The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Hardcore Henry

The opening credit sequence of Hardcore Henry features extreme close-ups of violent acts happening in slow-motion: a bullet entering a body, a knife going into someone's neck and emerging from the other side, etc. All of this violence is bathed in intense red light, giving it a heightened, almost comic book-y feel. Even such an audacious start can't prepare us for what is to come over the next 90 minutes. While by no means a great work of art, Hardcore Henry provides an experience that, if you can stomach it, is quite ingenious.

The story involves a guy named Henry who is resurrected from death and equipped with technological components that give him extra strength and agility. The person behind all this is his scientist wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett). She is soon kidnapped by the evil Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a lunatic with a plan to bio-engineer soldiers using the same process Henry has been though. He sets off on a mission to rescue Estelle from Akan's clutches. Sharlto Copley (District 9) plays Jimmy, a helper who comes in many guises and, in some respects, is to this movie what Kenny is to South Park.

If that plot sounds familiar, it's because it isn't dissimilar from many other sci-fi/action pictures about madmen scheming to create armies of supermen. What makes Hardcore Henry different is that Henry is portrayed by a GoPro camera and a lot of stuntmen. Writer/director Ilya Naishuller shoots the movie in first-person format, so that the audience is essentially looking through Henry's eyes and experiencing things as he would see them. All we glimpse of Henry's physical person is his arm when he wields a gun or reaches for something, or his legs when he tumbles ass over teakettle during one of his various adventures.

There's no doubt that Hardcore Henry is built around a gimmick, but that gimmick is used so inventively that it doesn't wear out its welcome as quickly as you might expect. One especially dazzling scene finds Henry jumping onto a speeding van. He drops a hand grenade through the sunroof, is blown backwards by the impact, and lands on a motorcycle coming up behind the van. The movie also has several sequences in which Henry uses parkour abilities to scale a tall building without climbing equipment or make gradual leaps from high places to come down to the ground. When he fights hordes of Akan's goons, it creates the sensation that you are personally shooting, stabbing, or punching each of them. (At one point, my leg involuntarily kicked in time with Henry's as he booted a baddie in the face.) If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to be slammed into a glass table, get thrown off a horse, or rappel down a building, Hardcore Henry will show you, without any of the nasty pain that would come from doing these things for real.

Of course, the limitations of a movie like this are fairly obvious. The story is paper-thin, as is character development. Since Henry can't speak, there's nothing to him other than his physicality. Everyone else is just here to be a catalyst for his actions. The other hindrance is that the filming technique inherently involves extremely shaky camera work. Some viewers may get motion sickness from it or, at the very least, feel a little woozy after an hour-and-a-half. There are additionally some brief moments where it's not clear what we're looking at because of how rapidly the camera moves.

Hardcore Henry is a one-trick pony of a film. Despite those not-insignificant shortcomings, the trick is still pretty good. The movie establishes an intentionally over-the-top tone, with many purposefully comical elements, including Jimmy's varying disguises and accents. Certain tiny details are also funny, such as the way Henry punches and kicks the side of a bus after being injured. (He can't yell in pain, so we simply see his limbs flying.) Even the many, many violent deaths are handled with such outrageousness that they occasionally elicit laughter. That humor, combined with the skilled execution of the non-stop action, creates a sense of fun that is kind of infectious.

Hardcore Henry is, in some ways, a perfect action movie for our time. Experiential entertainment virtual reality, 3D, first-person videogames, and so on are increasingly popular. This gloriously goofy little film lets you be the central figure in a rollicking adventure full of danger, mayhem, and carnage. Pop some Dramamine and go for one heck of a wild ride.

( out of four)

Hardcore Henry is rated R for non-stop bloody brutal violence and mayhem, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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