I haven't actually watched a new Jean-Claude Van Damme movie since Knock-Off, I think. While there was a time when I made an effort to see each of the Muscles from Brussels' movies – I particularly liked Bloodsport, Double Impact, Hard Target and Maximum Risk – his transition in the early 90's from theatrical action star to direct-to-vid leading man left me behind, I'm afraid.
Well, Sony Home Video just sent me the latest action effort from the man, a surprisingly involving little movie called The Hard Corps.
Van Damme plays Phillipe Sauvage (gotta love those movie names), a Desert Storm vet suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Through a somewhat contrived series of events, he is hired as bodyguard for an ex-boxing champ-turned-philanthropist (Razaaq Adoti). Unfortunately, the former boxer has been marked for death by an ex-con rap music producer with a grudge, and Sauvage finds himself trying to protect an uncooperative client in the midst of a hip-hop shooting war.
There's not really all that much action in this one – maybe one hand-to-hand bout and a couple of gunfights, but what there is is fairly well-staged. Direction (by Van Damme vet Sheldon Lettich), production values and cinematography are surprisingly slick for a direct-to-DVD flick, and the story (despite how it may read above) is actually quite interesting and well-executed, with solid performances by most of the cast, especially Vivica A. Fox and Adoti.
Van Damme mumbles his lines and delivers them in his usual stilted manner, but since his character is supposed to be emotionally damaged, it sorta works.
Setting Van Damme down into the middle of a hip-hop gangsta war makes for some interesting character bits and gags; I particularly liked a scene where his character is training some young bodyguard recruits how to shoot properly, berating them for holding their guns sideways. Sure enough, in the final gunfight, only he and his team seem able to hit anybody, with the bad guy gangstas shooting their sideways sidearms wildly.
Ultimately, I found The Hard Corps (the name that Van Damme's bodyguard team is given by their employer), to be an entertaining diversion, and far better than I expected it to be. It's not a classic – but it's one of the man's better movies.