Nat Binder (Yancy Butler) has come to New Orleans to track down the father who she hasn’t seen since she was seven years old. What she doesn’t know is that her father has recently been kidnapped and killed for sport by a wealthy hunter and Most Dangerous Game enthusiast named Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen). After a homeless veteran named Chance Bourdeaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) saves her from a group of muggers, Nat hires him to help her track down her father. This turns out to be a good decision because Fouchon is sending out his private army to track down Nat and Chance is Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Jean-Claude Van Damme has never gotten as much respect as he deserves. Even though most of his action movies were low-budget and often not very good, Van Damme was still a better actor than some of the other B-action stars of the 90s and, unlike most of his contemporaries, he could actually do most of the things that he did in the movies in real life as well. Though Van Damme may have sabotaged his career through cocaine abuse, it’s not a surprise that most action fans would welcome a Jean-Claude Van Damme comeback far more than a comeback by someone like Steven Seagal. Hard Target features Van Damme at his best, emphasizing his athleticism and contrasting his earnest acting style with the more flamboyant villainy of Lance Henriksen, who also brings his best to the role of Emil. The film also features Wilford Brimley, bringing his best to the role of Bourdeaux’s uncle. Van Damme, Henriksen, and Brimley all at their best? How could anyone turn down Hard Target?
Hard Target was the first American film of director John Woo and he proves himself to be the perfect director for the material. With Woo, every scene becomes an operatic set piece and it’s impossible to worry about any plot inconsistencies when Van Damme is gracefully jumping out of the way of bullets and missiles. Woo turns the material into a live-action comic book and, even if it’s not as good as his Hong Kong films or later American films like Face/Off, it’s still undeniably entertaining.
Hard Target is Van Damme’s best film of the 90s. Watch it on a double bill with Surviving The Game.