There’s a Roger Ebert quote about the idea of reviewing a movie on how successful it is at what it’s trying to do. That’s how he described things to help people better understand why seemingly disparate movies would end up with similar grades. Sinse there is no quantitative way to review movies, it seemed like an obvious statement, but one of which people needed to be reminded. It also reinforces the totally arbitrary rating systems you see all over the place.
All that preamble to say that if you believe in the logic of judging a movie based on what it wants to do, then Ilya Naishuller’s debut “Hardcore Henry” has to get the most thumbs, stars, reels, feels, and numbers your system has. It wants to be a video game and the only thing standing in the way is the lack of a controller for each audience member. It’s a first person shooter game through and through, complete with endless streams of human shapes to shoot, stab, mash, and gash. There’s a Bowser stand-in who pops up at the end of each level to taunt the titular Henry and kick the can further down the road until it’s time for the final battle. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the movie.
As a piece of entertainment, that’s where “Hardcore Henry” doesn’t stack up. It’s tedious save for Sharlto Copley, whose character dies repeatedly and he keeps coming back. He’s Henry’s guide through this world, popping up to help out or point Henry in the right direction. Don’t worry about the plot, you already know that’s not important. All you need to know is that Henry runs through this world in invincibility mode on his trek from point A to Z. The whole film is shot in the first person POV. It’s sure to induce many headaches. And if the shaky cam doesn’t get you, the pulsating score will. And if that doesn’t get you, Henry will. Nobody makes it out unscathed. The whole POV thing would feel fresh if I hadn’t seen it deployed much more successfully in “The Brothers Grimsby.” But nobody saw “Grimsby” and not many people will see “Hardcore Henry.”
The biggest problem with “Hardcore Henry” is that the whole thing amounts to watching someone play a videogame. The problem with THAT is that watching someone else play a videogame is boring as hell. It’s a fine way to spend two or three minutes, but then any sane person will move on to something else. The whole shebang reminds me of this rec league I used to play flag football in a couple years ago. There was a dude who wore a GoPro on his chest during the games. Stop laughing, I’m serious. The only problem was that my man was slower than a Super Nintendo loading screen and made as many plays as a fifth year walk-on. Somewhere along the line he, a grown ass man, thought it was a good idea to record the games from his perspective. He was like the Sharlto Copley of our league. Anyway, the point is that what may have seemed like a good idea gave way to the reality that watching a bunch of random guys play flag football is only fun if you’re playing. You can watch any random five minutes of “Hardcore Henry” and take in everything the movie has to offer. If you’re really curious though, I’d recommend checking out one of Naishuller’s music videos on YouTube, or watching the superior “Crank” or, better yet, Paul Weezy’s “Running Scared.”