I blame EA sports. The FIFA 19 game to be precise. Feeling a bit under the weather and so decided to go full chill mode for Sunday. Watch some Brooklyn Nine Nine – brilliant comedy – play FIFA, play on easy so as not to detract too much from the programme.
I decided I didn’t want to watch all of the Nine Nine’s episodes. Save some of that good stuff for later. I’ll watch a film instead. Didn’t want anything too taxing or melancholy – so I picked The Hard Way. Not the Michael J. Fox/James Woods early nineties comedy. No, that would have been enjoyable.
Instead, I watched the risible Michael Jai White revenge flick of the same name. Not only is it truly terrible on every level – writing, acting, and direction – it is also a complete waste of just over ninety minutes. That is unless, like me, you are going to write a review on the abomination. Though I am not sure that is a good enough reason to watch it.
Anyhoo, the story, such that it is, meets Michael Jai White as John Payne – yes, he is called Payne – a New York bar owner and ex-special ops – of course he is – as he hands out a beatdown on a couple of gangsters who come to his bar and try to strong-arm him into selling.
If you think that these gangster types would form any strand of the story, you would be wrong. They are simply shoehorned into the film so as to demonstrate Jai White’s impressive martial arts ability. It’s kind of his thing. They are never seen or mentioned again.
For those who may not know, Michael Jai White is a highly accomplished martial artist. As in ass-whoopingly good. He has made a whole slew of these sort of low budget actioners, though he is probably best known for roles in Arrow and his great blaxploitation film spoof, Black Dynamite, as well as playing the lead in Spawn, a very early Marvel effort. Because of his high competence, the fight scenes are well choreographed and executed.
Unfortunately, I must get back to the…story. The film opens with a confusing foot pursuit set in Romania. Luke Goss’ Mason and his partner Daniel Onuoha’s Charlie, who also happens to be John’s brother. They are running after George Remme’s Joe Vig. In the pursuit, Joe shoots Charlie, mortally wounding him. As he is dying he tells Mason a supposedly cryptic message to give to John.
The only reason the message remains cryptic is that it has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the film. When John hears about his brother’s death, he flies out to Romania to find out what has happened.
In Romania, he meets up with one of his old special forces buddy, Randy Couture’s Briggs, who is in charge of some vague European Taskforce and is also – this really is not a spoiler if you have a brain – the elusive kingpin villain, Toro. There are various strands of plots about god knows what. A bit of spousal abuse, human trafficking, prostitution and maybe drugs, it is all a complete muddle.
Joe Vig is pushed – poorly and hamfistedly – as the chief protagonist, a mean and sadistic killer, who seemingly enjoys killing. Remme’s is actually one of the few actors to put in a credible performance, even with a truly awful script to work from.
Vig as the villain is meant to be a red herring, but it is so haphazardly crafted and the script so lacking in subtlety, it never works. There is some nonsense about five million euros and John’s brother’s widow, Madelina Anea as Lacy Love – I have no idea where they got these names from – being an unwitting moll to the elusive – not really – Toro.
There is a silly, thrill-free standoff in the final act and John giving the millions to his sister-in-law in the wrap-up. John and Mason have a bit of quippy conversation and the film, thankfully, ends.
Aside from the fight scenes, which are good but not John Wick good, there is nothing to recommend this film. The acting is uniformly appalling, the story, by Thomas J. Churchill and Keoni Waxman, is unnecessarily complex nonsense.
Waxman is also on directing duties and has some twenty-four credits for directing on his IMDB page. One can only hope they are not all as lacklustre as this.
The Hard Way is a hard watch, so save yourself the agony and give it a miss.