Hard to Believe

But the China-born exponent of romantic violence gets a few things right. For starters, he has good villains. Not as good as, say, John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire, but far more interesting and effortlessly evil than one expects of the genre. Lance Henriksen is appropriately businesslike, amoral, and sadistic as the head baddie, and Arnold Vosloo conveys pure menace as his bloodthirsty but decorous henchman. Together they make a truly terrifying tandem; you'd root for Saddam Hussein against these two.

They do their dirty work while the hero fires guns and hurtles about. Van Damme and his stunt doubles are airborne long enough to qualify for frequent-flier discounts. To his credit, Woo keeps things moving at all costs. Subtlety? That's for wimps. A kick in the crotch isn't painful enough -- Woo's protagonist rams a motorcycle into a pursuer's family jewels. The director goes through almost as many camera angles as shell casings; MTV's pace feels sluggish by comparison.

The hunters are all rich white men who kill humans for sport, and their prey are desperate, homeless combat veterans willing to risk their lives for a remote shot at a $10,000 prize if they survive. It's not The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, but the subtext of class conflict wends its way throughout the film in a much less obtrusive and more poignant fashion than it might have in some hack action director's hands.

Despite Woo's presence behind the camera, Hard Target is still very much a Van Damme movie, and as such it seems only fair to issue the following consumer alert: The hunky star doesn't disrobe until the final climactic gun battle, and then only to a sleeveless T-shirt and loose blue jeans. Consider yourselves forewarned, beefcake lovers.

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