Silver Screen: Hardcore Henry *
Dismissing the new action flick Hardcore Henry as little more than watching someone else play a first-person shooter videogame seems trite and reductive.
First-person-perspective movies certainly preceded videogames. Robert Montgomery adapted and starred in Raymond Chandler’s Lady in the Lake in 1947, casting himself as the voice of gumshoe Phillip Marlowe, who appears onscreen only briefly in reflective surfaces. The effect casts the audience member as Marlowe as he interviews suspects, chases down leads, and finds the killer.
Alas, Lady in the Lake is inventive but not particularly fun to watch.
The iconoclastic Frenchman Gaspar Noé, he of Irreversible infamy, adopted first-person perspective for the audacious, indulgent, and fitfully fascinating Enter the Void. Noé employs the first-person perspective as more than a mere gimmick, or perhaps he just piles several more gimmicks atop it. The overstated but impressively ambitious film takes place from the vantage point of a well-meaning lowlife who trips on DMT for an egregiously long time before later dying in a public bathroom stall of unrelated causes. Noé postulates the practical, sensory experience of dying in a truly arresting sequence, then follows our man’s spirit as it floats around before he’s reincarnated as a new being after a pitstop in a brothel.
Noé’s separately intriguing effort to simulate a DMT trip is an overload of interesting ideas to what is already a challenging movie, and his sophomoric obsession with back-alley sex and giddy delight in essentially placing his camera inside people’s genitals makes it hard to recommend.
So while Hardcore Henry isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, there’s precedent for its existence beyond the simple notion, “What if we made a live-action first-person shooter?”
Alas, director and cowriter Ilya Naishuller has done little more than make a live-action first-person shooter. He draws far more on the aesthetics of videogames than cinema, which is ironic in an era when videogames strain to become increasingly cinematic. It’s a movie defined by weapons upgrades and characters appearing— sometimes out of nowhere, or popping up on nearby screens— to deliver explicit instructions to the camera about Henry’s next mini-mission. I was surprised nobody bothered to look into the lens and say, “Sorry, your princess is in another castle.”
As story goes, Hardcore Henry has about as much of it as your average below-average Duke Nukem sequel. Harry’s resurrected after some massive physical trauma, rebuilt as a cybernetic soldier in an awakening sequence that’s pretty much a replica of a brief sequence in the vastly superior Robocop. His scientist wife (Haley Bennett) helps him escape the clutches of an inexplicably super-powered albino named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky). King Koopa was subtler, and he was a fire-breathing, would-be-sex-offender with a spiked turtle shell.
Akan wants an army of mercenaries just like Henry— for mysterious reasons, considering he seems to be nearly invincible— so of course he kidnaps Henry’s lady and forces him to come looking for her.
Hardcore Henry is a frantic, frenetic bit of action cheese that becomes baffling and hard to watch at exactly the moments when it should be exciting. A few times it manages to play the gimmick for fun— a couple of vertiginous falls, one actually thrilling chase sequence— but mostly it’s an excuse for a loud blur of gory thrills.
Naishuller’s lone ace in the hole is Sharlto Copley, whose character keeps dying brutally only to show up again in a different form. The eventual explanation of his condition is vastly more interesting than Hardcore Henry, making a strong argument that Copley should be the star. But alas, Copley (District Nine, The A-Team) continues his streak of being the best thing in a bad movie.
Compulsory warning: Anyone made motion sick by found-footage movies might actually perish trying to sit through this movie in the theater. The nearby AMC theater even had printed signs out at the ticket booth warning that Hardcore Henry is hard to watch. They just didn’t specify that it’s true in more ways than one.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillerComedy.