Hard Target 2 (2016)

Hard Target 2 (2016)- * * *

Directed by: Roel Reine

Starring: Scott Adkins, Rhona Mitra, Temuera Morrison, Ann Truong, and Robert Knepper

Wes Baylor (Adkins) is on a career trajectory that could be the case for anyone: He was a Las Vegas-based MMA fighter, he accidentally kills his buddy in the ring during a fight, he feels bad, he starts drinking and hits the skids, he begins Punchfighting in Bangkok, and an unscrupulous baddie tricks him into hunting him for sport. Could happen to anybody. Of course, said baddie, Jonah Aldrich (Knepper) has a hunting party with him in the Burmese jungle that also enjoy hunting the greatest prey of all…MINK! Oh wait, no. MAN! These hunting compatriots include a gaggle of stereotypes such as the Weak Link, the Millennial Video Game Designer, the Tough Chick, A Spanish Bullfighter, an Australian Outback (?)-style hunter, and the dad trying to toughen up said Weak Link. 

Aldrich has his second-in-command, Madden (Morrison) as the tough guy of the group. Aldrich is paying off the Burmese authorities with suitcases full of cash, but there’s also a cache of rubies at stake. When the initially down-and-out Baylor (whose MMA nickname was “The Jailor”, which is actually spelled correctly) finds an innocent country girl named Tha (Truong) in the jungle, he finally finds he has something to fight for, and he unleashes his power on the Aldrich group. Will Baylor be a HARD TARGET 2 Aldrich?

While Hard Target 2 is not a bad movie, it doesn’t live up to the potential that a Hard Target sequel starring the great Scott Adkins promises. It’s certainly better than previous Adkins vehicles such as El Gringo (2012), but even seeing this movie for the first time feels like watching a repeat. If we may compare it to a superior Adkins film, Green Street 3 (2013), that one was like admiring a brilliant piano player, while Hard Target 2 is like watching a player piano. It hits all the right notes on cue, but that’s about it. 

It has absolutely beautiful Thai locations, and thankfully the production values are high, but exactly how many Most Dangerous Game/Surviving the Game movies need to be made at this point? Should we be happy that the DTV industry is still making these or not? It depends on your tolerance for a lack of a creative or original plot, or if you just really like the whole “hunting humans in the jungle” thing. There have to be fans out there of it…but how many to justify yet another one?

It all starts right away with a nice bang (complete with some funny yelling), and the whole outing has plenty of action. That being said, the 104-minute running time could have been chopped down a bit. The always-enjoyable Adkins has some great fighting moves on display, but we missed his natural British accent. How come the Burmese country girl had one but he wasn’t allowed to have one? (We think we may have detected a few instances where it slipped through, however).

There are several references to the earlier Hard Target film, from the use of slow motion, to the casting of Robert Knepper as the baddie, probably because he physically resembles Lance Henriksen. Not that Knepper isn’t great in his own right, but the resemblance does give this sequel a sort of continuity to the earlier film.

Director Reine’s filmography is pretty rife with sequels to other people’s movies (or his own), but he’s notable (?) for directing the Connecticut-shot Seagal vehicle Pistol Whipped (2008) – also starring Lance Henriksen. Fun facts aside, Hard Target 2 is another in a long line of movies of this sort that include everything from Death Ring (1992) to Soldiers of Fortune (2012), and countless other examples. 

The action is there, Adkins is there, the production values are there – just a tad bit of originality would have gone a long way, because it’s not there. Linking this with the earlier Hard Target in viewers’ minds may have been shrewd, but another title might have been a better move. But that’s unlikely to have happened, because the sign on the door here is apparently, “no originality, no problem”.

