(Original Publication Date: September 6th, 2016) By: John M Jerva
REVIEW: HARD TARGET 2
STARRING: Scott Adkins, Robert Knepper, and Rhona Mitra
DIRECTED BY: Roel Reiné
Synopsis: MMA Fighter Wes “The Jailor” Baylor has just won a huge match but he doesn’t have time to celebrate because his opponent, who also happens to be a good friend, dies in the ring after the match. Stricken with guilt and regret, Baylor exiles himself to Thailand where he survives by fighting in underground tournaments for cash which he spends on alcohol to drown his problems away.
Everything changes however when at one of his fights, Baylor is approached by a mysterious man named Aldrich (Knepper). Aldrich likes what he sees from Baylor and offers him a one in a million opportunity to fight for a large purse. Baylor refuses at first but then changes his mind and accepts the match to help the widow of his dead friend.
The situation goes from bad to worse when Baylor arrives to the site and realizes that he has been suckered into a trap. Aldrich is not a fight promoter but rather is a businessman who runs a game where the wealthy can hunt people for sport. There is no escape and Baylor must play by Aldrich’s rules and try to stay alive.
Now Baylor is in the match of his life as he must elude the band of killers and an army of soldiers if he is going to see another day. But Aldrich and his men are going to discover that he picked the wrong person to hunt. Baylor is going to turn the tables and turn the hunters into the hunted. He’s going to show them why he’s called a Hard Target!
THE REVIEW: Watch It, Own It Or Forget It: After giving us a supporting role in his last film Jarhead 3: The Siege, Scott Adkins is finally front and center again in the sequel to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s original Hard Target. While many are going to compare this one to the original, it’s important to remember that this is a different movie and on its own, Hard Target 2 is an action-packed worthy successor to the first film.
Scott Adkins plays Wes “The Jailor” Baylor and this time he plays a damaged man who has nothing left to lose. In most of Adkins’ films, he is firmly in control but this time, he shows a level of vulnerability that we are not used to and it works. It’s only when Baylor is thrown into this absurd situation where he must decide whether he wants to live or die that he takes control and realizes there is something to live for. Adkins is at his fighting best too shining in numerous martial arts fight sequences that showcase his trademark moves that everyone loves. This is a Scott Adkins film and you get what you paid for!
The rest of the cast lead by Robert Knepper, best known for TV’s Prison Break and Rhona Mitra (The Last Ship) bring up the rear and do a fine job. Knepper’s turn as the villainous Aldrich channels Lance Henriksen in the original. Knepper knows how to play a scumbag and he does it well. Mitra is basically the female version of Arnold Vosloo’s Pik van Cleef from the first one. Her character of Sofia has some major daddy issues and that makes her very dangerous. The rest of the cast is mostly forgettable, but that is OK because this is a Scott Adkins’ movie and that’s who you paid to see.
The film definitely has a bigger budget than most of Adkins’ films and it shows in the stunning cinematography. Thailand is it’s own character and we are treated to some breathtaking locales. Where Adkins’ Close Range was a bare bones action-thriller, Hard Target 2 is the extreme opposite.
The action in Hard Target 2 is exciting and well paced. Where the original was mostly a shoot-em-up with some martial arts sequences, this sequel does the other and turns it into a martial arts film with dazzling action sequences peppered throughout the film. Adkins is an awesome on screen fighter and director Roel Reiné knows this and utilizes the action star to the delight of the audience. The first twenty minutes alone is filled with numerous hand to hand fight scenes and they are awesome. It’s when we get into the hunt in the middle of the film that we get a little bit more in terms of action. There isn’t as much shooting, which may put off some people, but Hard Target 2 makes up for it with Adkins doing what he does best.
There is quite a deal of respect shown to the original as well. Just like Van Damme’s film, we get the blistering slo-mo action shots of Adkins and crew delivering the carnage on a massive level. We even get John Woo’s signature white doves flying through the air at certain dramatic moments. A nice touch indeed.
Putting it all together, Hard Target 2 is not trying to re-create the original. Many are going to compare it to the original, and that would be a mistake. It is its own film and it knows it. Scott Adkins is back doing what he does best. This is 105 minutes of pure escapist entertainment. For those of you like me waiting to see Adkins kick ass on screen, you won’t be disappointed as the action star dellivers the bone crunching goods to please the intended audience to which I am one of them. As a sequel, Hard Target 2 does what you want it to, and that’s show Scott Adkins deivering the pulse pounding fisticuffs before the credits role!
VERDICT: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS