With income equality being as hot a topic today as it was in Victorian times, what better time to look at the most controversial habit of the filthy rich: hunting and killing their fellow man, the deadliest game of all. We take a look at Hard Target and Ready or Not, but are they worth tracking down and firing crossbow bolts into? Listen in and find out!
Our first film is Hard Target, an updated take on 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game, in which rich men pay for the privilege of hunting and killing a human being. The hunts in this film take place in New Orleans, where former soldiers are recruited amongst the city’s homeless population, and offered $10,000 if they make it ten miles across the city to the river. As they’re only given a five-minute head start, though, and they’re being chased by many people in cars, on motorbikes and with powerful weapons, this is obviously never going to happen.
The first victim we see is Douglas Binder (the screenwriter, Chuck Pfarrer), a victim who, against the express orders of Lance Henriksen’s Emil Fouchon, the man behind the hunt, has a family who will miss him. That family is Yancy Butler’s Nat, who has come to the city seeking her father after his letters to her suddenly stopped. Her search brings her to some of the less salubrious neighbourhoods of the Big Easy, where she is saved from robbery and assault by Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Chance Boudreaux. Introductions made, Nat enlists Chance as a guide and bodyguard as she tries to trace her father, a search which is quickly ended when a police officer magically manages to find the visitor in the middle of the city and tell her that her father’s body has been found.
Cursory investigation by Boudreaux uncovers evidence of his murder, and the single non-striking police officer left in the city, Kasi Lemmons, is convinced to begin an investigation. Meanwhile, Fouchon’s hunt finds another victim, though the heat of the investigation suggests to him it’s time to wrap things up in New Orleans and move to pastures new. Before he does so, though, he decides that Boudreaux must die, and drives him deep into the bayou, where lives his Uncle Douvee, an old Cajun played utterly convincingly by Wilford Brimley.
This sets the scene for a finale in which Fouchon somehow convinces a bunch of rich men to pay him handsomely to do his dirty work for him, and JCVD kicks all of their arses.
(Despite the film taking pains in the early scenes to point out the care Lance Henriksen’s organisation takes to avoid attention, including creating alibis, recruiting the top city pathologist and burning bodies to hide evidence of murder, very soon Arnold Vosloo and the other goons are killing people in the middle of crowded streets, murdering police officers with shotguns in broad daylight and trying to shoot people from motorbikes, all while making no attempt to hide their identity. Whether this is a commentary on the impunity with which the rich can commit crimes in society or shitty screenwriting I’ll let you decide for yourself. Oh, did I mention that the screenwriter, Chuck Pfarrer, is responsible for The Jackal?)
There is a strong argument to be made that John Woo’s first Hollywood film is his best Hollywood film, but, well, damning with faint praise and all that. Hard Target has slow motion, Beretta handguns, motion of reduced speed, birds, motion at a lesser speed than normal, stylised, choreographed action and gunplay, action that is displayed at slower than typical speed and motion that is not quick, so it’s definitely a John Woo film.
By this point JCVD had come on in leaps and bounds as an actor, especially compared to the likes of Bloodsport just five years earlier, and despite an… interesting… hairstyle I’m pretty certain he hadn’t used before, or since, he’s very watchable, and his trademark kicking-people-inna-face shtick really doesn’t get old. Arnold Vosloo is dependably villainous, but Lance Henriksen is chewing the scenery, presumably prompted by the mid-film flip where his cool businessman becomes butthurt angry man because plot, and it’s not really his forte. It’s hard to judge Yancy Butler because she’s mostly just asked for wide-eyed reaction shots, usually in slow motion, and she wide-eye reactions her way right through them. Wilfred Brimley is not even a tiny bit convincing as a Cajun but is plenty entertaining as he tries.
Spider-Man 1 and 2 and The Hurt Locker editor Bob Murawski keeps the action moving along reasonably well, despite the frankly comical number of slow-motion shots, though the action in general feels a little staid by today’s standards: it’s definitely a product of its time.
Setting aside Windtalkers, which I really would like to revisit some time but can no longer speak to with authority, Hard Target probably is John Woo’s best Hollywood film. It’s also crap, just entertaining crap. Could have used a little more slow motion, though.
Ready or Not
Remember back when some studio executive had a particularly ketamine-fuelled night out and woke up to find they’d commissioned a film based on the board game Battleship? Seemed like an awful idea, but of course the remarkable commercial and critical success that it presumably must have had opened up a valuable new market for Hollywood to mine: literally anything. Anything someone, somewhere might remember, in some fashion. Monopoly? Sure. Tetris, apparently, although I’m not sure if that was supposed to be a joke or not. Anyway, the point I’m skirting around is that this is a movie adaptation of Hide and Seek, which sounds silly, but so did Game Night, and it turned out to be great. Let’s see if this shares its quality, or Battleship‘s.
Actually, the set-up is perhaps unsurprisingly straightforward. Samara Weaving’s Grace has just married into the rich board game dynasty of the Le Domas family, specifically scion Alex, played by Mark O’Brien. This was in spite of Alex’s warning that his family is weird. Not just conventionally rich person weird, although there’s plenty of that. But more specifically, they believe their success is due to an old tradition, a pact, if you will, where any new addition to the family must play a game, randomly selected by a mysterious antique box, on midnight of the wedding. Something harmless, like chess, maybe. Unfortunately for Grace, she draws Hide and Seek.
The Dumas family have a few house rules for this game, specifically locking all of the doors and windows of that house and hunting and killing the hidee, under non-specific threat of terrible vengeance for breaking with tradition. There’s no crazy like rich person crazy. So off Grace goes trying to hide, dodge and avoid the Dumas clan and their selection of weaponry. Said family include Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Nicky Guadagni, John Ralston, alongside a handful of others who, McDowell excepted, I don’t think I could have picked any of them out of a line-up, but handle their roles well, with the complete lack of subtlety that something like this demands.
To my surprise, I rather enjoyed this. It’s almost relentlessly paced, and you will never be all that far away from something delightful happening, like someone being grotesquely shot with a crossbow bolt, or an annoying wee kid getting their coupon stamped. There’s a certain subset of people who will agree that’s delightful, admittedly. In terms of content and tone, it’s aiming at something like The Cabin in the Woods (although this is better), or The Evil Dead 2 (although this is not as good, but really, what else is?). It has a comedy / action / horror vibe that’s a right old laugh and no mistake guv’nor, assuming you’re on the same wavelength.
If you’re looking at this in a film critic-y kind of way, there’s plenty of points that you could bring up to deduct your metatomato points from – the characters are broadly and shallowly drawn, and there’s no real attempt at meaning, or any deep thoughts on the human condition. However I don’t think that’s a particularly relevant or helpful way to look at something like this. It’s taking a silly premise, and simply having an inordinate amount of fun with it. Trash, but enjoyable trash.
Samara Weaving is excellent, hugely relatable and sympathetic at the outset, and all the more sympathetic by the end of things. I felt a little skeeved out by a few moments that were maybe going a little too far into body horror / torture porn territory, which stylistically felt like scenes left over from a much earlier draft that hadn’t decided to embrace the comedy side of things so firmly.
However, that’s not a strong enough concern to diminish my overall opinion on it. It’s not a classic, and I suspect I’ll never think of it again after editing this podcast, but it’s a highly entertaining hour and a half that’s frequently rather funny indeed, assuming of course your humour skews that way. Can’t say much more about it than that.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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