Though any Hard Bastard worth his salt usually battles for truth and justice, these chiselled champions do occasionally get fed up with saving our butts and take a vacation over to the dark side. So, breaking us in this week, we have Bruce Willis’ engaging turn as an ice-cold, callous assassin in Michael Caton-Jones’ The Jackal (1997). It’s a neat change for Willis, reining in his usual wisecracking excesses in favour of a restrained, chilling performance as the straight-faced ultimate assassin plotting a high-profile kill, while giving Richard Gere’s ex-IRA sniper the runaround.
Portraying the master-of-disguise does afford Willis the chance to goof off in some zany disguises, but for the most part he is cucumber cool, cutting about in a car that changes colour, while impassively shooting men in the nipples and reducing a young Jack Black to gristly mincemeat with a remote-controlled cannon. The Jackal is a dick, but one you almost admire, such is his remarkable action man skillset and uncanny resourcefulness. Naughty but gnarly (27/50).
Definitely on the side of the angels is Arnold Schwarzenegger, back on the big screen and keeping the peace in Jee-Woon Kim’s bonkers siege flick The Last Stand (2013). Arnie is Ray Owens, ageing sheriff of a sleepy Arizona border town and the last line of defence against a notorious drug cartel hurtling towards freedom in a stolen, souped-up badass sportscar.
Though considerably wrinklier, Schwarzenegger’s still got it, blasting away with a pump-action shooter as though his dalliance with politics never happened. Refusing to bow down against near-impossible odds, Owens is a stand-up guy, and though he needs a little help from his friends, the Sheriff exhibits gargantuan balls by leaping off buildings while shooting baddies in the face on the way down. He may be a little slower, but as the bodies start to explode in ever-more violent ways on an escalating scale of stylised, gory madness, there can be no doubt that Schwarzenegger has kept his promise: He’s back (32/50).
Schwarzenegger’s old rival Sylvester Stallone never actually went away, though he did spend much of the early 2000s churning out forgettable mush like director Martyn Burke’s crime comedy Avenging Angelo (2002). Sly is Frankie, mild-mannered bodyguard to Anthony Quinn’s affable mafia kingpin, who vows to protect his master’s clueless daughter (Madeleine Stowe) after the old man is murdered.
Stallone is charming as the killer who cooks whenever he isn’t snapping bad guys’ necks and burying them out back. However, it’s a tonally awkward film that malingers too much on the mushy romantic moments, while short-changing in the action stakes. Though Sly does bust a few heads and is effortlessly engaging throughout, he can do much better (22/50).
Another loveable rogue, Mel Gibson is up next as the smart-talkin’, fast-thinkin’, gunslingin’ hero of Richard Donner’s western adventure Maverick (1994). Gibson’s super-smooth rascal Brett Maverick gets into some hilarious scrapes as grifts his way across the old west, with Jodie Foster’s glamorous lady thief in tow
Maverick isn’t the hardest cowpoke in town, but he’s a clever cookie, always playing an angle, fooling his poker opponents into thinking he’s gutless, before dazzling them with his astonishing speed on the draw. He’s boundlessly courageous too, climbing under a runaway stagecoach and, bizarrely, helping an old buddy by letting a rich foreigner hunt him for sport. Maverick shies away from any real violence, but he’s so dashingly swashbuckling it’s hard not to succumb to his charms (25/50).
Definitely not afraid of a scrap is Jason Statham’s kickass courier Frank Martin, hero of Louis Leterrier’s outrageously bonkers The Transporter 2 (2005). Still breaking all his own rules, this time Frank is tearing Miami a new arsehole in a succession of delightfully choreographed smackdowns in search of the kidnapped boy he’s sworn to protect.
It’s an embarrassment of riches as far as insane car stunts are concerned, with Frank’s trusty Audi doing lots of sick stuff it really shouldn’t, like flipping upside down so a handily placed crane can snag a hidden bomb just as it explodes. Facing off against a sultry female assassin who cuts about in her undercrackers, the Stath is at the top of his game, leaping off things like a possessed squirrel, using watermelons as boxing gloves and star-jumping between two colliding motors. Leterrier’s flick is a demented blast and was the film that undoubtedly confirmed Statham as a Hard Bastard to be reckoned with (38/50).
Also in sequel territory is Steven Seagal, returning as tubby terrorist-smiting badass Jonathan Cold in Alexander Gruszynski’s iffy The Foreigner: Black Dawn (2005). Famous for Seagal not actually being involved in any of the fight scenes due to his chucking it halfway through production, the signs are not good for this DTV tale that sees Cold go undercover to halt maniacal revolutionaries planning to obliterate L.A.
Cold gets involved in some hairy shit, including a gunfight on top of a speeding truck and the disposal of a bloody great big nuke, but it’s another of those films that sees Seagal take a backseat, delegating the trickier action duties to his younger co-star Tamara Davies. Cold does occasionally entrance some baddies with that hypnotic aikido magic, but it’s pretty noticeable that it’s Lord Steven’s stunt double casting all the spells. Disappointing (20/50).
Bookending things nicely, David R. Ellis’ Cellular (2004) sees the Stath follow Bruce’s example by going all evil on our asses. Statham is Ethan, the dirty cop who kidnaps Kim Basinger, smashing her phone so that the only number she can reach belongs to Chris Evans’ reluctant beach bum. One of the first movies to realise the dramatic opportunities offered by mobile phones, Cellular is silly fun, with Statham relishing his growly, over-the-top role.
Ethan is a real bully, using his position to cover up a murder, Statham’s hulking physicality instilling the corrupt copper with a real sense of menace. He’s so hard, he chucks away his gun so he can throw down with Evans hand-to-hand, though he does effectively get killed by his own phone, which is a bit rubbish. Should’ve stuck to being a goodie (22/50).
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