Hardcore Henry ***

Exhilarating, funny, and brutal, but also dark, unpleasant, and hollow. Did I mention brutal?

Is it worth $10? Yes

“Hardcore Henry” is a movie with a gimmick. It’s an action picture that’s presented from the point of view of the main character, and it does not deviate from his viewpoint for the film’s entire running time. It’s less of a movie than a perpetual motion machine that just gets faster and faster, crazier and crazier, gorier and gorier as it goes along. It’s a carnival thrill ride. But even the best thrill rides need to come to a stop. I’m not so sure the filmmakers behind “Hardcore Henry” know that. 

At this point, I usually describe the film’s plot, but I have absolutely no idea what was going on in this movie. I was paying attention, but the sound design was so awful that I rarely understood a word of what was being said. The dialogue was often muffled, even during the non-action moments, and the rest (most) of the time, it’s competing with gunfire, explosions, and other kinds noisy detritus, so even when characters were literally laying out the plot, I still wasn’t able to get a grasp it. Here’s the set-up, at least: Henry is some kind of reanimated cyborg/Frankenstein’s monster. Reactivated at the film’s outset by his wife, he soon finds himself on the run from Akan, a villain with powerful telekinesis and a horde of minions, who wants to kill Henry for some reason. Oh and he also wants to take over the world, go figure. After Akan kidnaps Henry’s wife (because…why?), he then is on the run after Akan.

Of course, plot is kind of secondary in a movie like this. What the film wants to do is showcase several action sequences that escalate in intensity and craziness, and present all of them from a first person perspective; therefore, we have parkour infused foot chases through the streets of Moscow, in and over the tops of buildings, and over a bridge’s scaffolding; then there are also car chases, battles with tanks and helicopters, and shootouts -lots and lots of shootouts- all from the perspective of the film’s hero. The plot, such as it is, is just there to get Henry from one crazy situation into another. And that’s perfectly fine for this movie.

Why? Because the filmmakers (director Ilya Naishuller) pull the action sequences off convincingly and magnificently. I don’t know how they accomplished the film’s many jaw-dropping stunts. More importantly, I was just exhilarated by what I saw on the screen.

But does the movie work as more than just an accomplished exercise in technical filmmaking? Initially, I was afraid the movie would just be 80 minutes of gimmicky, hollow action. And it is. But there is a little more to the movie. There are genuinely funny moments (a horse and the theme from “The Magnificent Seven” is all I’m going to say) and some clever touches (subtitles during an argument in Russian that crowd over each other and fight for screen space). The shout out to videogame clichés and pacing is also amusing. A (non-playable) character named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) shows up time after time, even after being killed over and over, to point Henry to his next objective/action sequence. There’s also an understanding by the director of when to go full throttle (most of the time) and when not to (least of the time). There actually are moments to catch your breath and give your eyes, and stomach, some relief from the camera’s incessant shaking. Also, there’s a musical numb…no, I’ll stop there. You just have to see that for yourself.

Overall I enjoyed the movie, but I feel a little guilty about that. Basically, I’m of two minds when it comes to “Hardcore Henry”. On the one hand it’s an inventive and clever exercise in technical wizardry. On the other hand, it’s also unrelentingly dark, sarcastic, and nihilistic. It’s also unbelievably violent and gory. You have been warned. After a while, it just becomes overbearing and mind numbing.

“Hardcore Henry” is like a drunken one night stand. It’s exciting and exhilarating as it’s happening, but the morning after you feel a little sick, a little empty, and a little guilty. Still, you had a good time. So if you like what you see in the trailer, and if you can stomach the content and the presentation, then I absolutely recommend the film. “Hardcore Henry” may be a movie with a gimmick, but at least it does its gimmick well.

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