×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘Hardcore’

Musicvideo wunderkind Ilya Naishuller's sci-fi subjective-camera ride is the latest last word in ADD cinema.

With:
Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Andrey Dementiev, Dasha Charusha, Sveta Ustinova, Tim Roth. (English, Russian dialogue.)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3072482/

The latest last word in ADD cinema, “Hardcore” is a headlong subjective-camera dive into fantasy-action peril through the eyes of a newly hatched “cybernetic super-soldier” as he fights off umpteen attackers, rescues his wife and tries to prevent a supervillain from destroying the world or something like. Only the tiniest, most basic elements of character, backstory and even narrative are offered on the run in a movie whose 95% frantic-action composition has no need or breathing space for more. It’s an undeniably impressive display of energy and resourcefulness for firsttime feature writer-director Ilya Naishuller, expanding on ideas in the viral music videos for his Moscow rock band Biting Elbows. Whether you find this vidgame-like testosterone explosion exhilarating or exhausting may largely be a generational matter. But certainly fanboy types are going to make this Russia-U.S. coprod a cult item, with potential for commercial breakout in various formats in numerous territories.

We first meet — or rather become — “Henry” as he awakens in some kind of scientific laboratory in the sky above Moscow, his body recycled “Robocop”-style from a thoroughly mangled human self. Screwing and soldering on his new, improved robotic parts is Estelle (Haley Bennett), who says she’s his spouse. But within moments (and before he’s been voice-activated, making for a mute protagonist) the joint is stormed by albino-blond nemesis Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) and his heavily armed goons. Slaughter ensues (not for the last time), from which Henry and Estelle escape via ejector pod to the city below, where she’s soon abducted (not for the last time).

As Henry gains understanding of his superhuman new strengths/abilities, he’s forever being chased by mercenaries, or abused by everyone else in what feels like a cast of interchangeable thousands — or maybe it’s just the same 20 extras/stunt personnel being killed off over and over again in different costumes and settings.

Popping up repeatedly as his sole reliable if prankish ally is Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who demonstrates a penchant for donning different guises, and whose ubiquity is eventually explained as another product of cybernetic cloning. Amidst all the mayhem, we realize Akan must be stopped from destroying the world, which he wants to do because … well, why not? We also find out (spoiler alert) that all women are duplicitous sluts, not excluding Estelle, let alone the prostitutes who seem unruffled by the mayhem that invades their bordello during one of pic’s back-to-back action setpieces.

As one might guess, there’s nothing beneath “Hardcore’s” frenetic surface but the barest imaginative kernel of a puerile macho fantasy. The explanatory mythology just hinted at here can always be articulated in sequels that already seem inevitable. But to demand substance or even narrative logic would be asking for things “Hardcore” frankly has no interest in. Onstage before one Toronto film festival screenig, Naishuller admitted he worried when approached by producer Timur Bekmambetov (“Night Watch”) whether expanding upon his musicvideos (esp. “Bad Motherf—”) was even a good idea.

No, it wasn’t, in standard feature-film terms of adding “depth” and “complexity” to a short’s original premise. But Naishuller and company don’t try to: They simply pile on more dizzyingly kinetic, ultraviolent, tongue-in-cheek stuff, and in those terms “Hardcore’s” dexterity is remarkable. “Henry’s” 90-odd minutes of initial rebooted life are a nonstop cyberpunk joyride of vigorous stunt work, gore, VFX, hand-to-hand fighting and destruction via a full range of weaponry, not excluding flamethrowers and tanks. This may be just the ticket for people who found the “Raid” films too dawdling. But if your answer to the question, “Should movies be more like videogames?” is anything but “YES!!!,” “Hardcore” was not made for you.

This perpetual motion machine is not recommended for those prone to motion sickness. The rare pause lasts only long enough to allow a brief joke, or to have its moment of calm be a tonal joke in itself. (Elsewhere, the general sonic clamor is accompanied by some rather broadly jokey musical choices, including a Copley rendition of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” that recalls Jerry Lewis, and not in a good way.) Perfs, such as they are, are pitched very large and loud to be heard above the din. Bennett and Kovlovsky hit one emphatic note apiece. Copley is allowed to go gonzo in various sketch-comedy personas, though some might wish for a whole lot less of what way back in “District 9” seemed such a good thing.

A making-of might be just as exciting as watching the film itself, because helmer and his myriad collaborators have put together something that seems at once seamless and DIY, large-scale and claustrophobic, its actual budgetary cost as hard to guess as its tech/design contribs are breathlessly stimulating. “Hardcore” feels like umpteen post-“Star Wars” action blockbusters trash-compacted into one — and whether that fundamentally appeals or not, the ingenuity of effort is undeniably high.

