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‘Hardcore Henry’: A first-person puker full of action, misogyny

Sharlto Copley turns up as dozens of characters in “Hardcore Henry.” | STX ENTERTAINMENT

“Hardcore Henry” touts itself as a film “experience.” For some, that experience may involve putting your head between your knees or watching most of the movie standing at the back of the theater, as far from the screen as possible, to avoid vomiting (or at least, that was my experience).

Shot entirely from the first-person perspective of its main character, “Hardcore Henry” lives up to the promise/threat of its title with non-stop mayhem, an assortment of vivid action sequences threaded together with the barest of plots as a showcase of inventive technical achievement.

While its audacity is laudable, the film ultimately has all the thrill of watching someone else play a first-person-shooter video game.

Henry wakes up in a vat of water, a few limbs missing. His scientist wife assures him everything will be okay, outfitting him with robotic components to make him whole. Just as she’s preparing to install his speech module and restore his memories, the process is interrupted when the most ostentatious of villains cuts in and sets the game in motion.

Cyborg soldier Henry is let loose on the streets of Russia to fend off a steady stream of would-be assassins while attempting to piece together his history. He has help along the way in the form of Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), a chipper guide who appears, gets killed off, and reappears time and again, each time in a different guise – here a British soldier, there a Rastafarian. (The South African actor has struggled to hit his groove since his promising 2009 debut in “District 9,” and often ends up a grating presence in films. And if there’s anything more annoying than one Sharlto Copley, it’s dozens of Sharlto Copleys.)

None of this matters, because Henry isn’t a character; he’s an avatar, an automaton that murders everything in sight because his sole motivation is simple survival to the next round of meaningless brutality. That lack of emotional investment makes it all the harder to stomach the relentless wide angles and shaky camera work as Henry moves from motorcycle, to tank, to horse, to helicopter, all parkour and martial arts. The experience becomes more nauseating with each heavy breath and head nod. And no, they don’t sell Dramamine at the concession stand.

“Hardcore Henry” knows it is mindless self-indulgence and has a sense of humor befitting what is essentially a theme-park thrill ride. But that sense of humor sometimes turns rancid with homophobia and misogyny. What would be a fun climactic action sequence is undermined by a shameless rip-off of “Shaun of the Dead’s” brilliant musical cue of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

This kind of filmmaking is like bodybuilding. Sure, you’re impressed to see a person bench press 500 pounds, but you’re not enriched by the experience. It is likewise impressive that a plucky filmmaker made a film that looks like it was shot on a GoPro. But neither is something you want to watch for 90 minutes

To paraphrase the great Dr. Ian Malcolm of “Jurassic Park” fame, the filmmakers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.


STX Entertainment presents a film written and directed by Ilya Naishuller. Running time: 95 minutes. Rated R (for non-stop bloody brutal violence and mayhem, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use). Opens Friday at local theaters.