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HARDCORE HENRY (director/writer: Ilya Naishuller; cinematographers: Seva Kaptur, Feodor Lyass, Pavel Kapinos; editor: Steve Mirkovich; music: Dasha Charusha; cast: Haley Bennett (Estelle), Sharlto Copley (Jimmy), Danila Kozlovsky (Akan), Andrey Dementiev (Slick Dmitry), Sveta Ustinova (Olga the Dominatrix), Tim Roth (Henry’s Father), Dasha Charusha (Katya the Dominatrix); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Timur Bekmambetov, Ilya Naishuller, Inga Vainshtein Smith, Ekaterina Kononenko; STX Entertainment; 2015-Russia/US-in Russian and English, with English subtitles when necessary)
“The gore-filled visuals, which might have amazed some techies, only gave me a migraine.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

First-time feature director Ilya Naishuller is the Russia-born writer and director of this gimmicky videogame Robocop-like thriller. It’s a film devoid of logic, as it goes into overdrive as strictly a film for gamers. To say it’s a movie and not a video game, is a stretch. The 30-year-old Ilya dives fully into making this a rousing action fantasy sci-fi film, told from the first-person perspective of its resurrected from the dead subject. The camera, like in Lady in the Lake (1947), provides all the P.O.V. shots.

The pic is about the engineered Henry, a dead man resurrected with no memory and voice, who must find his identity and save his wife from a warlord villain in the business of hatching bio-engineered soldiers to rule the world.

The film provides little dialogue, no character development, no backstory or explanation for its story. It was inspired by the director’s musical videos from his Moscow-based rock band Biting Elbows.

The relentless violence over a newly created “cybernetic super-soldier,” trying to save the world, was not only a turnoff but the gore-filled visuals, which might have amazed some techies, only gave me a migraine.

In a Moscow lab, a former human named Henry, meant as a stand-in for the viewer, has now been engineered by his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) to be a “cybernetic super-soldier.” But before Estelle escapes from the lab with her refitted droid hubby, she’s snatched by the albino villain Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a terrorist equipped with telekinetic powers he uses to try to gain world domination. Estelle didn’t have time to implant hubby with a voice box, so he remains mute. While Henry flees the scene, smashing all hostile heads he encounters, the one-man army is chased by Russian storm troopers. Everyone wants him killed. But Henry is helped by his resourceful, chatty, shape-shifter friend Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), and gets out of street conflicts, an attack in a whore house and tank fights.

The excessively violent sci-fi blockbuster was shot on GoPro mobile cameras. It is used mostly to film extreme sports, and the camera is placed on a helmet. Henry was played by a number of stuntmen and even Mr. Naishuller had a turn playing him.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”