3 1/2 Stars
For all wall-to-wall action and martial arts mayhem you’d be hard pressed to beat Hard Target 2. Once again reinvigorating a discarded franchise is director Roel Reiné, the Paul Greengrass of the straight-to-DVD world. Like Greengrass, Reiné should be off crafting important works of cinema instead of toiling away in the action genre, but as a fan I appreciate him for lending his skills and craftsmanship to silly tales of ‘one-man army’ heroics. Twenty-three years after Van Damme tore through the Bayou with Lance Henriksen in pursuit, B-movie action icon Scott Adkins headlines the Van Damme-less sequel that supplants the action from the swamps of Louisiana to the jungles of Miramar.
Max Baylor is a former MMA champ who killed his best friend/opponent in a televised bout gone awry. Seeking solace in Bangkok by fighting for low-pay and free alcohol, Max gets invited to participate in a big time fight with a million dollar purse to the victor. The bout is scheduled to take place in Miramar and while Max is skeptical the money from the purse has been ear marked for a beachfront home that his deceased friend always dreamed of owning.
Once on the ground in the hostile Burma jungle Max realizes that ‘fight promoter’ Aldrich (Robert Knepper) has set-up a hunt and that the former fighter is the target. Six ultra-rich hunters, including a bullfighter, a father/son duo, a Zuckerburg type video game guru, and a sultry oil baroness (Rhona Mitra), have paid an exorbitant fee to bring down a prey that has the cunning and strength to fight back.
While on the loose Baylor is aided by a girl from the local village, her brother was also a victim to Aldrich and his assassin’s game, and she helps Max outmaneuver the novice hunters fumbling through the dense jungle foliage. A memory card with secretly recorded video footage of the illegal hunt is Max’s only chance of exposing Aldrich and his operation, if he can stay alive long enough to make it to the border.
Hard Target 2 has three superbly handled set-pieces and the final 25 minutes is pure fun with a finale set on a bridge that is effective, clean, and simple. Even at 103 minutes, seven minutes longer than the original, the film never feels long or stretched. Villain Robert Knepper appears to have channeled Lance Henriksen and it actually works in effectively keeping with the original world created by Van Damme and John Woo over two decades ago.
Keen eyed fans with a deep knowledge of the genre will have a blast spotting the references to classics like Lionheart, Rambo, and the super-bikes from Delta Force. Reiné also takes the opportunity to pay homage to Hard Target helmer John Woo, including the appearance of the infamous white doves and close quarter hand-to-hand gunplay with outstretched arms. Hard Target 2 is not only superior entertainment, it’s the best action movie of 2016.
Director: Roel Reiné
Stars: Scott Adkins, Robert Knepper, Rhona Mitra