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I usually look forward to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s movies, mostly because I know Van Damme has not followed in the footsteps of fellow fallen action icon Steven Seagal, who has, simply, stopped trying, and has been for the last few years. Van Damme’s last outing, the military actioner “Second in Command” had its problems, but it was, for the most part, entertaining enough, and you “got” that the filmmakers were trying. “The Hard Corps”, Van Damme’s second movie in 2006 (a rarity for him), re-teams the Muscles from Brussels with Sheldon Lettich, the director/writer on many of the movies that made up Van Damme’s former Hollywood glory days.
Van Damme plays Phillip Sauvage, an American soldier suffering from some serious Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder stemming from his time in Iraq . Sauvage snaps out of his stupor just long enough to join Bowden (Julian Christopher), his former C.O., to work the bodyguard detail of ex-heavyweight boxing champ and now successful businessman Wayne Barclay (Razaaq Adoti, also in “Second in Command”). It appears that the release of a notorious rap mogul from prison has caused Wayne ‘s sister Tamara (Vivica A. Fox, “Kill Bill”) to take pro-active action, as the mogul (Viv Leacock) has made threats in the past about doing away with the one man responsible for his incarceration — Wayne Barclay.
The first night of bodyguard work does not go well for Sauvage and Bowden, as the latter gets mowed down during an assassination attempt on Wayne by a Hummer full of Uzi-carrying gangbangers sent by, of course, the mogul. It’s up to Sauvage to continue the good fight, which means bringing in re-enforcement in good ol boy Casey (Mark Griffin) and training some new recruits not of his choosing. In an effort to “give back” to the streets that taught him toughness, Wayne insists that Sauvage compose his team of “hard corps” bodyguards by using the riff raffs from his ( Wayne ‘s) gym, including a 3-feet tall girl with frizzy hair. Which leads me to think that this guy isn’t taking his life very seriously, but I digress.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the script by Lettich and George Saunders is not made of very sturdy stuff. For one, it makes no sense that Van Damme and his ex-Army C.O., by virtue of having fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, would be considered “the best of the best” when it comes to executive bodyguarding. Early in the film, Tamara expects Sauvage and Bowden to guard her brother while remaining unseen at all times. Yeah, it’s gonna be kinda hard taking a bullet for the client when you’re standing 50 feet away from said client, Tamara. “The Hard Corps” also suffers from 10 superfluous minutes involving the awkward insinuation of romance between Sauvage and Tamara and a backstory about Sauvage’s maybe-maybe not murdering of civilians during the war.
For an action movie, “The Hard Corps” is curiously slow-moving. There is one action sequence about 20 minutes into the film, but the second one doesn’t come around until almost the hour mark. Since the film clocks in at about 100 minutes, one assumes Lettich thought he had plenty of time to play around before, as they say, stuff blows up real good. Unfortunately for Lettich, he’s forgotten that direct-to-video action movies should never exceed 90 minutes, and there should be an explosion, or someone’s arm gets broken, at least once every 10 minutes. To deny the audience these things would be not living up to the genre’s middling expectations, which “The Hard Corps”, unfortunately, does not.
The film’s best action sequence has nothing to do with all the assassination attempts on Wayne or even the (awkwardly staged) all-out action finale, but rather a mano-a-mano “discussion” between client and bodyguard about Sauvage’s severance pay in Wayne’s gym late in the film. In the scene, Van Damme and Adoti flex the right combination of raw machismo and grit, and their scene provides a nice break from the film’s amusingly lackluster screenplay and uninteresting plot points. As the Suge Knight-like villain, Viv Leacock is dead-on, but unfortunately his character isn’t given nearly enough screentime. And of course, as dictated by genre conventions, the police are absolutely of no help.
“The Hard Corps” is not nearly as good as Van Damme’s previous outing, the siege action movie “Second in Command”, owing in no small part to Van Damme’s seemingly lack of commitment to the cause. As with “Second in Command”, Van Damme seems perpetually stuck in a haze throughout “The Hard Corps”, giving the impression he didn’t really want to be on set. Regardless of the leading man’s lack of charisma, at least he can still say he actually reads his scripts before accepting the job, something fellow former action stars Steven Seagal and, to an extent, Wesley Snipes can’t claim. Although this latest direct-to-video actioner is very much an unambitious effort from the Muscles from Brussels , I would still pick up his next film instead of the 5 or 6 Seagal will have put out before then.
Sheldon Lettich (director) / Sheldon Lettich, George Saunders (screenplay)
CAST: Jean-Claude Van Damme …. Phillip Sauvage
Vivica A. Fox …. Tamara Barclay
Razaaq Adoti …. Wayne Barclay
Aaron Au …. Kim
Viv Leacock …. Terrell
Mark Griffin …. Casey Bledsoe
Julian Christopher …. Clarence Bowden