Lurid in theme yet creatively flat, “Hard” recycles the basic serial-killer thriller formula with minor ’90s fillip that both villain and cop hero are gay. Folks, you have to take progress where you can get it. But few are likely to “get” this routine low-budget item anyway, with its graphic sex and violence suggesting a direct-to-vid audience that usually favors imperiled T&A — not, ahem, D&A. Nor is pic stylistically edgy enough to eke out a marginal arthouse niche, a la “Frisk.” Without a prayer of getting critical support, effort faces tough commercial odds in any format.
Script’s willingness to tread familiar waters is clear from the outset, as tall, bearded, 35-ish Jack (Malcolm Moorman) picks up a young male hitchhiker in a remote desert area. As Jack’s overtures get more forceful, the kid gets scared , and … well, something bad’s gonna happen.
Meanwhile, new homicide detective Ray Vates (Noel Palomaria) is getting razzed enough by his co-workers just for being a rookie — what if they knew he was gay? Ray is determined they won’t find out. The closet also extends somewhat to his private life, which draws the line at becoming emotionally involved with men he picks up at a bar tended by ex-fling Doug (Arron Zeffron).Sexually abused , mutilated bodies of transient young men start turning up. Looking for leads with his crusty investigative partner, Ellis (Charles Lanyer), Ray crosses paths with Jack — who, of course, commences a cat-and-mouse game. First move: seducing the hunky detective, stealing his badge, confessing to all the murders and leaving him handcuffed to the bed. Now Ray is left in the dismal situation of having to “out” himself at work, or being considered a suspect himself.
Forced into the former option, Ray endures considerable homophobic backlashing from his cop “buddies” — Ellis being one welcome exception. He can’t count on much backup in a pinch, which of course complicates a climax somewhat redolent of “Silence of the Lambs,” wherein cop duo dive into the chamber of horrors Jack has created in an abandoned theater. Rote tag scene — implying that presumed-dead killer remains very much alive — doesn’t make much sense.
Though not developed in any surprising way, Ray’s self-outing is script’s one relatively thoughtful aspect. Otherwise, plot mechanics seem precisely that. Minor interest is tweaked by Jack’s weird relationship with the family who’ve let him stay at their trailer home, and a few tacked-on perversities (children and even cats also have reason to fear Jack, it seems). Director John Huckertdoesn’t achieve much suspense or atmosphere. Every five minutes, however, there’s a bloody nude corpse or a hog-tied, squirming soon-to-be one. Sex scenes are fairly explicit, with full-frontal male nudity there and elsewhere.
Perfs are OK, albeit given little psychological depth to chew on. Tech aspects are routine. Soundtracked songs include several by horror-rock celeb Marilyn Manson; like his act, “Hard” is too derivative to be as shocking as it would like to be.