‘Hardcore’ means hyper-edited Hollywood fare
As the one recognizable face who gets significant screen time in “Hardcore Henry,” Sharlto Copley (“District 9”) works his role for all that he can, appearing in a variety of guises. One minute he’s a lethal secret agent, the next he’s a braniac tech geek, then a coked-up hedonist in a leopard-print Speedo. Copley’s most entertaining look is vintage British punk rocker — which is fitting, since watching the movie’s anarchic, all-GoPro aesthetic feels like the contemporary cinematic equivalent of catching a Sex Pistols show.
If that sounds like your cup of spiked tea, then you’ll probably dig this wild action experiment, which spun out of a hyperviolent music video that Russian multi-hyphenate Ilya Naishuller shot for his band, Biting Elbows. Russian-Kazakh producer-director Timur Bekmambetov caught the viral clip and encouraged Naishuller to expand the approach into a full-fledged feature. The pair’s affinity is easily spotted in the finished product, which has an anything-goes energy and a foreign idiosyncrasy similar to Bekmambetov’s “Night Watch.” But the film also goes heavy on the sort of substandard performance elements you’d expect from a first-person shooter game or an intro short for a theme park ride.
Our look at the world through Henry’s eyes starts in a futuristic medical lab, as he awakens, amnesia-stricken, to sexpot scientist Estelle (Haley Bennett, “The Equalizer”) lovingly outfitting him with cyborg limbs. Just after she informs Henry that she’s his wife — but conveniently, before he can get his audience-distancing voice module installed — they’re attacked by a paramilitary squad. When the goons nab Estelle, Henry has no choice but to trust Copley’s Jimmy, a mysterious Samaritan who seems to know the big picture, as well as the manual to Henry’s various gnarly A/V ports. Unfortunately, Jimmy gets killed, magically reincarnated, then killed again — and again and again — before he can fully share.
The rest is just Henry’s frenetic, gory quest for answers, punctuated by the odd run-in with Akan (Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky), an undercooked megalomaniac who’s like Andy Warhol playing Magneto. When the action is at its sharpest, such as with Henry’s mid-chase leap from a detonating truck onto the back of a motorcycle, it’s spectacular. Other times, it can be as wearying as generically hyper-edited Hollywood fare. If only Naishuller included more moments like an escalating last-act reveal by Copley, or Tim Roth’s micro-cameo as Henry’s dad. The legitimately dramatic POV shots can work as well as the chaotic ones.
Written and directed by Ilya Naishuller. Starring Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett. Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 96 minutes. R (non-stop bloody brutal violence and mayhem, language throughout, sexual content, nudity, and drug use).