Hard Target 2 (2016): Action Without the Woo (Review)

Scott Adkins in Hard Target 2

Hard Target 2 is a decent enough re-imagining of the John Woo/Jean-Claude Van Damme 1993 original. Somewhat fittingly, this stars Brit actor Scott Adkins, who works quite often with Van Damme.

Dutch director Roel Reiné, who specializes in helming films that are straight-to-video sequels, puts Adkins through his paces.  Robert Knepper is the Lance Henriksen character this time around and the film is set in Southeast Asia rather than New Orleans. 

Reiné throws a number of John Woo trademarks into  Hard Target 2. The doves, a villain uses two handguns, there is plenty of slow motion shots and a typical Woo “Mexican standoff” moment. And the climax of the film takes place near a large body of water…a river.

Hard Target 2 starts out in Las Vegas where Wes “The Jailer” Baylor (Adkins) inadvertently kills his best friend in a scheduled fight.  The distraught fighter ends up in Bangkok and is bare knuckle fighting for small change.

He is offered a chance to collect some a big payout from Aldrich (Knepper) and Baylor accepts the deal.  Once he arrives however, the fighter learns that it is not a fight at all. He is to be the target of a manhunt.

If he survives, Baylor will collect a lot of money but the odds are stacked against him.

A group of rich hunters  have paid for the privilege of hunting human prey.  One of these killers is Rhona Mitra (A personal favorite since Doomsday.) who could have used a lot more screen time. For a change Mitra played a baddie and, as usual, she did it well.

The film is entertaining in a sort of ‘B’ action film way.  There are plenty of fights, and even a gun battle later on.  Adkins does well in the lead role and makes a convincing stoic hero.  Knepper makes a good villain and is just evil enough to make an impression.

Reiné has put together a solid follow up to the original Woo film.  There are more than enough slow motion shots to satisfy the most ardent John Woo fan.  He also uses doves to indicate who the good guy is.

Hard Target 2 moves at a rapid clip and the action never really slows down. It is a “popcorn and soda” film meant to be enjoyed for its combative nature and the white hat versus black hat theme.

Like most ‘B’ movies the acting is a little uneven, although this may be down to the characters themselves as they are written rather than any fault of the actors themselves.  Over all though, the bad guys are really bad. It is hard to be too judgmental about villains that deserve their fates.

The film was obviously shot on location in Thailand. The jungle looks fantastically lush and forbidding as Baylor and Tha (Ann Truong) struggle to survive the hunters.

There may be nothing new here but the story gives the audience clear-cut divisions of good and evil.  It lacks the first film’s panache and the change of locale alters the message but overall everything works.

Hard Target 2 is a solid 3 star film.  It delivers a good amount of action and Adkins does a sterling job at being the hunted hero.  The action film does what it says on the label, but without the Woo. The movie is streaming on Netflix at the moment. Grab some popcorn and a soda pop and enjoy 104  minutes of escapism.

The Last Ship: Season Finale (Review)

The crew of the Nathan James setting out to cure The season finale of The Last Ship felt a bit flat after all the previous action from the week before. With no prolonged shoot-em-ups, or cat and mouse or chessboard moves between ship and sub, the episode had to focus on spreading the cure. There was still one Immune team left locally from Sean Ramsey’s group and they managed to create havoc until the leader was captured at Memphis.

There was still some pretty touching moments. Tex finds his daughter and at the end the crew hold a long toast to fallen comrades. Lt. Green finally proposes and Kevin McDowell, played by Patrick Brennan manages to pull one last dirty trick, or two, before being brought down in Tennessee.

Master Chief Jeter makes a mistake by telling his in-laws that they should avoid Vicksburg on an open line. When the Nathan James shows up at the city, under 200 people show up for the cure. Jeter confesses that he may have been somewhat responsible and the president is not too happy with the man.

This is one part of the show that felt manufactured. Jeter, as the senior enlisted man on ship, has been on-point throughout. This “lapse” may have provided a vital plot point, but overall, it did not feel characteristic of the master chief. Even worse, the decision to have the new president react so badly to Jeter’s confession, also felt false. Michener has been stepping up since Chandler, Slattery and Jeter all worked hard to get the new leader out of his deep depression.

