Pros: Hopper, South African countryside scenery, music, Hopper's African dancing
Cons: violence, transitioning storyline from action to drama, Hopper's toupee
The Target is a semi-dramatic story about two men and a plot to protect one of them from assassination. Toss in Dennis Hopper as the would be target, Chris Lambert as the guy hired to protect him and The Target has the potential to be an excellent action film. However, as the storyline unfolds, the action ends and The Target transitions into an entirely different direction. In fact, the characters that we first meet delve deeply into their pasts, ultimately bringing a whole new meaning to the film.
It is quite interesting to note that The Target, as an action movie, is riddled with problems yet manages to be quite good as a more dramatic effort. What starts off as an action movie slowly turns into a riveting character study. Dennis Hopper wins hands down for his role as Robert, the character who makes the most profound transition from the man that we meet in the beginning into the man that we find at the end.
~ The Plot ~
As the movie opens, La Vie En Rose blares in the background as we witness one unfortunate, beaten and bloodied victim pleading for his life. Alex, Chis Lambert, is merciless, cold and professional as he completes the assassination of this poor guy.
We meet Robert, toupee wearing Dennis Hopper, in his sprawling South African office, where we learn for the first time that his life is in jeopardy because one of his controversial and violent clients has been arrested. Hopper's character is a crooked lawyer who represents members of the underworld in business dealings, specifically in money laundering enterprises.
Cristo is something of a legend, a South African gang boss who the police have been hunting down for quite some time. His arrest can have serious consequences for a number of people, especially for Robert. It becomes apparent that Robert's testimony against Cristo is worthy of hiring a full time protector for him until the voodoo practicing Cristo is brought to trial. This is where Alex and Robert meet and the rest of the action really begins.
Or does it?
As an action flick, The Target is chock full of problems which makes it a terrible movie and unworthy of recommending. However, as it transitions into more of a drama about two men, their current and past lives, their relationships with others and the struggles each has with their troubled inner child, The Target becomes an excellent piece of filmmaking. There really isn't that much action beyond car chases and some shootings dooming this movie as a thrilling action packed story about assassinations. The action is mainly in the first twenty minutes in. After that, things slow down dramatically and many viewers will be disappointed with the remainder of the movie.
At the beginning, the film is moving along at a very fast pace, a bit too fast moving at times. The rewind button was hit at least twice to get the feel of what was happening. The gorgeous scenery of the South African countryside is splendid except that the aesthetic beauty is minimized at times due to the fast panning of the camera. Many of the prettiest scenes are in the early sequences that are shot during car chases or shoot-outs between Cristo's bad gang members who are trying to get to Robert and the great protector. It seemed to me that the images were pieced together poorly resulting in choppy footage that made my head spin.
Thankfully, though, this is made up to the viewers later on in the film. There are some truly breathtaking scenes of South African villages, attractive natives, calm lakes, interesting insects and lovely greenery as The target transitions from 'the city' scenes to the South African countryside of the villages.
There are some good things about The Target, as a dramatic film, that balance out some of what is lacking as an action movie. Alex's character is never fully brought out as an action hero because of the way Chris Lambert plays him too calm and laid back. This ends up leaving the character somewhat shallow and unbelievable. Even with the addition of several flashback scenes that attempt to give a bit of insight into Alex's past, Lambert doesn't seem to add enough umph to the overall development of the character. We do learn that his parents were killed in front of his young eyes and that the horrific images continue to haunt him into his adulthood. These flashbacks just did not bring enough quality and depth to Chris Lambert's role that would make his present job choice believable. Later on in the movie, however, he seems a bit more in character when he visits his old home town where his parents were murdered.
When Alex attempts to share some of his thoughts and feelings concerning family with the man he is protecting, we learn that Hopper's character was also orphaned as a child. This was quaint but not important to the overall storyline when the dialog is shared during the 'action' part of the movie. What we do learn about Robert and his troubled past later on during the most dramatic of Dennis Hopper's scenes is more than enough to turn The Target around into a highly recommended drama.
What is interesting is the choice of music heard throughout The Target. There is the singing French woman at the beginning of the film belting out La Vie En Rose. Then, South African drum beats run consistently during much of the film. Yet, House of The Rising Sun is tossed in during the one good action filled scene when Alex saves Robert's daughter from kidnappers sent by Cristo. This is very interesting as well as perplexing.
Lambert is excellent during the scenes at the piano while tickling the ivories. As we witness more flashbacks of his characer playing piano duets with his mother, his facial expressions are deliberate, believable and add a softness to his role as Alex. This transition from cold blooded assassin to pianoman works well and all credit is due to good direction.
Toward the end of this seemingly long movie, it is Hopper's character who becomes the most dramatically changed. Hopper is superb as we witness his moments of nostalgia when he winds up back in the village where he was raised by a South African woman named Mama. When Robert finds a small pouch that is filled with his childhood dice and other trinkets, Hopper begins to sob like a young child and is quite convincing. Now we witness his memories in flashbacks and suddenly the entire film starts to make more sense.
Somehow, it seems a little too late in this 'action' drama and some viewers could care less at this point what the connections between the two men are or why. The Target is not a good action movie but is a wonderful drama. For fans of Dennis Hopper, you are in for a treat seeing him in such a transitional role.
As The Target ended, I could not help but wonder what happened to the action that it began with. I was also left with a few loose ends that were never tied up from the start of the movie. We never really find out anything about Cristo or why he continued to target Robert even after he was released from jail. We never find out why Dennis Hopper's character was wearing an obvious toupee in the beginning of the movie. We don't know why Alex's parents were killed and why young Alex was spared.
An interesting movie, yes, but certainly not what fans of real action movies about assassins, killing, and the thrill of killing will be anticipating. There is some blood shed early on, some female nudity and some colorful language that makes the movie inappropriate for younger viewers. It makes for a good Friday night drama, just forget about seeing too much action.
*Three out of five stars