Director Keoni Waxman has carved out quite a niche for himself in the direct-to-video action movie market, working with such genre luminaries as Steven Seagal and Dolph Lundgren. He’s not trying to make great art, he’s trying to make entertaining action films that kick a little ass. His latest, “Hunt to Kill”, is almost there.
This time around, Waxman teams up with former professional wrestler turned movie tough guy, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Austin is great at one thing, being hard and scary. In movies like “The Expendables” and “Damage” he pulls off a pretty awesome, believable, badass. He has the size and the don’t-fuck-with-me scowl, and though he’s not a slick, highly trained fighter, his I’m-bigger-stronger-and-badder-than-you style harkens back to a time when an action hero could get away with being just a brawler. That’s what Austin’s good at. What he still needs to work on is the whole acting thing. His icy glare and gravel-throated fuck-you’s can only carry a film so far. If used correctly it can work, or in a supporting role he can be a nice fit, but when asked to carry the emotional weight of a movie, even a movie like “Hunt to Kill” that’s a little light in that department, he leaves something to be desired.
Austin plays Jim Rhodes, a Texas border patrol agent. When his partner (Eric Roberts) is killed during a meth lab explosion, Rhodes and his daughter Kim (Marie Avgeropoulos) move to Montana. At the same time this is happening, a group of criminals, led by Banks (Gil Bellows) robs a casino in Reno. One of their group, Lawson (Michael Hogan, “Battlestar Galactica”), double crosses them, tries to blow up their hideout, and steals the untraceable bonds that they just stole. What a dick. But it doesn’t work. The bomb doesn’t go off, and he makes a run for the Canadian border with Banks and company hot on his heels.
Now, Rhodes and Kim have a troubled relationship. She hates the woods and her redneck father, and acts out by shoplifting in town. Rhodes goes to pick her up at the sheriff’s office after she gets arrested, but guess who is already there, looking for someone to guide them into the woods? That’s right, Banks. They kill the sheriff, kidnap Kim, and force Rhodes to guide them into the woods after Lawson.
“Hunt to Kill” is a little bit “Cliffhanger”, and a little bit “Commando”. Frank Hannah’s (who wrote “Damage”) script tries to make Austin into Schwarzenegger by giving him quippy little one-liners akin to Arnold’s “Stick around” from “Predator”. Most of these don’t work, but when Rhodes says, “Catch”, then shoots a guy with an arrow, it is pretty damn funny. The plot is flimsy at best, and a lot of awkward, illogical things happen. For instance, soaking wet, in the middle of the woods, dehydrated, hungry, and freezing, Crab (Adrian Holmes of “Supervolcano” and “Stonehenge Apocalypse” fame), one of the bad guys, knocks a member of his own team then tries to rape Kim while everyone else is like ten feet away.
Much like the characters, the movie stumbles around in the woods for a while. Austin is out of his element trying to play the concerned father, Bellows’ performance is overwrought to the point of being laughable, and the rest of the acting is questionable at best. Former kickboxer Gary Daniels is another one of the villains, and the third “Expendables” alum in the film. He and Austin have a good brawl in the middle, but overall it takes some intestinal fortitude to get through.
That said, while it may take a while to get there, and take a few questionable turns along the way, the last third of the film is fully worth waiting for. Once Austin has a crossbow, and goes through a sweet, “Predator”-like preparing-for-battle-in-the-woods montage, things move quickly in the right direction. By the time he starts in on the proper level or vengeance, you’ve thankfully forgotten the first two-thirds of “Hunt to Kill”. Everything you want is here, homemade spears, an abandoned warehouse final showdown, an axe/shovel fight, falling down a comically long flight of stairs, and many other gems. Over the course of the film Austin is shot, stabbed, beaten, thrown off a cliff, almost drowned, almost blown up, kicked in the nards, and generally abused in every conceivable way, like a true action movie badass should be.
One question I have that is only sort of related: Is there really such a thing as untraceable bonds? They pop up fairly often in movies as something to steal, “Die Hard” is a prime example, and it seems like a bad idea to make something with that much value that can’t be tracked. So, if you lose them you’re just screwed? If you can’t trace them or link them to anything, how do you gain access to the money they represent after you’ve stolen them? Does part of high-level-thief-training cover that? This is an important question to ask, something I’ve always wondered throughout my movie viewing life.
The “Hunt to Kill” DVD comes with a making of feature that is notable chiefly because Gil Bellows seems like he’s high during his interview. He’s smiley and mellow and talks kind of slow, and he hugs two other cast members at one point. It’s amusing. The commentary track with Waxman and actor Michael Eklund is pretty decent, better than most. They definitely have a good time talking about the film, which makes it engaging to watch and listen to.