Still, we should be happy this came out in the U.S. It seems like something that would be exclusively made for foreign markets. If you’re willing to forgive the almost impressive lack of originality here and just concentrate on the Adkins action, Hard Target 2 is certainly worth seeing.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Savage (1996)

Savage (1996)- * *1\2

Directed by: Avi Nesher

Starring: Oliver Gruner, Kario Salem, Kristin Minter, Jennifer Grant, and Sam McMurray

A humble farmer named Alex (Gruner) has his life turned upside down when one day evil baddies show up at his ranch and kill his wife and son, seemingly for no reason. In no time at all, Alex becomes a “Savage” – living in a cave, foraging for food, water, and shelter, and eating ants like Tic-Tacs. He also has superhuman strength and the ability to jump long/high distances. Meanwhile, Titan Corporation is giving the world the latest in VR technology. Its president, Reese Burroughs (Salem) is a demented nutjob who is convinced the ancient gods of Atlantis are currently chillin’ in the internet. 

Marie Belot (Minter) is his henchwoman but has doubts about all the craziness going on around her. It seems many goons - possibly dispatched by Titan Corp - have set out to find and kill Alex, who in the meantime has teamed up with a policelady named Nicky (Grant). Will Alex and Nicky be able to stop Burroughs, who is willing to destroy mankind in order to achieve immortality? Find out when the SAVAGE meets the sophisticated computer tech of 1996…

Savage is the type of movie you would have seen on Cinemax, The Movie Channel, or any of the other American pay channels back in the 90’s. It also seems like it might have aired on the Sci-Fi Channel before it stupidly changed its name to Syfy (which we pronounce as “siffy”). Sure, the movie makes little sense, but who really cares? Low-budget sci-fi or horror movies that make too much sense are usually boring. 

They descend into procedural slogs because the filmmakers are obsessed with “making sense”. The problem is, on the flipside of that coin, if a movie makes too little sense for too long, the audience will give up and get bored. Thankfully, Savage skirts that particular fate, but just barely.

Director Nesher, who worked with our old buddy Olivier Gruner again that same year with Mercenary (1996) – and also is known for “Comeuppance Classics” such as Timebomb (1991) and The Taxman (1999) here tries his own take on The Terminator (complete with Gruner wearing a similar leather jacket to Arnie as he tears up L.A.), but imagine if The Terminator was written by Erich Von Daniken after an LSD binge. 

Okay, Savage isn’t THAT good, but it makes the same amount of sense as that project might have made. That being said, Schwarzenegger was never referred to as “Goat Boy”, as Gruner is here, owing to his barnyard-like smell, but our memories could be a bit off on that one.

But before he becomes known as Goat Boy, the transformation of Gruner from Family Man to Caveman is rather swift and without explanation. What passes for explanation in the scenes to follow don’t help matters much. Because it was the 90’s, VR was incredibly hot and seemingly every DTV movie of this era dealt with it in one way or another. But Savage is perhaps the only VR-based action outing to have ghostly-white spirit people made of the pure energy of mankind. Or something like that. 

Another question: is this movie supposed to take place in the future? If so, why do people have pagers? The whole outing is a mess of a jumble of a mishmash, but we suppose that’s all part of the fun. Plus it has funny dubbing and the VR world looks like the video game Lethal Enforcers. Imagine being IN Lethal Enforcers. Pretty cool, right? But why is Gruner a savage caveman? We think we may know, but, anyway…

Gruner gets to show off his fighting skills in the jail scene, the biker scene, and the internet cafĂ© scene, but it’s his aforementioned great jumps that truly steal the movie. The rural scenes feature some great scenery as well, which is worth noting. Many of the characters are named after authors, which is rather obvious, as there are people in the movie named Allen Poe, Edgar Wallace, Verne, Spillane, and Burroughs. Okay, we get it. But what possible literary inspiration could this mess of a movie have sprung from? If you have any ideas, please let us know.  We’d love to read it.

In the end, Savage represents the more unorthodox end of the 90’s DTV action spectrum. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on your tolerance for loose ends and cinematic chaos. To the movie’s credit, it must be said that they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. For that reason alone, Savage is, at the very least, a one-time watch.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty