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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Martial Arts > The Hard Corps

The Hard Corps


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: D     Film: B-



Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal arrived on the action movie scene in the late 1980s, and quickly overtook Chuck Norris as the top martial-arts action stars.  Both Van Damme and Seagal peaked in the early 1990s, and had pretty much become direct-to-DVD has beens by the year 2000.  Van Damme hasn't starred in a film that reached American theaters since Universal Soldier: The Return in 1999, and despite starring in two that did manage to reach theaters, Exit Wounds (2001) and Half Past Dead (2002) got a theatrical release more because of Seagal's rap star co-stars in those films than Seagal himself.


Both Van Damme and Seagal have churned out a lot of direct-to-DVD titles in the past 6 years or so.  For sheer quantity, Seagal is the leader -- since 2000 he's starred in 11 direct-to-DVD titles with a cameo in one unreleased movie.  As of this writing, Van Damme has seven that have gone directly to DVD since 2000, and also contributed a cameo to one unreleased film.  And it appears both guys have plenty of other direct-to-DVD projects in the pipeline.


But while Seagal gets the edge in quantity, Van Damme gets the edge in quality.  Unlike the now-bloated Seagal, who lazily walked through the few practically unwatchable direct-to-DVD titles of his I've seen in recent years, Van Damme at least still seems to be trying, and still keeps himself in good shape.  Van Damme has also starred in a couple direct-to-DVD clunkers that were nearly unwatchable (The Order, Derailed), but has balanced those bad ones with a few surprisingly decent ones, especially the well-shot French Foreign Legion adventure, Legionnaire (1999), the prison drama, In Hell (2003), and his latest straight-to-DVD actioner, The Hard Corps.


Age has also done Van Damme well.  With a face that's less boyish and more weathered, Van Damme now looks more like a tough guy than he did years ago.  Fans should also appreciate that Van Damme still attempts to give performances in most of these movies, and attempts to produce a competent product, even though he has to know while making them that they'll likely go straight to DVD in most places.  Seagal, conversely, has long looked as if he stopped caring about his film projects, and spends a lot more time and energy on his band and fatty foods.


Staged with enough energy to overcome most of its contrived plotting, The Hard Corps stars Van Damme as Philip Sauvage, a veteran of the American Special Forces who's recently returned from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Now suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sauvage is convalescing in a Veteran's Hospital when he's approached by an old service buddy who hires Sauvage to assist him in a private security detail.


The job is to protect Wayne Barclay (Raz Adoti), a former boxing champion turned community entrepreneur.  A vicious gangsta rap mogul sent to prison because of Wayne's testimony is sprung from the clink prematurely and informs his posse that he wants Wayne dead ASAP.  When the Army buddy who hires Sauvage soon ends up dead in an assassination attempt on Wayne, Sauvage is persuaded by Wayne's sister and business manager (the very appealing Vivica A. Fox) to take over the security detail.  He'll then recruit a combination of former service buddies and trusted associates of Wayne, and train them in what seems like a minute and half to become the Hard Corps of the title.


Not nearly enough screen time is devoted to Sauvage's training of his new security crew, and it's tough to remain sympathetic to someone as headstrong and reckless as Wayne, who continually puts himself in jeopardy by going against Sauvage's advice.  But The Hard Corps is more grounded than most in its genre, and has a ring of truth to it.  The film deserves credit for having the guts to use the word "terrorist" to describe the enemy America is fighting in Iraq, and using another scourge on modern society as an arch-villain, the gangsta rap mogul.


The Hard Corps is junk food.  But unlike so much of the other junk food released to theaters of late, this one actually tastes good.


The picture quality and sound on the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer are both in the "pretty good" category.  Cinematographer Douglas Milsome gives The Hard Corps a much better look than most direct-to-DVD movies.  Milsome previously photographed Full Metal Jacket for Stanley Kubrick and Desperate Hours and Sunchaser for Michael Cimino.  He definitely knows how to shoot a movie, and deserves to be getting some higher-pedigree projects.  The only extras included are theatrical trailers for other DVD titles from Sony Pictures, including Seagal's latest, and another Van Damme actioner shot by Milsome that's currently available, Second in Command.



-   Chuck O'Leary


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