Toronto Film Review: 'Hardcore'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness), Sept. 14, 2015. Running time: 95 MIN.

Production: (Russia-U.S.) A STX Entertainment release of a Timur Bekmambetov presentation of a Bazelevs, Versus Pictures production. (World sales: Versus, Moscow.) Produced by Timur Bekmambetov, Ilya Naishuller, Inga Vainshtein Smith, Ekaterina Kononenko. Co-producers, Sergey Valyaev, Alexey Alekseev. Executive producers, Sharlto Copley, Will Stewart, Karina Sinonenko, Maria Zatulovskaya, Alex A. Ginzburg, Tony Lee.

Crew: Directed, written by Ilya Naishuller. Camera (color, HD), Seva Kaptur, Feodor Lyass, Pavel Kapinos; editor, Steve Mirkovich; music, Dasha Charusha; music supervisor, Mary Ramos; production designer, Margarita Ablaeva; art directors, Alena Bayer, Anna Shmidt; set decorators, Yana Lutsenko, Olga Revina; costume designer, Anna Kudevich; supervising sound editor, Sean McCormack; sound designer, Jack Whittaker; vfx supervisors, Dan Cayer, Marek Jezo, Arastao Maree, Duy Tan Nguyen, Gregory Oehler, John Pierce, One Danny Yoon; stunt coordinator, Alexandr Kaltakhchyan; first assistant director, Zaur Zaseev; casting, Ella Skovorodina; John McAlary, Sandra Deza.

With: Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Andrey Dementiev, Dasha Charusha, Sveta Ustinova, Tim Roth. (English, Russian dialogue.)

More Film

  • Jodie Foster'Money Monster' photocall, Palais, 69th

    Film News Roundup: Jodie Foster to Direct, Star in Remake of Icelandic Thriller

    In today’s film news roundup, Jodie Foster is remaking Iceland’s “Woman at War,” the Art Directors Guild honors production designers Anthony Masters and Ben Carre, “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” gets cast and Melissa Takal directs “New Year New You” for Hulu. PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT More Reviews Concert Review: Maxwell Brings Down the House at Rapturous Hometown [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal to Star in Remake of Denmark's Oscar Entry 'The Guilty' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bold Films, and Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker’s Nine Stories banner have acquired the rights to remake the Danish thriller “The Guilty,” with Gyllenhaal attached to star. The pic won the world cinema audience award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and was also named one of the top five foreign language films of 2018 by [...]

  • Toxic Avenger

    'Toxic Avenger' Movie in the Works at Legendary

    Legendary Entertainment is developing “The Toxic Avenger” as a movie after acquiring the feature film rights. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz of Troma Entertainment will serve as producers. Alex Garcia and Jay Ashenfelter will oversee for Legendary. More Reviews Concert Review: Maxwell Brings Down the House at Rapturous Hometown Show Film Review: 'Jirga' Kaufman and [...]

  • Constance Wu

    'Crazy Rich Asians' Star Constance Wu in Negotiations for Romantic Comedy

    “Crazy Rich Asians” star Constance Wu is in talks to join Sony’s Screen Gems’ untitled romantic comedy, with Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman producing. “GLOW” actress Kimmy Gatewood is making her feature directorial debut on the project. She will be directing from a Savion Einstein script about a woman who becomes pregnant with two babies [...]

  • Maggie Gyllenhaal AoA

    Maggie Gyllenhaal on Why a Woman Director Doesn't Automatically Make a Story More Feminine

    Having a female director doesn’t automatically make a story more feminine, says “The Kindergarten Teacher” star Maggie Gyllenhaal, but when it comes to her film with director Sara Colangelo, she says the female narrative is fully encapsulated. “Just because something is written or directed by a woman doesn’t necessarily make it a feminine articulation,” she says [...]

  • Kevin Hart Hurricane Harvey

    Academy Looks Warily at Oscar Host Options as Board Meeting Looms

    Kevin Hart’s abrupt departure as Oscars host has left the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences scrambling to find someone to take the gig. As of now, the situation remains fluid as the group’s leadership explores options, including going host-less, individuals familiar with the situation told Variety. The Academy was blindsided by Hart’s announced departure Thursday [...]

  • Regina King Maggie Gyllenhaal

    Maggie Gyllenhaal, Regina King on Intimacy Experts: 'I Could Have Used the Help When I Was Younger'

    Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sex-trade industry series “The Deuce” features one job that’s unlike any other in television: an intimacy expert. During her Variety Actors on Actors interview with Regina King, “The Kindergarten Teacher” actress explained how the strange role is actually important in helping young actresses stand up for themselves, especially when it comes to sex scenes on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content