Catching Up: Hardcore Henry (2016)
Director: Ilya Naishuller
Cast: Sharlto Copely, Daniala Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Tim Roth, and Henry
Hardcore Henry is nothing more than 90 minutes straight of non-stop, bloody, gruesome, savage violence. What little story there is here makes little to no sense, and we never once give a rat’s ass about the main character, largely because we not only never hear his voice, but we also don’t see his face until one very brief moment during the film’s endless climax. The movie is, as promised by the trailers, shot entirely from the title character’s point of view; it’s basically a cinematic first person shooter video game. While it’s certainly a unique approach, if this is the best that can be done with the technique, then I pray to God that it’s never used again.
The movie begins providing some semblance of backstory for the main character. Mainly, we’re told that he was bullied as a child and that his father (an embarrassed looking Tim Roth) once told him, “You….little…..pussy!” There was actually more to the conversation than that, but we don’t hear it until the very end. Anyway, Henry wakes up in some lab in a dirigible floating high in the skies above Russia, and is having robot parts being put onto his severed limbs by a woman named Estelle (an awful Haley Bennett), who claims to be his wife. So now Henry is half-man/half-cyborg. Who was he before? How did he wind up in the lab in such horrible condition? The movie doesn’t care enough to explain, so I guess I won’t care either.
Roughly five minutes pass when the lab is raided by a bad dude named Akan (a painfully over-the-top Daniala Kozlovsky), who has some unexplained telekinetic powers, and who wants to use Estelle’s technology to raise his own army of super soldiers. Henry and Estelle manage to get away by using an escape pod and landing in the middle of traffic. Down there waiting for them is some of Akan’s goons, who kidnap Estelle and try to finish Henry off. Henry is saved by a helpful chap named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley, who is all new levels of hammy), who wants to aid Henry on his quest, and who keeps showing up no matter how many times he’s killed. Every time Jimmy shows back up, he comes back as a different personality. There’s the shy and timid Jimmy; there’s the perverted, coke-snorting Jimmy; and there’s the free-loving hippy Jimmy. The movie eventually explains all of this, and while it’s really stupid, it does lead to one of the most entertainingly bizarre musical numbers that I can ever remember seeing.
That’s pretty much all that can be said about the plot. There’s a big twist revealed in the end, but it is so easy to guess, and it has the movie conclude on a fairly repugnant note. Up until then, we’re treated to scene after scene after scene of people getting shot, dismembered, slashed, blown to bits, burned alive, and literally ripped open. At one point, Henry rips out his own eyeball to decapitate a bad guy (don't even ask). There’s even one particularly lovely scene where Henry takes out a rapist cop (all the cops in this movie are evil) by squeezing his balls until they burst and shoving a pipe down his throat. What’s more is that it never stops! Bad guys come out of only God knows where so the filmmakers can keep the carnage going, and if there are any innocent bystanders nearby, you can certainly bet that they’re going to be blown to bits as well.
There comes a point where this stops being entertaining and simply becomes downright nauseating. The technique only makes things worse. While some of stunts are impressively filmed, the majority of the movie is visually painful to watch. The camera shakes so violently at times that it’s enough to elicit motion sickness from the audience. Even the many explosions in the film are quite chintzy, although given that the film was made on a really low budget, I suppose I should be more forgiving about that (but I’m not going to be).
Look, I love action movies. I even love really violent action films. I enjoyed Mad Max: Fury Road and The Raid 2 and 2013’s The Last Stand, and I LOVED Die Hard and Terminator 1 & 2 and Lethal Weapon and John Woo’s The Killer. Those were action movies with characters that I remembered, story lines that were interesting, and action scenes that were exciting and lots of fun. Those six movies are real action movies. Hardcore Henry is just an exercise in sadism, and one that’s built around a gimmick that it simply cannot support.
Rated R for non-stop bloody brutal violence, profanity, sexual content, nudity, drug use
Final Grade: ½ * (out of ****)