Certainly it is to be expected that the man’s journey would not be totally smooth, but his reaction to the master chief’s admission just felt wrong. Especially after Jeter also relays his attempt to set things right. The one thing that did work out of the entire scenario was Commander Chandler’s reaction to the president’s ire. He, like the audience, conveys his disappointment at the way Michener reacts.

There are a number of other things that took away from the victory over the mercenaries being headed up by Sean and his brother Ned. The contagious cure, which the crew can now spread after getting their booster, will only work for a short time period; 8 to 10 days, after which they will no long be contagious.  The aerosol cure will only treat so many and it will use up all their stockpile.

It is interesting to see that the Immunes try to scupper the Memphis cure by dressing up as Nathan James crew members to spread the virus, once again trying to vilify the crew of the destroyer. Obviously McDowell is no Sean Ramsey and they provide no real challenge for the real crew. After Tex is reunited with his daughter Kathleen, he spies the leader of the Immunes. The away team find  even more dressed in Navy uniforms and they take action.

There is a small riot of sorts when the people amassed at Memphis try to leave but the sailors save the day by controlling the crowd, with a little help from Tex’s daughter. At the same time, McDowell and his most of his little crew are taken in or shot. Wolf Man grabs the leader and Miller gets to clothesline one of the Immunes who is trying to escape.

After their success at Memphis the crew and the ship head to St. Louis. Here the president is finally sworn in, Chandler is promoted and Scott is forgiven (pardoned) for murdering Niels. Rachel goes to see Tom and after a short chemistry laden exchange, she leaves.

A man approaches her asking about the contagious cure. He wants to know how close you have to be. As Scott tells him he is close enough, the man pulls a gun and shouting the John Wilkes Booth quote (Sic Semper Tyrannis – Death to Tyrants) he shoots Rachel and runs on.

This last act, where the crew celebrate, propose, and start to answer that age old question of “will they, won’t they”  ends on a pretty heavy duty  and last minute cliff hanger that feels almost thrown away. The series has been approved for a third season. Rather interesting when one thinks of where things finished in season two.

As the end credits roll, Rachel Scott is possibly dead, Tom Chandler has been made the head of Naval Operations, and the president reveals that things are bad across the US, South America and Europe. The Last Ship has been an interesting ride, or cruise, for two whole seasons.  It does, however,  seem hard to picture the show going on for another season in what sounds like a land-locked scenario.

Scott was heading out to Nebraska, Ohio and points west before being shot down. All that remains now is  to see if Rachel survives being shot point blank in the chest. If not, Dane will have to have another love interest introduced.  Smart money should be on Mitra’s character surviving. Rhona plays pretty tough characters some of that may have rubbed off on Scott.

*Sidenote* It would be interesting to see if Naval recruiting numbers have increased since this show has been on air. This show is nothing if not a walking talking recruiting exercise for all things Navy.  Hell, if I wasn’t so old, I’d think of enlisting.

In terms of performances? Eric Dane rocked as the commander, Adam Baldwin was grimly patriotic as the second in command and Rhona Mitra was excellent despite not being able to really fight anyone. All in all, the actors in this show rocked it. Bren Foster as Wolf Man aka SCPO Wolf Taylor and John Pyper-Ferguson as Tex, brought a lot to the table as did the rest of the cast. 

The Last Ship has finished on a very anti-climatic downer. President Michener has turned out to be a bit anal and Scott may be dead. Sure Danny and Foster are now official but overall the season finale felt a little lost. Seemingly once the Ramsey’s wound up on the sea bed a lot of the excitement wound up down there with them. Shooting Rachel seems like a device thrown in to make sure viewers come back. Not to worry TNT, the viewers should tune in if for no other reason than to see that great cast act their little cotton socks off.

The Last Ship: Cry Havoc (recap and review)

Eric Dane as Cmdr Chandler in The Last Ship Cry Havoc is the penultimate episode of The Last Ship season two. Last week saw the Nathan James lose four crew members and Sean Ramsey openly challenged his nemesis Commander Chandler. This week saw an increase in action and excitement as the destroyer and the sub face off at last. The episode also allowed Adam Baldwin as XO Slattery to get his hands dirty and prove that, like his character, Baldwin is not getting older, he is getting better.

