Some half-decent action sequences aren’t enough to save The Hard Way from being a mundane and predictable actioner with little to offer.
A Michael Jai White film is a very particular thing, and The Hard Way is a Michael Jai White movie through and through. It’s a no-nonsense tough-guys-on-tour actioner with a familiar plot and some serviceable scraps, and if you’re an ardent genre fan looking for nothing more, then there’s pleasure to be had in White flexing his literal and figurative action muscles.
It’s also rubbish, obviously.
That’s less of a criticism than you might think, as all the ways in which movies like this suck are kind of negligible to the target demographic, which is why they continue to be made. And since Michael Jai White is among the best of the best when it comes to being a convincing on-screen tough guy, he’s able to carry the very few things that work here across a finish line that is blessedly not too distant. You can spare 90 minutes for The Hard Way and not feel totally short-changed.
You’ll likely feel a little stupider, though. That’s just the way of it. White plays the hilariously-named John Payne, an ex-special forces ***-kicker whose brother, Cody (Grant Campbell), has found himself in an unpleasant bit of business over in Romania. Off he pops to square things away, sparing time to protect the innocent, slap the guilty, and deliver macho tough-talk with his usual suave and quite believable confidence.
All this is fine. Michael Jai White basically plays himself in every film he stars in, but he’s really good at playing himself. When it comes to the fisticuffs he’s dynamite, even if The Hard Way deploys its action sequences a bit too infrequently and fails to get much mileage from them when they do crop up. It’s everything else that’s a problem.
In particular, former UFC light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion Randy “The Natural” Couture is on-hand to woodenly deliver lines from a script – from Thomas J. Churchill and director Keoni Waxman – that is seemingly being held up in front of him. When I reviewed The Row I said some unpleasant things about Randy that I sincerely hope he never reads, but perhaps stupidly I echo them here: the man can’t act.
With a story boasting no depth or urgency and lackluster performances from everyone excepting White, who is admittedly only doing a well-rehearsed shtick, there’s almost no reason to seek out The Hard Way on Netflix, where it currently keeps company that thoroughly embarrasses it in every sense. While you’re browsing the action thumbnails, you might as well check out The Night Comes For Us and call it an evening.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.