PLOT A cyborg super-soldier wakes with no memory but
an urgent mission.
CAST Sharlto Copley, Haley Bennett, Danila Kozlovsky
RATED R (Extreme violence)
BOTTOM LINE A gonzo Russian action-flick shot entirely in first-person perspective. About as coherent as it sounds, but highly inventive and bloody great fun.
It’s rarely entirely clear what’s happening in “Hardcore Henry,” but this is one movie where coherence hardly matters. What you’re paying for in this gonzo sci-fi splatterfest is the fun of being in the driver’s seat: “Hardcore Henry” is filmed entirely in first-person perspective using lightweight, head-mounted GoPro cameras.
That means you’ll leap out of airplanes, break a few skulls, shoot people, gut people, take a cinder block to the face, get back up and keep running. You’re a cyborg super-soldier, you see, with plates on your knuckles and a power source in your chest. You’ve awoken in a Russian clinic with no memory, but cooing over you is one heck of a hot nurse, Estelle (Haley Bennett). She says your name is Henry, and she loves you. When Estelle is kidnapped by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a Goth-rock villain whose supernatural powers aren’t even glancingly explained, it’s your mission to get her back.
If that sounds like a mix of “RoboCop,” “The Matrix,” several Jason Statham films and the arcade game Donkey Kong, you’re on the right track. “Hardcore Henry” also pays homage to the wild stunts and physical comedy of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. (Henry is silent, too, thanks to a faulty voice-module.) It all adds up to a chaotic, ultraviolent mess — and it’s bloody great fun.
“Hardcore Henry” is written and directed by Ilya Naishuller, whose first-person video for his Russian rock band, Biting Elbows (he’s the frontman), became a YouTube hit in 2013. That drew the attention of Naishuller’s countryman, Timur Bekmambetov (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), who helped produce the film along with crowdsourced money through Indiegogo. You can feel Naishuller’s glee at having a decent budget — he throws in a helicopter, a tank, and an entire army of robo-soldiers — but it’s his bare-bones ideas that still work best. One of the film’s most thrilling sequences is a heart-pounding foot chase that seems to last forever (and you wish it would).
“Hardcore Henry” is also a minor tour de force for Sharlto Copley (“District 9”) as a mystifying secret agent named Jimmy. He keeps getting reincarnated in different guises: hippie, punk, homeless guy, British World War I soldier. At one point, they appear together to perform a musical number. If you have to ask why, you’re at the wrong movie.