Sunday, January 26, 2014
View In Peace: James "Jim" Jacks and Hard Target
A former wall street analyst who turned to screenwriting before working acquisitions at Universal and segueing into producing, Jacks is said to have been a hardcore movie lover. 1993 was a banner year for him as Hard Target, Dazed and Confused and Tombstone all hit theaters across the country. Each holds it's own place in my and cinema's lore as they have all transcended generations and still resonate 20 years on. Even though each title is held in high regard, at least two of them never matched the original intent of Jacks and his partners in celluloid.
1992's Universal Soldier was his first decent budget, more mainstream action affair that had a talented director and studio support. The flick performed well around the world and JCVD tried his hand at further broadening his audience with Nowhere To Run, a modern day Shane where VD protects a mother and her kids from evil land owners. With nary a roundhouse kick or full split to be seen, Nowhere To Run might have fulfilled the Belgian's desire to try something different but audiences did not turn out and grosses were less than his previous 3 films.
Hard Target was the beginning of Van Damme's real push into the big leagues (it was also my second R-rated movie in a theater). Universal saw his potential and figured with the right support, he could break into the $50-60 million grosses and join Arnold and Sly at the top of the mountain. Former Navy Seal Chuck Pfarrer's (Navy Seals!) script is the story of Chance Boudreaux, a Merchant Marine struggling to make a living who helps out a young lawyer searching for her missing father. Turns out her dad was a Vietnam veteran who agreed to be the subject of a twisted game that finds rich hunters paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to track and kill their fellow man. Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo turn up as the dastardly duo behind the sick scheme and it's up to Van Damme, the chick from Drop Zone (Yancy Butler) and mother fucking Wilford Brimley to stop them.
After re-shooting the final confrontation between Van Damme and Henriksen, editing the picture would find the Muscles From Brussels presenting his own version along with Woo's cut that had to be trimmed down to avoid an NC-17 rating. Jacks supported Woo's version as they didn't want a typical "Van Damme movie". Test screenings were horrendous but finally on August 20th of 1993, Hard Target hit theaters, opening to $10 million on it's way to a $32 million total. The tally was higher than Nowhere to Run but less than Universal Soldier. Critics would deem it Van Damme's best but Woo's worst. As it stands, Hard Target is a well made and violent action picture that does it's best to mesh Woo's human drama mixed with balletic gun violence and Van Damme's high kicking super heroics. You get way too much slow motion, lots of close ups, bad puns, shoot'em ups, kick'em ups, jack rabbits slapping bears, horses, snake smacking, Mardi Gras, Lance Henriksen being set on fire, mama's taking chances and Ted Raimi saying "I ain't got no change, man!".
Come back next time as we check out Jacks' work on a fellow, troubled production: Tombstone. Until then, enjoy Van Damme beating up some thugs after having some tragic gumbo.