*Sidenote* In terms of action, it is always annoying to see London born Rhona Mitra have to take a back seat to the action. One can almost see her gritting her teeth when the “menfolk” get all booted and suited to kick arse while she has to remain behind.

The crew of the Nathan James are bruised and battered this week, before they even start their face-off with the Ramsey’s and their group of international mercenaries.  Chandler decides that he is tired of playing hide and seek with the Achilles and he orders that the James flank the sub and end the whole thing “today.”

“Valkyrie” aka Valerie is being shadowed by Lt. Granderson who really does not like the technical wiz. When Val makes a joke about security Granderson jumps down her throat.  Chandler tells the president that he, Dr. Scott, the kids and a few crew members, along with the cure, will be off the ship until they have taken Ramsey’s bunch out of the picture.

President Michener is not overly pleased to be out of the action, but he goes along with the plan. Valerie points out where all the civilians are that have teamed up with the Immunes to blockade the destroyer. When it looks like the crew may have attack the civilians, something that Michener says is not acceptable, Valerie comes up with a  plan to divert the civvies to a fake sighting of the ship.

As the away team arm themselves and sort out supplies, Tex shows he is still attracted to Dr. Scott. Lt. Wilson and Lt. Green have a moment and Wilson tells him that he had better not make her raise their child on her own.

The XO tells his commander that it “really sucks” that he will not be there when Chandler sinks “that sub,” and similar to Wilson and Greens, “Lt., Lt,” greeting, the two men call each other commander after Tom hands his XO a letter for his family. Slattery calls the landing team away.

Once they reach the shore, the XO tells the group that they are on radio silence till the Nathan James tells them that the sub is dead. Back on the destroyer, Jeter and Garnett are setting up their jury-rigged sonar.

Valerie (Tania Raymondeand Granderson share a comic moment. As Val swamps her system with false leads for the Immunes and the hostile civilians, she and the Lt. have a very short chat. Granderson does not trust their new friend and Val knows it.

“Relax,” Valerie says, “I’m not a double agent. I’m on the ship too.” 

“I’m not worried,” says Granderson, “The first sign you’re not on our side, I’ll kill you myself.”

 

Valerie smiles at the Lieutenant  who stares back at her, stony-faced, and the smile slowly disappears.

The bickering Ramsey brothers continue to disagree about almost everything. When they learn, via Val’s mis-information that the Nathan James has gotten out to sea, Ned’s response is scathing.

“So much for your bloody Armada…They let a 500 foot ship get right past em,” says Ned. Sean is not fazed, “Fear not, Bruv. I’ve got a contingency on land for this very reason.”

What the leader has is a rocket battery ready to be aimed at the destroyer the moment it appears.

While the crew try to outmaneuver the British nuclear sub, the landing team set up in camp. A couple with a child wander by the tents. The woman and child are obviously sick and Dr. Scott wants to treat the child as she is now a contagious cure. Against the wishes of  Lt. Green and XO Slattery, she approaches the trio. The man, Mace, points his gun at Rachel until his wife tells him to lower it.

Rachel Scott tries her healing touch out.

Rachel touches the child and begins the healing process. The parents of the girl relay information that they got from the Immune camp (the Immunes infected their daughter by wrapping  her in  an infected blanket). They tell Slattery of the rocket battery that Sean’s men are manning and the XO takes Green and Tex to take the team out.

The last part of the episode has action aplenty with the ship and the sub competing for the upper hand. After a lot of tension, and naval jargon, the Nathan James ends up right on top of the Achilles. Each vessel then jockeys for position. The destroyer squeaks to a position to fire ahead of the sub and shoots four torpedoes at the Achilles.

The sub returns fire, which floods the magazine and limits the destroyer’s access to ammunition. With four rounds left in the five-inch guns, Chandler decides to force the sub to take the battle to the surface.

Meanwhile, back on land, Slattery, Tex and Green find the rocket battery. The XO briefs his three man team on their strategy. “Okay boys, here’s the plan. Win.”  Tex approves, “Good plan.” The men take on the seven mercenaries and a prolonged fire-fight takes place with all three of the Nathan James ground team taking hits.

