Writer/director Sheldon Lettich has worked with Jean-ClaudeVan Damme a few times on some of his more popular films like Legionnaire and Lionheart so, despite the fact that he wrote the abysmal Double Impact, fans of the Muscles From Brussels had some anticipation for The Hard Corps which would team them up again, this time throwing the lovely Vivica A. Fox into the mix.
The story revolves around a veteran named Phillip Sauvage (Van Damme) who has recently returned from tours of duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Unsure what to do with himself once he returns where he finds himself living in a run down old veteran's home, he and his pal, Clarence Bowden (Julian Christopher) take a job guarding a former heavyweight boxer one night at a dance club. Things are going fine until when the boxer, Wayne Barclay (Razaaq Adoti), and his sister Tamara (Vivica A. Fox) go to exit the club. An SUV pulls up and a few gangsters open fire on them, causing Phillip to have to dive into action. He saves Wayne and Tamara but Clarence is killed in the process, which eats him up inside as Clarence once saved his life in combat.
Tamara and Wayne are so impressed by Phillip's bravery that they decide to hire him on fulltime to head up their personal security force. Unfortunately, the cops are looking for Phillip, it seems that Uzi he used was illegal and he wasn't licensed to be carrying that weapon. Detective Teague (Ron Bottitta) takes him in and warns Barclay that Phillip is mentally disturbed, scarred from the time he spent in combat. Barclay gives him the benefit of the doubt and puts up his bail money and brings him back on board where he uses Phillip's skills to protect himself from a rap music producer with ties to the underworld who Barclay helped put behind bars. It seems that he's free from prison now and that he wants revenge.
The Hard Corps is pretty much a by the numbers affair. While Jean-Claude does a pretty decent job of playing the tortured veteran of a war that he know questions, the script doesn't give him much to work with. Much of the running time is spent following the bad guys, and while we obviously need to understand how diabolical this evil rap guy is, there's a little too much screen time afforded him. Do we need to see him partying it up with big-booty dancing girls? Once, maybe. But that'd be it. The film is obviously trying to market itself to the hip hop community which is all well and good but it doesn't do a good job of it and rather than come off as a good action movie or a good hip hop or street gangster movie it instead comes off as a half assed hybrid of the two genres.
Vivica A. Fox is fun to look at during the almost two hour running time of the film and she does a decent enough job as the smart and sexy sister of the big time boxer. You can believe that she cares around her brother and therefore you can understand her concern, though the way that she goes about setting up the security team is a little unrealistic. Of course, you know from the start that she and Jean-Claude are going to fall for one another and the script delivers as hokey and corny an ending as you'd expect it to – without spoiling it, let it suffice to say that you will know very early on where it's going.
These types of complaints are part and parcel with the low budget action genre and if the movie delivers the goods in terms of the shoot outs and the fights and the car chases it's easy enough to overlook them. Does The Hard Corps at least do that? To an extent, yes. The first shoot out scene is done quite well and it is a pretty suspenseful set piece. There's also a great scene where Phillip and Wayne get in the ring together that not only provides some heavy hitting and powerful punches but also effectively builds their characters. These moments do shine through and it is for these moments and the reasonably exciting, if utterly predictable, finale that makes this movie worth a look. It isn't on par with better recent Van Damme fare such as In Hell or Wake Of Death but his fans should enjoy it none the less even if it won't likely win him any new ones.
The Hard Corps comes straight to video in a nice 1.78.1 widescreen transfer that is free of print damage and mpeg compression problems but which does exhibit some aliasing in a few scenes that give the movie a slightly shimmering look that does prove a little distracting. That doesn't happen too often, but there are a couple of spots where even viewed on a smaller television set, your eyes will pick up on it on blinds or on car grills. Other than that though, the movie looks quite nice. Seeing as a few scenes take place in darker locations, it's nice to see that the black levels stay strong and deep and color separation is nice and distinct. Overall, this is a pretty solid transfer.
Sony provides only one audio track on this DVD – a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix in English which provides plenty of directional effects during the action scenes and mixes in the background music and sound effects nicely against the dialogue which remains easy to understand and very clear throughout. There are no problems with hiss or distortion and this is a very satisfactory mix. Subtitles are available in English only, and there is also an English closed captioning option.
Aside from a static menu and a chapter selection option, the only extra features on this release come in the form of the half a dozen trailers for other straight to video action films that Sony currently has available on DVD. Oddly enough, a trailer for The Hard Corps itself is absent.
While The Hard Corps has a few shining moments, overall it's just not all that compelling and by the time the ending rolls around, you've already figured out where it's going and how it'll get there. A few decent action scenes and an okay performance from Van Damme make it worth seeing for the fan, earning this one a 'rent it' rating.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.