HARD TARGET 2 Hunts Down Some Decent Low Budget Action

Scott Adkins does some kicks in JCVD’s shoes.

Hard Target 2 isn’t a very good sequel to Hard Target, but it is a fairly serviceable remake of Surviving the Game. Not that the Ice-T movie invented the humans hunting humans subgenre. It’s just that Hard Target 2’s story of a washed up loser hunted by rich pricks out in the woods (or jungle, in this case) has a lot more in common with the specifics of that film than John Woo’s 1993 movie, which used human hunting as a plot device rather than the actual plot.

So anyone expecting ties or similarities to Hard Target will be disappointed. There are inexplicable doves flying in slow motion (some are even in Adkins’ bed when he sleeps for some reason), but that’s about the only sequel touch we get here. Instead, this just is a no-frills human hunt movie capitalizing on the title.

Adkins stars as Wes Baylor, a fighter who has exiled himself to Bangkok after accidentally killing his best friend in the ring. He’s a broken drunk just getting by with low-level local fights. Until, of course, rich guy Aldrich (Robert Knepper) shows up offering him a million bucks for a huge fight in Myanmar. Naturally, this turns out to be a fight for Baylor’s life.

Hard Target 2’s villains are its biggest weakness. The film makes a respectable attempt to offer a variety of characters in its hunting party. There’s a tough lady, a matador, a tech nerd, and a father-son team (just like Surviving the Game!), and the structure revolves around Adkins taking them all out, which is good. But none of them ever feel all that vibrant or as cool as they should. Even hunt leaders Robert Knepper and Temuera Morrison - two normally good actors - come off as mostly forgettable.

The villains also fail to capture that twisted nobility these hunt movies require. The whole idea is to prove your own worth by hunting, you know, “the most dangerous game”, but this crew stacks the deck too high in their favor for that to come through. They’re armed with high tech weaponry, have a gazillion vehicles at their disposal, enjoy the backing of a small army, and even sabotage poor Scott Adkins with a tracking device he doesn’t know about. The set up doesn’t allow for much of a challenge on their part. I mean, Adkins kicks their asses anyway, but still.

Nevertheless, the film is fun once the hunt gets going, which takes a good half hour. Luckily, that half hour is filled with prize fights, so it all works out. Adkins is in top form here, getting in lots of those crazy slow motion kicks he’s known for and plowing through action choreography like a pro. The film doesn’t have any show-stopper scenes, but there is an attempt to keep the action clear and visible. Very little of it is obscured by editing.

And it’s a simple, easy pleasure watching all these jackasses get killed, even if they aren’t that great and Adkins doesn’t go at them with much emotion. I keep mentioning Surviving the Game because that remains the high water mark for how you do this at the b-movie level. It had the benefit of more character actors, but it was also far more inventive with its action and gave us a protagonist with whom we emphasized. Hard Target 2 never sells us Adkins’ fear, which means the movie lacks tension and instead offers simply a series of action beats.

Those action beats are well done, though, and Hard Target 2 definitely gets the most out of its small budget. The film is too technically competent to be bad, necessarily, but far too bland to be considered exciting either. Instead it remains stuck somewhere right in the middle, never going far enough in either direction to establish its own character or identity.

Hard Target 2 will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD on September 6.