Slattery heads to the mercenary manning the battery and the two go head to head. As the destroyer maneuvers for a shot, the trio on land overpower the mercenaries, “Aren’t you a little old for this,” says the one fighting with Slattery just before the XO shoves a knife into his opponent’s torso, killing him.

The XO fires rockets at the Achilles and all are direct hits. He also gets the last word, “Cheer’s a**hole.”

The Nathan James has won more than the battle with the Ramsey’s they have won the contagion war. Rachel’s touch has healed the little girl.

The sub sinks to the sea bed and we see the Ramsey brothers laying side by side. Ned is clearly gone, his glazed eyes stare at nothing. Sean sees his brother’s lifeless body and screams, “Bruv…”

Somewhat amazingly, The Last Ship took out the “big bad’ in the penultimate episode instead of the season finale. This can only mean one of two things. Either Sean Ramsey has a trick up his  sleeve, or the Immunes are still a vital threat. With one episode left in the season, there is not a  lot of time left to end the show with a huge cliffhanger.

*Sidenote*Kudos to Eric Dane, guest star Tanya Ramonde, Adam Baldwin, and Brían F. O’Byrne  as the mad leader of the mercenaries who wanted to take over America. All of the actors did well in their roles and only one bit of complaint is appropriate here, more Rhona Mitra please. Mad props to the writers again this week who got the slang and jargon so right with the British submarine crew. Well done chaps.

TNT have come up with a real winner. Something that is a combination of drama, action, and patriotic hodgepodge. The Last Ship airs Sundays and has only one more episode left in its second season. Tune in and get excited.

 

 

 

The Last Ship: Valkyrie (Review)

Sean Ramsey Brian F. O'Byrne
In this week’s episode of The Last Ship, Valkyrie, the Nathan James loses four crew members, more about that later, but they do manage to finally get one over on the mercenary crew of the Achilles. Last week saw Chandler’s crew painted as the bad guys and blamed for blowing up the flotilla. Ramsey and his communication system was used to put the destroyer and her crew in danger from the general public.

*Sidenote* Speaking of the mercenaries, this week’s installment may not have featured the leader of the Immunes for more than a minute, maybe two, but that was long enough for Irish actor Brian F. O’Byrne to prove that his Sean Ramsey is not only mad as a march hare, but he is delusional as well. Telling his brother Ned about his “manifesto” while mentioning, “You’re in there as well bruv,” Sean believes in his own prophecy wholeheartedly. Meanwhile his brother may be going along for the ride, but he is not a believer. Familiarity breeds contempt and since the “new world order” leader is his brother, Ned follows, but not willingly and without the zeal of the convert. He knows Sean all too well.

At the start of the episode, Lt. Green and his team are attempting to help survivors of the Ramsey brothers’ attack on the civilian flotilla. It is revealed that these people were not Immunes but normal survivors. The Immune they captured last week is on shore with them. The man continues to eye Tex’s gun and at the earliest opportunity he escapes. Unfortunately this is when the edited video transmits over the cell phones of the survivors.

The man pumps up the other response team who arrived to help the injured and they begin to fire at Green and his men. The team from the Nathan James do, however, pinpoint where the signal is coming from that allowed Ramsey to broadcast his damning video about Navy destroyer before they have to fight their way off the beach.

The president (Mark Moses) gives a stirring speech, exonerating the James and her crew. XO Slattery tapes the presidential message and Commander Chandler comes in as he finishes. President Michener tells Chandler, “I hope this gets where it needs to go.” The commander replies, “I’ll get it there or die trying.” As things turn out, he almost does.

Chandler takes Wolf-Man, Ravit, Burk, Granderson and a few others to the source of the signal, which is on an offshore oil rig. The team arrive and begin the sweep for the transmitter as well as shutting the rig’s lines down. Granderson looks but they cannot find the source or equipment which allows the antenna to transmit.

The Commander orders the everything destroyed. Once he announces this a woman comes clambering out from a vent and tries to escape. She is Valerie, aka Valkyrie (Tania Raymonde) and she is not an immune. During Sean Ramsey’s message earlier, the crew notice the logo Valkyrie and this is who it referred to. Valerie opted to help the Ramsey’s because she believed the conspiracy theories.

