The latest in 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin's straight to video action movie career is Hunt To Kill, a movie that's just as unoriginal as its title would have you believe. In the film Austin plays a man named Jim Rhodes who works as a border guard in Texas where he watches is partner and best friend die at the hands of some bad guys during a drug raid. Jump into the future a few years and we catch up with Jim as he's living a much quieter life in rural Montana. Content to leave the problems of the southwest behind him, he's hoping to get some well deserved rest and relaxation and spend a week with his daughter, Kim (Marie Avgeropoulos). What Rhodes doesn't know is that while he and Kim are hanging out, a gang of ruthless bank robbers have just stolen a load of cash in Las Vegas only to find that one of their group has in turn taken that money and run. Where has he decided to hang out? Why, a small town in Montana of course!
Kim, meanwhile, gets busted for shoplifting and is taken to the police station just as our thugs show up. Jim walks in to find her and the sheriff essentially held hostage, guns at their heads, and winds up agreeing to help them track down the one who stole their cash in exchange for the lives of his daughter and the sheriff - but their leader, Banks (Gil Bellows), decides they're going to keep Kim as collateral until he gets the job done. Of course, Rhodes has a few tricks up his sleeve and will do whatever it takes to ensure that he gets his daughter back safe and sound, even if it means killing off each and every one of these bad guys in the mountains...
A fun mix of Taken and First Blood, Hunt To Kill borrows very heavily from plenty of the action movies that have come before it but, if nothing else, it at least mixes up those borrowed elements well. The film isn't in the least bit original but it is fast paced, tense, exciting, and appropriately violent - all good qualities in a lower budgeted action picture. Taking elements from pretty much every good Stallone and Schwarzenegger movie you'd care to name, director Keoni Waxman keeps things moving quickly and does a pretty good job of building some tension through the first two thirds of the film so that we can enjoy the inevitable finale where Austin's character returns to his old ways and turns into the killing machine we've known him to be all along.
As far as the performances go, the cast are all fine here. Bellows makes for an enjoyable villain. As his grasp on the situation and slow loss of control starts to slip, his character gets to start slipping into 'crazy guy' mode and Bellows does well here, playing things straight but chewing just enough scenery to make his turn a memorable one. Austin is fine here as well, playing the strong silent type as he has in past efforts and doing quite good with the material. He may not be the greatest actor of our generation but he does have an impressive screen presence. He's a big guy and when he wants to be, he can be pretty scary. He does scary well here, particularly in that aforementioned finale where he gets to vent and basically stalk the bad guys through the rough terrain. The weak link in the cast is Marie Avgeropoulos. Despite the fact that she's incredibly easy on the eyes and a true natural beauty, her character is obnoxious. She's whiney, she's a shoplifter, and she's got a bit of a mouth on her - none of these qualities endear her to us, but again, we're here more for the sake of Austin's character than hers, so it doesn't wind up really affecting the movie all that much.
In the end, Hunt To Kill doesn't bring anything new to the action movie game, and in fact, it recycles a whole lot from some established classics of the genre. It does, however, run a good race and keep us excited throughout. It's good, mindless entertainment and while you won't have too much trouble figuring out where it's all heading or even when it's going to get there, at least the ride is a fun one thanks to some creative kills, a couple of good lead performances, and an efficient, if wholly unoriginal, storyline.
Hunt To Kill is presented in a 1.78.1 widescreen 1080p AVC encoded transfer. Shot digitally, the transfer to Blu-ray results in a very crisp and clean image without any dirt or debris noticeable at all. That said, as clean as it is sometimes the colors look a bit on the flat side. This looks to have maybe been an intentional choice on the part of the filmmakers, but it might put some off. Detail, however, is very good here, as is texture. You'll notice the fibers in the clothing worn by certain characters and you'll be able to notice all the craggy faces of the different tough guys who populate the film. Since so much of the film takes place outside and in the rain, the image can lean towards the drab side of things but thankfully black levels are pretty good and so the darker scenes don't look too bad at all and don't show any crush or compression artifacts. All in all, Hunt To Kill looks very nice in HD.
The only audio track for the feature is an English language Dolby TrueHD offering, though optional subtitles are provided in both English and Spanish. Surround activity is pretty constant throughout the film, providing some nice ambient and background noise in quieter scenes and delivering some pretty strong effects in the more action intensive moments. There's quite a bit of surround and rear channel activity going on throughout the movie, while levels remain consistently well balanced. Dialogue is always easy to understand and the film's score has the right amount of power behind it. The lower end is strong and punchy and adds some welcome boom to the mix, and give the gunshots that power they need to really work. It's not quite active enough or strong enough to rank in the upper echelon of Blu-ray soundtracks, but for a lower budgeted picture, it does sound pretty good.
Director Keoni Waxman and actor Michael Eklund kick the extras off with an audio commentary that is pretty uneven. Much of the time is spent simply talking about what's already on the screen in front of us rather than explaining how or why it wound up there in the first place. They do cover some of the difficulties encountered in the location shooting and choreographing some of the more interesting action sequences, but this never really does a whole lot more than just scratch the surface of things. Not that this is the type of movie necessarily needs any sort of interpretation, but more details on Stone Cold's participation or on how this all came together would have been nice.
Aside from that, look for a featurette entitled Behind The Scenes Of Hard To Kill, which is an eight minute look at the production as it was being shot that includes interviews with Gary Daniels, Michael Eklund and Emilie Ullerup and Gil Bellows, all of whom discuss their roles in this production. A trailer for the feature is also included, as are menus and chapter stops. The extras are all presented in high definition.
Hunt To Kill isn't very original but it is lean, mean and efficient. Austin isn't going to win an Oscar for his performance here but he's got some solid screen presence and the film is suspenseful and entertaining enough that action fans should appreciate it. Anchor Bay's Blu-ray debut looks and sounds better than your average straight to video action movie and contains a few extras that add some marginal value to the package. Recommended for action junkies.
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.