Stars: Scott Adkins, Robert Knepper, Rhona Mitra, Temuera Morrison, Ann Truong, Adam Saunders, Jamie Timony, Peter Hardy, Sean Keenan, Troy Honeysett | Written by Matt Harvey, Dominic Morgan, George Huang | Directed by Roel Reine
Take one classic 90s action movie, featuring one of the most iconic action heroes of the decade and directed by a king of the genre. Throw in a two-decade wait and a British action star who is almost single-handedly keeping the old-school DTV vibe alive (and doing a damn good job of it may I add); and you have Hard Target 2.
Twenty-three years. Has it really been that long? I remember the hype around John Woo’s Hard Target – you couldn’t pick up an issue of Impact Magazine for a least a year beforehand without some mention of the film amongst its pages. It’s actually very surprising that we didn’t get a sequel sooner. After all, Universal spent most of the early 2000′s cracking out direct-to-DVD sequels to a LOT of its successful (and not-so successful) genre movies. So why not this one? On the plus side, the long wait has allowed Adkins to make a name for himself as a genre actor with a following and, more importantly, cultivate a bloody good action-movie skillset. He may not be “Van Damme” famous but to genre fans Adkins is certainly “the man” these days.
The plot of Hard Target 2 is, like it’s predecessor, relatively simple. Adkins character, Wes “The Jailor” Baylor, is a former MMA fighter who retires following the accidental death of an opponent in the ring. Fighting for cash in underground street fights, Baylor is approached by a man, Aldrich (played in typical sleazeball fashion by Robert “T-Bag” Knepper), offering him a second chance a MMA glory. But there’s a catch AND a twist! For the fight is set to take place in Myanmar with a $500k payday, but – and there’s always a but – there actually is no fight. Instead Baylor finds himself tricked into becoming the target of a man-hunt. Yeah, you know this isn’t going to bode well… For the hunters!
I specifically made mention of the previous Universal direct-to-market sequels as this film, like DTV titles such as Death Race 2, The Marine 2, Scorpion King 3 and 12 Rounds 2, is helmed by Dutch filmmaker Roel Reine. Somewhat of an everyman director, Reine has – in his Hollywood career – specialised in picking up the mantel of genre films from their original cast and crew and creating decent franchise films on low budgets. In some cases he’s failed terribly – Scorpion King 3 I’m looking at you – and in others, Death Race 2 and it’s sequel, he’s made films actually BETTER than the original (but then the two DR sequels had great scripts by Tony Giglio). Of course no-one could possibly hope to see a direct-to-market film hit the highs of John Woo’s action movie oeuvre, especially working with the kinds of low-budgets this film was apparently made for!
Instead Reine crafts a solid, by the numbers action movie that – whilst not as stylish as the original (the New Orleans bayou setting would take some beating), is still a satisfying entry into the franchise, showing off the skills AND acting chops of star Scott Adkins and satisying the groundwork set up in Woo’s film. Though to be fare to Adkins and co. there’s something not quite right about a Hard Target movie without the OTT iconic villainy seen in the original. Sadly Robert Knepper, no matter how sleazy, manic and evil his character gets, is never going to match up to the team of Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo.
Or course there’s no way anyone would make a sequel to a John Woo movie without homaging the legendary director in some way and Hard Target 2 is no different. Reine throws in doves (who randomly “hangout” in Baylor’s room, flying off when he wakes – which makes no sense but hey, it’s a homage right?); a stylish but brief gunfight; some Van Damme-esque stretchy jeans high kicks; and a ton of super slow-mo. But for the most part this is a a star vehicle for Adkins, NOT a wannabe John Woo movie (honestly it could easily have been another The Condemned sequel rather than a Hard Target one)
If you’re a fan of the original film, action movies, and/or Scott Adkins, Hard Target 2 is essential addition to your collection. The film is out now on DVD and Digital HD. But why no UK Blu-ray release Universal? After all, the US got one…
Sidenote: There have been calls for genre fans – like myself – to support such genre fare by buying the DVD and/or the Digital HD release of this film. Why? Because, sadly and in this particular case, Hard Target 2 hit the torrents faster than a blue-arsed fly, jeopardising the future of such movies. After all, this isn’t the 90s where films of this nature could guarantee great returns on VHS. So, do like I did, hit iTunes and buy the film now!