As she and Chandler discuss her beliefs, a civilian ship turns up and a man shoots RPG rounds at the rig. He causes severe damage, the rig begins exploding and the crew rush to turn off leaking valves. Just as the circling vessel moves in for another shot, the helicopter from the Nathan James shoots the boat and kills the threat. (Later Slattery is furious when he learns that Sean Ramsey forced them to kill innocents, in other words non-immune survivors.)

By the time the end credits roll, Chandler has been wounded (He has shrapnel behind his liver that he refuses to remove until after the Ramsey’s have been defeated.) and he has lost four of his crew. Rachel Scott saves Chandler’s life and it seems his animosity towards her from last week has dissipated somewhat.

The biggest moment of heartbreak comes with the death of super sexy and deadly Ravit Bivas; the Israeli special forces soldier that Burk was very interested in and vice versa. The only other death that came close to the emotional trauma of Ravit dying was the death of Chung, who dies after saving Lt. Granderson’s life.

While this episode had a good mix of action and just enough presence of the Ramsey brothers with their collective madness, it felt a little manufactured, or perhaps clichéd fits that little bit better. At the very least a few tropes were trotted out here for the viewer.

*Sidenote* It bears pointing out that the Ramsey brothers are essentially evil versions of Peachy and Danny from The Man Who Would Be King with Sean Ramsey as Danny. While O’Byrne is no Sean Connery (he’s the wrong nationality for a start) he does an impressive job as the man who plans to be the benevolent despot of the New World Order. Of course the two soldiers in the 1975 Huston classic were not brothers, but the resemblance is there for all to see.

It is hard not to roll one’s eyes when Valkyrie turns out to be a beautiful female genius. Sorry but the part of super smart beauty has already been filled by Rhona Mitra as Rachel Scott. It would have been preferred casting to have a normal looking guy or gal, rather than the gorgeous Raymonde as Valkyrie. Just as hackneyed is her instantaneous decision to back the “good guys.” Even though they saved her life, as Chandler admits, this was not altogether out of the goodness of his own heart.

The same can be said for the Immune captor jumping at the chance to drop the crew in the sh*t while helping the flotilla survivors and Chandler’s heartfelt “thank you” to Scott. Last week he was ready to line the good doctor up against the wall and shoot her.

Still, The Last Ship does entertain and the performances more than make up for the annoying storyline this week. Adam Baldwin did look like he was close to patriotic tears while listening to the president’s speech and it would be a cold hearted individual who did not tear up during Lt. Ravit Bivas’ death scene.

Not to be picky but the series needs more of the Ramsey’s and their mercenary crew. There may have been good bit of action in this episode but it lacked color and the Achilles with her bickering slang talking crew provide that in full.

The Last Ship airs Sundays on TNT, there are two episodes left in this season with no word of a third being approved. Hopefully the Nathan James will defeat the evil Ramsey’s before the season finale.

The Last Ship: Friendly Fire (recap and review)

Dr. Scott after injection on The Last Ship
Just when it seems that The Last Ship has lost its bearings, Friendly Fire turns to a little hardcore Naval action. Last week saw the Immunes using a bounty system to get the crew of the Nathan James captured or killed. It also featured the brutal, yet satisfying, death of the most despicable man in the show, Niels.

If no other lesson can be learned from watching this post-apocalyptic series, one thing has been made abundantly clear, scientists are some cold blooded people. Firstly, Niels not only infected and killed everyone he came in contact with, except for the immunes, he then set about turning teddy bears into viral dispensers. Now we have Dr. Scott who, to be fair only did what most people wanted to do, cold bloodily kill Patient Zero in last week’s episode. She then turned around and gave herself the untested vaccine knowing full well that if she got it wrong, she would die.

As the mayor says in Slither, “B*tch is hardcore.”

Although this would be unfair. Part of what makes The Last Ship work so well is its attention to detail and a timely introduction of backstory. Last week we learned that Niels, for all his “Typhoid Mary” traits, was desperately lonely. It was this, combined with his “crush” on Scott, that doomed the walking contagion to die so horrifically.

Rachel Scott watched her mother die from Malaria because her father refuses to allow the woman to be vaccinated. An event that so traumatized the young Rachel that it obviously set her on the path to scientist. It was this information, so perfectly timed in terms of delivery, that makes her action of allowing Niels to die from his own disease ridden body almost a serendipitous event or at the very least poetic justice.

