I wasn't terribly impressed with the last Anchor Bay DTV action flick starring former wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, THE STRANGER, but as I'm always up for some testosterone-fueled cinematic mayhem, I decided to give the latest Austin vehicle, HUNT TO KILL (2010) a spin anyway.
I'm glad I did.
Austin plays a Border Patrol Agent named Jim Rhodes. After a bitter divorce that leaves him raising his teenage daughter Kim (Marie Avgeropoulis) alone and the brutal murder of his partner (Eric Roberts, picking up a check for a quick cameo), Rhodes accepts a promotion that finds him stationed in Northern Montana. But his quiet life in the woods is upset when a band of ruthless heist artists led by a sociopath named Banks (Gil Bellows, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, LOVE & A .45) roll into the neighborhood with a fortune in stolen bearer bonds. They take his daughter hostage, and coerce him into leading them through the wilderness and over the Canadian border. Of course, it isn't long before there's conflict and falling outs among the crooks, and the opportunity for a little random Rambo-styled mayhem on Stone Cold's part.
HUNT TO KILL, despite the blandly generic title and somewhat over-familiar plotline, is a terrific low-budget B-action film. Austin is surprisingly effective in the lead role, exhibiting some unexpected bits of human emotion along with the expected brute force. The cast is better than average for the genre, with Bellows turning in a fine, sly turn as the leader of the crooks, and British martial arts star Gary Daniels (THE EXPENDABLES, BLOODFIST IV) making a formidable physical opponent for the hulking Austin. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA vets Michael Hogan and Donnelly Rhodes appear in brief cameos, while Emilie Ullerup of SyFy's SANCTUARY (and a few GALACTICAs) portrays a sexy, felonious femme fatale.
The direction by Keoni Waxman is well-paced and engaging, and he makes good use of his cast and locations. The gorgeous, dangerous Canadian wilderness is captured in all its majesty by cinematographer Tom Harting and the score by Michael Plowman is excellent. The script isn't particularly original, but there are a few good twists, a couple of interesting characters, some intentional humor, and plenty of action set-pieces.
The stuntwork is excellent, and the action is extremely well-shot and edited. The standout scene is the inevitable throw-down between Austin and Daniels, and when it finally occurs, it proves to be worth the wait. The fight is well-staged and clearly photographed, without the now-passe shaky camerawork, rapid editing and MATRIX-y computer crap that is usually employed to obscure bad choreography. No, this is a duel of mock-combat titans and truly a joy to behold.
Anchor Bay's DVD of HUNT TO KILL sports a pristine, razor-sharp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a very robust Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The only bonus features are an audio commentary by director Keoni Waxman and actor Michael Eklund, a "Behind the Scenes" featurette, and a trailer.
HUNT TO KILL isn't an action classic, but it's a damned good manly entertainment, with plenty of thrills, spills and a couple of big explosions. Fans of B-action flicks should definitely give it a spin. Recommended.