Moscow-born writer & director Ilya Naishuller makes his cinematic debut with an above-average but implausible science fiction saga, “Hardcore Henry,” (**1/2 OUT OF ****), that resembles a video game masquerading as a feature-length film. Virtually everything is depicted from the protagonist’s perspective after he is resurrected and then struggles with a thoroughly repellent villain in a series of cliffhanger showdowns. Basically, “Hardcore Henry” delivers maximum action with minimal plot. An eccentric mad scientist, who has already clashed with an albino-blond villain, supervises our amnesiac hero as he battles their common enemy. Not only is Henry fighting for his own life, but he also must rescue his damsel-in-distress wife who has been kidnapped by the same dastardly evildoer. Sadly, only one genuine surprise rather than several occurs in the aftermath of this abduction. Clocking in at 96 berserk minutes with more than enough slam-bang heroics, this rambunctious Russian & American co-production gives Naishuller scant time to develop his superficial heroes and villains beyond their formulaic origins. Lacking a shred of subtlety, these characters qualify as straightforward, one-dimensional stereotypes. The exploits that they embark on, however, generate anticipation and hysteria. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of trigger-happy nonsense with a sci-fi flavor. The premise evokes memories of mainstream epics such as “Universal Soldier,” “Terminator,” and “Crank 2.” “Training Day” scenarist Will Stewart collaborated with Naishuller on the screenplay, but the revelations that take place are largely standard-issue. Nevertheless, the use of several GoPro Hero3 Black Edition cameras is the gimmick that distinguishes “Hardcore Henry” from its competition. The adrenaline-fueled action scenes with triple digit body counts are engrossing because the GoPro supercharges them with spontaneity. Since everything is lensed from our view, we feel like a rampaging gamer blasting away at everything in sight as hordes of henchmen challenge us. Occasionally, we take a blow or two that knocks us sideways. Curiously enough, Naishuller never identifies the actor from whose point of view this far-fetched film unfolds. Since Naishuller and ten others who shared camera operator duties played the role, “Hardcore Henry” doesn’t rely on a celebrity name actor in the role. Typically, we are inclined to identify with the lead actor and imagine all the risks that he winds up facing. Shrewdly, Naishuller makes the audience the hero and plunges us into a whirlpool of pandemonium so we can experience first-hand all the chaos. Tim Roth of “Reservoir Dogs” and “District 9’s” Sharlto Copley rank as the biggest stars in “Hardcore Henry,” but both appear in strictly supporting roles. Cast as the hero’s father, Roth appears in two scenes, and we learn little about him. The rest of the cast is either unknown or up-and-coming.
After a mysterious opening scene that shows a teenager smashing a small toy robot against a wall, “Hardcore Henry” kicks into full throttle. A gorgeous, blond scientist, Estelle (Jennifer Lawrence look-alike Haley Bennett of “The Equalizer”), resurrects a dead soldier. She calls him Henry, and what follows is reminiscent of the original “Robocop” movie when he was modified. Not only is Henry missing a left forearm, but he also has no leg from the knee down. Estelle outfits our hero with a new, state-of-the-art forearm, wields a torch-like implement to solder the mechanical appendage onto Henry’s elbow so that the limb looks genuine. Next, she screws a new left calf and foot onto his left leg. The last thing Estelle does is hand Henry a brass wedding ring and inform him that she is his wife. Initially, Henry is mute, but he can nod as well as shake his head. Eventually, he will recover his power of speech. Estelle escorts him out of the laboratory to meet two male scientists. Before they have a chance to perform an analysis on their rebuilt cybernetic super-soldier, a wailing security alarm notifies them about a breach in their system. Soldiers pour into the room, and Henry hustles Estelle off to an escape pod. As they are plummeting to Earth, Henry glances up, and we see that the laboratory was in some kind of airborne vehicle. Up to this point, aside from Estelle assuring him she is his wife, Henry knows no more about himself than Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne did about himself in “The Bourne Identity.” The trials and tribulations that ensue find Henry pitted against an army with a villain so odious that you will yearn for his blood.
“Hardcore Henry” suffers from an incomprehensible plot. As the crazy scientist who partners up with our hero, Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) has already antagonized the chief villain, Akan (Danila Kozlovsky of “Vampire Academy”), because he failed to assemble for him an android army. Weathering Akan’s wrath, poor Jimmy wound up permanently confined to a wheel chair with a broken back. Not one to back down from adversity, Jim has conjured up several avatars of himself. Jimmy’s hilarious oddball squad of avatars aids and abets our hero throughout this first-person fracas. The evil villain reminded me of Javier Bardem in the Coen brother’s crime classic “No Country for Old Men.” Furthermore, Akan boasts telekinetic powers that enable him to assert an upper hand over our hero. Issues of incoherence aside, “Hardcore Henry” bristles with some of the most acrobatic action scenes that you will ever witness. Trust me; you’ve never seen anything like this hyperbolic sci-fi thriller about a lone cyborg tangling with an army of androids. You’re going to either rhapsodize about this urgent, overwrought, parody of action movies or revile it as mindless melodramatic mayhem. Some might even consider gobbling Dramamine to deal with this frenzied film. Naishuller keeps the action moving at such whiplash pace that everything seems almost disorienting. The stunt work is nothing short of sensational, and Naishuller displays flair to spare, especially in a road chase that compares favorably to anything in the “Mad Max” movies. Had Naishuller packaged those audacious stunts and blazing shootouts with a smarter plot, “Hardcore Henry” might have been devastating.
“Your imagination can take you where nothing else can.” Van Roberts