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Hard Target Review

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A soldier investigates the disappearance of homeless ex-servicemen only to discover they are being used in a sick urban safari. He then goes on to track down the leader with a beautiful sidekick and rescue the soldiers.

★★★★★

Having flown Hong Kong on the assumption that the post-takeover communist Chinese cinema won't have room for his strangely sentimentalised action movies, John Woo has pitched up in America with a pared-down vehicle for Van Damme and a plot directly lifted from that infallible chestnut, The Most Dangerous Game.

Investigating the disappearance of homeless combat veterans in New Orleans, merchant seaman Chance Boudreaux (Van Damme) discovers that the reliably fiendish Lance Henriksen is organising deadly games of touch tag for high-paying hunters who go on urban safari and slaughter selected ex-soldiers. With a deadweight heroine (Butler) in tow, Van Damme heads for the bayoux where, it is helpfully explained, he picked up his accent. Henriksen and a scurvy crew of killers follow, searching for a site for the spectacular finale. Satisfyingly, they find a warehouse full of rotting carnival floats, and the whole cast gets whittled down by shotgun, grenade, dynamite, arrow, fire and fist.

Though it lacks the epic feel and melodramatic sincerity of Woo's Oriental movies, this is nevertheless first-rate action. Van Damme is well-served by the Woo style, with slow motion inserts of his fancy moves as he drop-kicks a hood off a motorcycle and such wonderfully camp moments as Jean-Claude ordering the heroine to shut her eyes and pucker her lips so he can snatch a rattlesnake off her shoulder.

The early sections fall over banal dialogue and hackneyed plot but once the fighting starts things never let up. Indeed, when it comes to staging crashes, shoot-outs, massacres and explosions, Woo is a poet, and this allows him to exercise his muse to such an extent that the most reserved and British of audiences will be howling for blood.

Enjoyable from start to finish, this throw-away action flick does what it says on the tin.

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