As soon as the words “A film by Sheldon Lettich” appeared on-screen, a spark of hope flickered.
Van Damme’s exile into the direct-to-video desert has resulted largely in one disappointing dud after another, with little respite to be found despite one or two worthwhile offerings in the mix. As it happens, one such film (perhaps his last truly good film thus far within this DTV exile) was The Order, also directed by Lettich. He’s one of JCVD’s best collaborators, and together the two created some of the best material in Van Damme’s filmography. But nearly two hours later it turns out that The Hard Corps is little more than another bland DTV joint that barely even hints at the strong partnership these two men previously shared.
The Hard Corps is not left wanting for good ideas, and therein lies much of the frustration because not a single one of those ideas feels properly fleshed out. Van Damme plays Phillippe Sauvage, a recently discharged American soldier still reeling from post-traumatic stress triggered by his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Raw and on edge, Phillippe is persuaded to partner with his former commanding officer in providing private security for former world heavyweight champion boxer and current community philanthropist Wayne Barclay (Raz Adoti). The erstwhile champ is partly responsible for the incarceration of rap mogul Terrell Singleterry, now freshly released from prison thanks to good behavior and on the warpath for some payback.
However, during their first night on duty, Phillippe’s CO is gunned down by Singleterry’s goons, leaving Phillippe alone to reluctantly head up the security team. Can he handle it after having PTSD flashbacks while roaming the club that night? How will Phillippe balance his work protecting Wayne while finding himself falling for the ex-boxer’s sister, Tamara (Vivica A. Fox)? Will Phillippe be able to turn the rough-and-tumble denizens of Wayne’s boxing gym into the hardcore security team they so desperately need to become? All good questions that lay a solid foundation for an action film. Which makes it all the more baffling that the script fails to adequately (or even partially) explore just about any of them.
We tend to idolize and idealize our action heroes. And why not? Seeing an unstoppable badass is part of what makes action movies fun, and making them military veterans adds a dollop of “realism” into mix for extra flavor. We don’t want it TOO realistic, however, thus PTSD as a concept is rarely if ever introduced into films such as these, at least not in a meaningful manner. So it’s all the more frustrating here when it seems like Lettich and Van Damme aim to tackle this concept upfront with our somber introduction to Phillippe at the VA hospital and then his startling flashbacks once the action heats up his first night on the job. But save for one random relapse, Phillippe’s PTSD is all but forgotten for the remainder of the film. Van Damme certainly seems game to dive into the character, but the script (co-written by Lettich and George Saunders) fails him significantly.
As it does the entirety of the film. That aforementioned romance? Half baked would be overselling it. The titular “Hard Corps”? Presented as borderline incompetent and weirdly ineffectual in the singular instance they are given something to do.
Likewise the action scenes fail to provide any sort of saving grace, ranging from “competent at best” to “bafflingly dull.” Not even the long-gestating showdown between Barclay and Phillippe (Wayne continuously laments his need for protection as well as Phillippe’s hardline approach to providing it) manages to elicit any real tension or excitement given the amateurish way it’s staged and edited.
And that’s really the operative word here: Amateurish. Nearly every element throughout feels like that of someone who’s never really made a movie before. It’s lit and shot like a network TV show from the ’90s. One genuinely wonders what happened to Lettich as a filmmaker. It perhaps shouldn’t be all that surprising that he hasn’t directed anything (TV episode, movie or even a commercial) since this belly-flopped onto home video in 2006.
As for Van Damme, he mostly comes across as aloof for the majority of the film. One gets the sense this was an intentional given the nature of his character and his mental trauma, but again, given the script’s general disinterest in that aspect, it results in a character that seems largely uninterested in most of what’s going on around him.
In the pantheon of JCVD’s DTV offerings, The Hard Corps undoubtedly ranks among his worst. Say what you will about movies like In Hell or Wake of Death or Second In Command, but at least those didn’t feel like regressions for the filmmakers behind the camera.
Van Dammage Report Statistics For The Hard Corps:
Number of splits: 0
Number of split kicks: 0
Reason for being European: None given
Best line: N/A
Previously on the Van Dammage Report:
Second in Command | Wake of Death | In Hell | Derailed | The Order | Replicant | Desert Heat | Legionnaire | Knock Off | Double Team| Maximum Risk| The Quest | Sudden Death | Street Fighter | Timecop | Hard Target | Nowhere to Run | Universal Soldier | Double Impact | Death Warrant | Lionheart | Kickboxer | Cyborg | Bloodsport