The Hunted (2003)

The Hunted (2003)- * *1\2

Directed by: William Friedkin

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, and Connie Nielsen,

Aaron Hallam (Del Toro) is a Kosovo veteran and also an unstoppable killing machine. When the mentally unstable Hallam returns home to Oregon, he continues his killing spree. This grabs the attention of FBI Special Agent Abby Durrell (Nielsen), who wants to stop him. As it turns out, this particular unhinged maniac was trained by a survival expert and knife maestro named L.T. Bonham (Jones). He’s not lieutenant Bonham, he’s L.T. Bonham, as he does point out he never was actually in the military, he just used his expertise to train the recruits. Feeling guilty that his star student is now on the rampage, Bonham comes out of retirement to do one last track, which inevitably leads into the final teacher-versus-student knife fight...but who really is THE HUNTED? Maybe we’ll all find out together...

It’s First Blood (1982) meets The Fugitive (1993) meets White Ghost (1988) as Tommy Lee Jones puts on his grizzled hat once again. This was towards the beginning of what came to be known as the GeriAction trend in Hollywood, where an older generation of actors - within a certain range, mind you - wanted to try a few last punches and kicks before they kicked off this mortal coil. Everyone from Clint Eastwood to Liam Neeson to Sean Penn have tried it lately with varying degrees of success. As anyone who reads this site knows, we almost always root for the older guys. We hate young punks and we cheer when they lose. All that being said, I think it’s fair to expect more of the great director William Friedkin than what we get here. It’s all so simple, paint-by-numbers, one-dimensional even. Some guy is on the loose and Tommy Lee Jones is “Hunting” him. Is it wrong to want just a bit more meat on the bone than that?

It feels like you’ve seen a lot of this before - just the images of Tommy Lee Jones in front of a waterfall will remind you of the aforementioned Fugitive. And a former military man with a knife that the authorities are chasing in the Pacific Northwest wilderness should bring to mind a certain Stallone movie series that we all know and love. They had enough time for the cliches we’ve all seen before, but somehow they couldn’t find the time for some character development or human drama. They even fell back on the tired “Vietnam vet goes crazy” scenario, which could certainly be argued is insensitive, if not insulting. But we may not have noticed if that hadn’t been done so many times before. The only difference is now it’s Kosovo, not Vietnam. We would think that by 2003 Hollywood would have used up every last drop of that trope, but no, apparently not.

This is one time that we can think of that we can’t necessarily sign off on approving an 88-minute running time, like we usually do. Evidently there was more character development left on the cutting room floor. While we appreciate the sentiment to try to make the movie lean and mean, a couple more dialogue scenes that might have fleshed out the characters or explained their motivations would have gone a long way. It would have helped the audience care more about the Bonham-Hallam relationship, which would have increased the suspense. The filmmakers also seemed ambivalent about Connie Nielsen’s character - they should have given her more screen time or axed her altogether. As it stands, she’s just kinda there. We would have opted for more Nielsen, as her run on Law & Order: SVU were some of the best episodes of that series to date. The Hunted could have used a tough female, Dani Beck-like character.

Looking at the movie a mere twelve years later (TWELVE years have passed since this came out? Maybe it’s not so mere after all), it’s hard to believe it got a theater release. If this was released today it would go DTV or on-demand, almost certainly. While it does contain the appropriate amount of action and violence - we even get some classic Tommy Lee Jones-Fu, or, to be more accurate, a Filipino fighting style called Sayoc Kali - it’s hard to shake the feeling something is missing here. Perhaps we should hire L.T. Bonham to hunt it down...but then we’d be right back to where we started, wouldn’t we?

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Born To Fight (1989)

Born To Fight (1989)- * * *

Directed by: Bruno Mattei

Starring: Brent Huff, Werner Pochatch, Mary Stavin, and Romano Puppo

Sam Wood (Huff) is a Vietnam War vet who is still chillin’ in ‘Nam because he “feels more free there”. When a female reporter named Maryline (not a typo) Kane (Stavin) approaches him about being in a news package about returning to Vietnam, he reluctantly accepts. It soon transpires that the whole thing about being on TV was just a ruse to get Wood to go back behind enemy lines to rescue Maryline’s father, who is still a prisoner of war at the Lu Tan prison camp. She sought him out because he’s a one-man army with a surprisingly positive attitude. His motto of “It can be done!” is downright infectious. But rescuing dear old dad isn’t going to be a walk in the Philippine park. He has to contend with super-evil arch-baddie Duan Loc (Pochath), his toady Bross (Puppo), and a never-ending stream of tan-outfitted, triangular-hat-wearing troops...who bring new meaning to the term ‘cannon fodder’! Will Sam and Maryline be the new Sam and Diane? Or will he prove once and for all that he is BORN TO FIGHT?

Man, Bruno Mattei was sure on a roll in the late ‘80s. To think that this one man, in this one short span of time, turned loose on the world Strike Commando (1987), Double Target (1987), Cop Game (1988), Robowar (1988), Strike Commando 2 (1988), and the movie up for discussion today, is just insane. Sure, he may have recycled a bit of footage here and there, but who’s counting exploding huts? And this is just ONE guy! Never mind all the many others churning out video store-era gems at the time. Yeah, this never came out on VHS in the U.S., but you get our point.

Both Huff and Mary Stavin return from Strike Commando 2, and while there is some standard bickering between them, this is truly Huff at his best and coolest. As some sort of lost-in-translation-from-the-original-Italian cross between Indiana Jones and Sonny Crockett - when he’s not channeling Clint Eastwood with his low-slung cowboy hat and cigar stub - he drinks snake venom at a bar and massacres countless people with his machine guns and grenades. He has a lot of funny lines, mainly after he kills some baddies: “Shut up!”, “Shove it!”, “You started it!”, etc., though it could be forgiven if it seems like his dialogue was written by one of those push-button insult machines of the time. Still, this is the Huff you want, unlike The Bad Pack (1997), which was disappointing Huff.

Werner Pochath is notable as the evil baddie named Duan Loc, who has an ‘Evil German’ accent. Helpfully, he cries, “Sam Wood isn’t like other people. He thinks he’s inWINCEable! He was born to fight!” It’s also handy to know there are massive battalions of Viet Cong soldiers still on the attack in 1989. The hotel assault scene is a movie highlight, as is the climax, with a mega-kill count and exploding huts galore. It’s amazing the jungles of the Philippines were able to survive after all that was blown up there. But it’s all for our entertainment, and even with the repeated footage (both dialogue scenes and blow-up scenes), it all adds up to a golden age of filmmaking never to be repeated. We should really treasure the output of this time and place.

The soundtrack by Al Festa certainly won’t be confused for John Williams anytime soon, no matter how hard he tries. We certainly preferred the non-ripoff synthesizer themes. That’s what these movies are all about. Blow-ups, shooting, and the craziness in between. You gotta love it.

God bless Bruno Mattei and all his hut-exploding ilk. The reverberations from the explosions that they created are still being felt today.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett