What It’s About: Stone Cold Steve Austin and his daughter are kidnapped by crooks, so he uses his knowledge of the woods and rocks and things to kill the crooks.
Who It’s For: Fans of nature videos who want slightly more grunting, slow-punching, and arthritic joint-bending between their pictures of leaves.
There was a time when I was a serious wrestling fan. The most exciting Christmas present of my young life was a pair of tickets to a Survivor Series, and I also got to see, in person, Bret Hart and Lex Luger co-win the 1994 Royal Rumble. My fandom flamed out sometime around Stone Cold’s era, though. I liked Mr. Austin well enough. What young child wouldn’t be enchanted by a hairless gorilla in a leather vest and jean shorts chugging (and spilling most of) American beers? But as injuries hampered his wrestling career and the Rock surpassed him in popularity, he slowly faded out of the pop culture (if not wrestling) consciousness.
It’s very easy to forget just how popular he was. “Austin 3:16” was everywhere, on everything, despite being nonsense. John 3:16 barely makes sense as a thing to apply to sports, and Austin 3:16 makes even less sense. “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass.” What does Austin 3:1-15 say? Are there any apocryphal books of the Stone Cold Testament? “Debra 2:20 says I got arrested for beating up my wife.” What hotels have your book in them, Steve? It probably has charming things to say about gay people.
All of this is to say that if the Rock gets to be in all the movies, and John Cena gets to be in even a few of them, Stone Cold deserves a few swings at the plate as well. (Or suplexes on the mat, as they say in wrestling.) I (as well as America, it seems) love films with the Rock (The Rundown is an underappreciated cult classic) and I've put up with that Cena movie starring Carcetti from The Wire multiple times on HBO. (I forgot what it's called, but it should be called New Orleans Tax Credit.) How bad could a Stone Cold movie be, especially one that costars Eric Roberts?
Let me tell you. Hunt to Kill is a throwback, and not in a charming, profitable way. It's a throwback to that time when '80s action stars' bodies had begun to break down, when they began to be shamefully outmatched by foreigners from places like Brussels and Hong Kong who could kick. Stone Cold in his prime could not get his foot above mid-thigh level, and he is not in his prime in Hunt to Kill. Every time he throws a punch, or gets up off the ground, it seems like it's taking something out of him, like he knows he's only got so many left in the chamber. I have TMJ, and a doctor told me that each time my jaw clicks out of its socket to open wider, I've got one less jaw click left until I need total jaw replacement. What I'm saying is, I am just like Stone Cold Steve Austin, except for eating thick sandwiches instead of kicking ass. Is this guy worth it? I grunt to myself every time I stare down a turkey club.
Mr. Austin plays Jim Rhodes, a U.S. Border Patrol agent working in Texas. He's going through a tough divorce and finds himself saddled with his daughter full time, so he decides to take a promotion and retire to a desk job. On the eve of his promotion, he and his partner, Eric Roberts, botch a meth lab bust. Roberts takes a shotgun to his chest and an explosion to his everywhere else, then dies, which is unexpected for both Rhodes and the audience. He gets nearly top billing in this movie and is killed in the first eight minutes. I realize Mr. Roberts is probably a very busy guy, and he could only spare a day or two shooting in and around a meth trailer, but the advertising for this movie should be a lot clearer. It's really misleading all the Eric Roberts Maniacs who bought the DVD/Blu-ray combo pack on release day.
All Rhodes has to remember of his partner is the watch he was given on his last day on active patrol. It's a watch with a band that can unweave into a rope, a real thing called a Survivor Strap. That seems cool and all, but it's strange how much time this movie spends on the watch. "This is life-changing. You can make a rope out of this? That could save my life if I needed to rappel down to get my inhaler, or I was trying to lasso a rat." You can also use your small intestine for both these things. I am pretty sure you only need one of your intestines, and I'd take the large any day.
