The Hard Corps (August 7/06)
Generally speaking, Jean-Claude Van Damme has proven to be far more adept at choosing projects than his '80s action counterpart Steven Seagal. The two have made their fair share of straight-to-video junk over the years, but it's clear that Van Damme is at least trying to do good work (Seagal, on the other hand, has evidently given up completely and now insists upon a stunt double for most of his fight scenes).
The Hard Corps reunites Van Damme with his Double Impact director Sheldon Lettich, and the film almost immediately establishes itself as a surprisingly accomplished and flat-out entertaining contemporary effort from the fading action star. Van Damme stars as Philippe Sauvage, a shell-shocked war veteran who is hired to protect former boxer Wayne Barclay (Raz Adoti) after the ruthless gangster that he helped put away is released from prison. Screenwriters Lettich and George Saunders also serve up a variety of needless subplots - including Philippe's tentative relationship with Wayne's sister - that serve no purpose other than to pad out of the film's egregiously overlong running time (110 minutes!)
Although Van Damme hardly does any hand-to-hand fighting in The Hard Corps, there's simply no denying that the film feels like a return to form for the Muscles from Brussels. Lettich infuses the proceedings with a refreshingly simple sense of style that's devoid of the overblown pyrotechnics most films of this ilk seem to possess, including a significant number of Van Damme's recent efforts (ie Second in Command, In Hell, etc). And while the movie isn't even remotely as violent or gruesome as one might've liked - where are all the squibs? - Lettich effectively keeps things interesting by placing the emphasis on quirky supporting characters (ie the film's villain feeds chunks of an inept underling to his dogs) and oddball bursts of dialogue (a friend of Philippe asks him how long it's been since he's had his "ham glazed").
There's little doubt that The Hard Corps would have fared a whole lot better had it been shortened by at least a half hour, but really, one is in pretty good shape if that's the most glaring flaw within a straight-to-video actioner such as this.