saps the imagery of its energy though.
It’s not that Van Damme is an incapable action star. Here in his prime, muscles sweating during the finale, Van Damme roundhouse kicks people to infinity, usually through glass. His line delivery attempts to give him the John McClane snappiness, but the stilted, accented effort can’t match the necessary timing. Hard Target then must rely on co-stars to carry the majority, but Yancy Butler never achieves status beyond the helpless victimized woman, Brimley only enters in the third act, and Henriksen is sidelined by the sneering Vosloo.
That means Hard Target thrives on its action, which is perfectly capable lunacy. Van Damme and Woo make a memorable creative pair, and the New Orleans setting puts the finale inside a warehouse stocked with Mardi Gras floats, favors, and fireworks. It’s fun, plus sensationally violent, at least ending Hard Target on a satisfying note.
An absolutely beautiful film grain sits over Hard Target, and with few exceptions, Kino’s encode handles the material flawlessly. Rarely does the imagery look anything less than filmic. The print shows some dust, minor as it is. Restoration takes care of most (keyword: most) scratches or other faults though.
The pure 4K scan pushes a constant flow of detail, the texture sublime, precise, and consistent. Close-ups match the wide shots in fidelity. Definition gives Hard Target new life on home video. It’s gorgeous, and looks new rather than a rescue from the ’90s.
Bright New Orleans scenery drives the contrast in full, generous and bold as sunlight drops onto the imagery. Peak brightness isn’t subtle, but also not overly exaggerated. Solid shadows do equally well on their end, giving Hard Target heavy dimensionality. A pleasing warmth brings flesh tones vibrancy, while primaries look just as saturated, with the same temperature push. This does look digital, if attractive, and suited to the coastal aesthetic.
Kino is currently recalling this disc over an issue in the front soundstage; the channels are notably reversed, apparent anytime a vehicle passes by.
Once corrected, the DTS-HD 5.1 track will sound great, the width and spacing exceptionally done. Frequent ambiance rushes into the rear soundstage. Storms and rain stick around to dress otherwise dry dialog scenes. On the city streets, activity keeps the soundstage open. There’s no audible age to the soundtrack.
The only downer is bass, rough, worn, and lacking tightness. Each explosion comes from the subwoofer muddy. This is the only area where Hard Target’s audio reveals its age.
The UHD includes a commentary from historians Brandon Bentley and Mike Leeder. The Blu-ray continues with interviews, beginning with John Woo, then Lance Henriksen, Yancy Butler, and stunt coordinator Billy Burton. Note these are all new and not recycled from previous discs. Afterwards, trailers.
Pure ’90s absurdity, Hard Target is a comically-tinged action flick notable for John Woo’s action sensibilities and not much else.
User Review( vote)
The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 49 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: