Movie Review: “Hardcore Henry” an incoherent mess that entertains with goofiness and action
I have a sneaking suspicion that “Hardcore Henry” is terrible. Like “Kingsman” and “Deadpool,”the film’s tone is that of an intense, self-loathing 14-year-old punching his reflection in the mirror until either the Red Bull wears off or his hand is reduced to a sinewy pile of what resembles pulled pork. Additionally, the film swivels around the most gimmicky of gimmicks. Through a GoPro camera carefully tucked within the beaver skin stove pipe hats of various faceless stuntmen as they parkour up down and all around — presumably. I neither know nor care how a GoPro camera works — “Hardcore Henry” unfolds through the POV of its titular character. Critics have noted how much this makes the film resemble a first person shooter ala Call of Duty, but to me “Hardcore Henry” felt more like one of those theme park rides where you’re locked inside a vaguely spaceship-like husk and jostled slightly as footage of Biff Tannen drives a DeLorean into a dinosaur’s mouth.
There’s something very obnoxious about “Hardcore Henry.” Something bro-ish in a very beta, this-is-about-ethics-in-game-journalism way. And yet, I loved this movie. “Hardcore Henry” moves quickly and has a sense of humor about itself that works slightly more often than it should. Even when the film’s creative choices seem to grow monotonous, “Hardcore Henry” can still surprise you with an incredible, tightly choreographed stunt sequence. At times the film seems to suggest what “Crank” would have looked like if it was directed by a “Bad Taste”-era Peter Jackson. “Hardcore Henry” could be a terrible film, but I won’t realize it until I watch it a second or even third time.
“Hardcore Henry” basically opens with Tim Roth locking eyes with the audience as he calls us a big bunch of pussies. From there, red tinted, heavily fetish-ized, slo-mo footage of people getting beaten with bats or stabbed through the throat plays over the opening credits. Once that ends an almost Real Doll-esque Haley Bennett in the world’s slinkiest lab coat looks dreamily at us as she attaches bionic limbs to our stumps and reveals she’s actually our — or more accurately Henry’s — wife. It should be noted that all of this plays exactly the way that you think it does. By which I mean that it feels like it was adapted verbatim from a troubled high-schooler’s notebook a few days before the inevitable shooting spree. But suddenly, “Hardcore Henry” takes a decidedly goofy turn.
An albino psychic — played by a man whose appearance suggests that Crispin Glover was far too expensive — suddenly shows up, telekinetically tosses people around the lab and tries to kidnap Henry’s wife. Further complicating things is the fact that this lab is actually in an airplane that is currently in flight. After fleeing through an airplane escape pod, “Hardcore Henry” literally hits the ground running, pausing occasionally so that Sharlto Copley can appear in a closeout Halloween Adventure costume and take a giant exposition info-dump on the lap of the audience. Sometimes he even does this in the form of an old soft shoe number for no explained reason.
If watching “The Blair Witch Project” in theaters made you sick, know that “Hardcore Henry” will be your very own cine-ipecac causing you to vomit uncontrollably well after the closing credits have stopped. The camera doesn’t stop moving, which not only makes it nauseating for some, but also renders the film into an incoherent mess. And considering that this is barely more than 90 minutes of a man running around and killing people, it really shouldn’t be the case.
It’s hard to tell if “Hardcore Henry” is indulging in male wish fulfillment fantasy or mocking it. Female characters are depicted as helpless, manipulative or literal prostitutes, but one male character’s lofty ambitions in robotics stem from the simple fact that his “dick stopped working.”
On the other hand, “Hardcore Henry’s” set pieces could be considered some of the most daring and tightly choreographed action sequences ever captured on film. A brutal car chase is a standout as is the finale which finds Henry violently taking on an army of cyborgs all at once as Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” blares in the background.
Even though “Hardcore Henry” is a wannabe cult film that was made in the most desperately calculated way possible, it’s still entertaining in spite of itself. Even better, unlike “Deadpool” Henry never turns to the camera to make some unfunny meta-comment simply because cameras can’t turn to themselves or talk.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Tim Roth, Haley Bennet
Director: Ilya Naishuller
Weekender Rating: WWWV
Length: 96 minutes