*Sidenote* Not to be too picky…But Malaria? Scott is not that old and surely, missionaries, which her father obviously was, must be required to have the entire family inoculated before “spreading the word.” While there are two churches who do not believe in using doctors missionaries must still, presumably, follow vaccination laws before visiting third world countries where Scott’s mother would have encountered the malaria. Final complaint; using such an stereotypical, almost cliche, backstory for Rachel was a bit of a let down. Just saying.

The storyline this week is split into two distinct threads with a common theme. Rules, aka codes, must be followed. The Nathan James is close to “the Big Easy” and Slattery and his team are working hard to “turn” any of the just captured Immunes. One, Flea, proves to be the weak link and he finally helps decipher the cell phones’ code so Chandler’s crew can intercept Ramsey’s messages.

Running concurrently to the main storyline is the focus on Niels’ death. As Scott has flashbacks to childhood while she dissects and “cannibalizes” the body to aid her development of a vaccine delivery system, she is under investigation for Niels’ murder. The crew are divided in their support of the scientist and Chandler is keeping away from Rachel while the investigation is going on.

*Sidenote* It should be pointed out that Rachel is plagued by her act. Apart from her two childhood flashback sequences, she keeps seeing “flashes” of Niels and his death. While she is not “suffering” per se, she is feeling the guilt of her action and one gets the impression that she will never forget this deadly act of retribution.

Lt. Granderson and her team work out that the cell phones use bluetooth technology to bypass the useless cell towers. Ramsey’s Immunes are using a bluetooth game to communicate, and spread damaging propaganda, but using the phones is somewhat problematic as they must be within a 90 yard radius to operate. Later, on the Nathan James, all the crew’s cell phones are paired long distance so a damaging video can be streamed on their phones. Someone on Ramsey’s team has boosted the signal somehow.

The Ramsey’s, who have been hiding like an unwound Jack-in-the-box, suddenly make themselves known and destroy the small flotilla of survivor vessels outside New Orleans. The Achilles then fires multiple torpedoes at the Nathan James and the destroyer has to deploy rounds and chaff to deflect the guided missiles. All but one are detonated and the one straggler explodes causing damage but not to the hull which is reported to be intact.

This must class as one of the more irritating episodes of The Last Ship. While this segment could be seen as necessary, to show that the crew must follow regulations and codes, it is frustrating. The amount of time that the crew had to spend investigating the death of the vile and despicable Niels kept them from making the more important discoveries necessary to crack the cell phone problem.

Could they have prevented the deaths of so many civilians at New Orleans? Possibly, but in all likelihood it would have made no difference. As a plot point, not to mention that the mercenary’s had to act against the ship, something bad had to happen, because despite the Ramsey’s being barking mad, they still have a plan. Taking over America and destroying Chandler and the Nathan James. Had the small flotilla not been blown up, the Achilles would have still attacked, using the ships above it as both hiding place and shield.

This week also saw the new president hitting his stride in becoming the guy in charge of the country. He even passes on some wisdom to Chandler about making unpopular decisions. Eric Dane, once again, stepped up to the mark and did some brilliant acting. His final scene with Rhona Mitra, as Rachel Scott, was spot on. He manages to convey with just his facial expressions the frustration, anger, regret and disappointment he feels about Scott’s murder of Niels.

The fact that the commander of the Nathan James grew attached to and respected Scott for her determination in finding a cure for the pandemic made his decree of what amounts to quarters arrest a hard one. Although he is angry enough that she killed the one man who could have been used to effectively fight the propaganda campaign against the destroyer that he tells her, “on land” he will turn her over to the authorities to be tried properly for murder.

For the time being, the Nathan James have been boldly portrayed as the bad guys in the Ramsey’s little “winning hearts and minds” scenario allowing them, as Immunes, to be the country’s saviors and the question of Chandler and Scott in term of “will they, won’t they” has been laid to rest. At least for the foreseeable future. One gets the feeling that even once passions have cooled over the issue of Niels’ murder, the commander will never forgive Rachel for scuppering their one chance to easily fight the Ramsey’s lies.

The Last Ship airs Sundays on TNT and continues to provide excellent post apocalyptic television.