Years later, presumably, Rhodes is living a quiet life in Montana, hunting big game and patrolling the dangerous American/Canadian border. He probably pile-drives a lot of 17-year-olds trying to go to their first bottomless strip clubs. Rhodes' daughter is home for winter break, and she's a handful. The movie tries to establish her as a normal rebellious teen, but there are a few problems with that. First, they make her entitled and rude, the kind of person to whom it does not occur to say "thank you" and who would start eating dinner before everyone got their food. Like, you can tell that at her core she is a horrible person, so who cares if she lives or dies? And two, they made the girl playing the daughter uncomfortably grown-up and attractive, the type who (sadly) you could see her being cast as Stone Cold's love interest in a different movie. It makes for a weird tension. "Is Rhodes gonna have sex with his terrible daughter? Let's watch and see."
Meanwhile, there's a very complicated heist plot going on. It feels like a different movie, and not a good different movie. The different movie is not Heat, the different movie is an episode of V.I.P. A bunch of dummies rob a bank, and one of them is maybe a hacker, and then one of them looks like John McCain and tries to double-cross them by stealing the money and blowing them up with a cell-phone bomb, but Jensen (Ally McBeal's Gary Daniels) stops it in time. Now the crew is on the hunt to catch up with John McCain guy and get their money back.
For some reason, John McCain heads up into the Montana woods to escape with the money. He takes lots of breaks to smoke cigarettes. He knows his gang is right on his trail, so it's a shame he doesn't move more quickly. The gang shows up at the sheriff's office for literally no reason, where Rhodes' daughter Kim has just been picked up for shoplifting, again. (That's a cool character trait.) Jim Rhodes shows up at the station to retrieve his daughter just as Jensen's gang kills the sheriff and puts a gun to Kim's head. The gang needs a guide through the Montana woods to find John McCain. Rhodes makes a tenuous bargain to guide them in exchange for his daughter's life.
What follows is about 90 minutes of lazy hiking through the Vancouver woods, where the film was shot. The production values are surprisingly high, and it's a shame the director interrupted pristine forest footage with inter-gang bickering, near-rapes, slow fights, and racism. Rhodes tries to make his escape or rescue his daughter a number of times, only to get beaten up, again and again. One of the gang members tries to rape Kim, and Jensen kills him. They forget their food with the hacker, whom they have excommunicated. How much do you care about these struggles? So much, I'm sure. Gary Daniels plays the tough, and he does a little bit of kicking. People slowly die. A patrol officer we don't even see kills John McCain. It's all captivating stuff.
Eventually, Rhodes is forced to rappel down a cliff face to retrieve the gang's money. How does he do that? With the Survival Strap, of course. There are lots of close-ups of him unbraiding the strap. Somehow, the Survival Strap watch turns into about 180 feet of incredibly strong rope. That seems unlikely. I bet you could fish with it, but I don't think you could rappel down a giant cliff face with it, unless it somehow magically expands. Maybe it's like those foam dinosaurs that expand when you put them in the water? Anyway, Rhodes gets the money, but is thrown over the side of the cliff. Jensen thinks he's dead.
Jensen gets the daughter to lead him to the border. She uses the skills her dad taught her, saying, "STOP: Stop. Think. Observe. Plan." The people who made this movie definitely should have said "STOP" a bunch of times. Rhodes actually survived, and he puts on war paint and sets out to kill everybody. There are many deaths. He sticks a stick into Gary Daniels and says, "Sorry I can't stick around." He then saves his daughter from Jensen by popping a wheelie on a four-wheeler and slamming Jensen into a wall. Then he says, "When I hunt, I hunt to kill," and fires a flare at the four-wheeler, exploding Jensen.
Man, this whole movie. There is exactly one scene at the beginning that shows Rhodes hunting for all of 30 seconds, and now he's a master hunter. Also, what was he hunting? Was he hunting for John McCain, the Canadian border, his daughter, the money, or Jensen? Not all of those things got killed. Does anyone hunt any other way? Hunt to Cripple would have been a much more interesting name and premise for this movie. So many arrows in the knee.
When You Should Watch It: when you’re trying to learn to hunt, or to talk slowly, or to grimace as you stand up.