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With: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lance Henriksen, Yancy Butler, Kasi Lemmons, Wilford Brimley, Ted Raimi
Written by: Chuck Pfarrer
Directed by: John Woo
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 97
Date: 08/20/1993

Hard Target (1993)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Thrill of the Chase

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of my greatest guilty pleasures, Hard Target provided a conundrum. It was John Woo's eagerly awaited American debut, but it was also the latest in a series of silly Jean-Claude Van Damme films. Indeed, the movie has countless problems. Based loosely on the story "The Most Dangerous Game," the movie introduces us to Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen), a New Orleans bad guy who charges people lots of money for the privilege of hunting down homeless veterans. One such vet had a daughter, Natasha Binder (Yanci Butler), whom the bad guys didn't know about; she hires Chance Boudreaux (Van Damme) to help find her dad. Although she's very easy on the eyes, Butler "plays the entire movie with a single expression on her face" (to quote Michael J. Weldon from "Psychotronic Video").

Van Damme has a ridiculous mullet-head haircut that was outdated when the movie opened, not to mention Graeme Revell's over-produced quasi-Cajun wailing guitar soundtrack. Even worse, Wilford Brimley shows up for no good reason with a fake Cajun-New Orleans accent. But Woo makes a silk purse out of a sow's ear with his great-looking, smooth, swooping action scenes. The camera moves with the action, instead of against it, and the clean, crisp editing is superb. The shootout in the warehouse full of Mardi Gras floats is a winner, and Woo captures a palpable Louisiana atmosphere. Sam Raimi and Terence Chang were among the many producers.

Kino Lorber finally released the long-awaited International Cut, which, the commentary track informs us, is arguably the closest thing we'll get to an official director's cut. According to the box, it's 100 minutes, or, just a little over 99 minutes, which is about 3 minutes longer than the R-rated theatrical cut. (A 128-minute rough cut and a 116-minute test-screening print are said to exist.) It includes several sequences of gore and violence that hit just a little bit harder than in the R-rated cut, but it's still the same terrific film. The helpful commentary track is by action film historians (is that a job?) Brandon Bentley and Mike Leeder. There are a batch of interviews, with Woo, Henriksen, Butler, and stunt coordinator Billy Burton, as well as a bunch of trailers. Highly Recommended.

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