Sure, pairing Jean-Claude Van Damme and Wilford Brimley sounds like a great idea. But like so many perfect ideas for films, it's shit in execution: Circa 1993, when Alex Meade and I watched his rented copy of Hard Target, even its gleeful ultraviolence wasn't enough to convince us the movie was anything but fucking terrible. (And this from two 13-year-olds who thought The Secret of the Ooze was high cinema.)
Hard Target was Hong Kong director John Woo's first American film, and it got worse: Christian Slater vs. John Travolta in Broken Arrow, Travolta vs. Nicolas Cage in Face/Off, flying motorcycle vs. flying motorcycle in Mission: Impossible II. Goofy and stupid, Woo's American films would be fine if one didn't know his filmography. Because before America ruined him, Woo was amazing; 1992's Hard Boiled is one of the finest action films ever made, as is The Killer (1989).
The sequel to Hard Boiled, Stranglehold is a videogame rather than a movie, but all the important ingredients are here: Chow Yun Fat reprises his role as the badass Inspector Tequila; there's plenty of slow-mo gunplay; and a dozen city blocks are leveled by the game's pornographic number of explosions and gunshots. Thanks to the participation of Woo, Stranglehold captures the melodramatic broad strokes of his Hong Kong action flicks, as well as the details (just as in Hard Boiled, Woo cameos as a bartender, while garbage and neon artfully litter the perilous streets of Hong Kong).
Gameplay-wise, nothing feels new—Stranglehold's an action shooter that liberally borrows from the gameplay of Max Payne (itself a not-so-subtle Woo tribute) and Area 51 (apparently, someone at Midway still thinks health packs and shooting gallery-style enemies are good ideas). But Stranglehold doesn't need to break ground to be fun—the familiar, arcade-y gameplay is polished, Woo's hyper-stylized visuals and pulpy violence remain a blast, and for the first time in too long, it feels like there's a decent new movie from John Woo. Even though it's a videogame. ERIK HENRIKSEN