Never have I missed Jet Li and Donnie Yen more than while watching Benicio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones slug it out in THE HUNTED. It’s sort of like watching two Claymation figures go at each other with all the subtlety and artistry that that implies. Points for consistency, though. This exercise in entertainment futility features silly improbabilities, cheesy coincidences, and enough dunderheaded plot points to have made a terrific comedy. One assumes, though, that William Friedkin, who freaked us out so beautifully with THE EXORCIST, did not have laughs in mind, hence the lackluster direction. Too bad.
The story is Rambo redux. Del Toro plays Aaron Hallam, a best-of-the-best warrior trained to kill his fellow humans as easily as you or I would clip a toenail. Unfortunately, a sour experience in Kosovo a couple of years back involving many explosions and much machine-gunning of innocent civilians has left our boy feeling a little depressed. Even though he fillets the head bad guy and gets a Silver Star for his trouble, he now has a little problem. As one of those ubiquitous government men who populate films like these puts it, Hallam can no longer tell the difference between the sharks and the guppies. If you think about it, though, what sort of message was the government sending the guy? Kill and get a medal. Wouldn’t that be positive reinforcement of negative behavior?
Flash forward to the present, and Hallam is hunting down deer hunters in the lush green of rustic Oregon. He’s not just killing them, he’s gutting them, too. So, of course, the powers that be call in L.T. Bonham, played by an ever-craggier Tommy Lee Jones. Bonham was Hallam’s combat teacher, and while hes never actually killed anyone himself, he can track anything anywhere so it takes him all of 10 minutes or so to find Hallam and commence with the first of their battles.
Since were only 20 minutes or so into the flick, you just know that somethings going to go wrong. It does, and we spend the rest of the 94-minute running time watching Hallam making unfathomably easy escapes while Bonham stays hot on his heels. And that’s one of the problems. When Jones walks in this film, he looks like several heaping bowls of bran would do him a world of good. And yet he’s still able to scamper up the wires of a suspension bridge and outrun a light-rail vehicle. Plus, he’s so laconic hes almost catatonic.
As for Del Toro, he fares better for the most part. The palpable intelligence and the eyes that miss nothing make you almost believe he is capable of the all but superhumanly prescient moves he makes while eluding capture. Moves like having the entire Portland police department take aim at him while he runs a catwalk and yet escaping with not even a flesh wound. Yet, when called upon to bond with an old girlfriend’s kid, Del Toro’s attempt at the warm and fuzzy is as painful to watch as receiving one of Hallams knife blows to the neck must be.
It all devolves into so much nonsense, culminating in Hallam, with the entire police force of Oregon, not to mention Bonham on his tail, stopping to forge a knife from scratch. I couldn’t make this stuff up. He also finds time to create a set of booby traps of such sophistication that those set by the Coyote in his eternal quest to bring down the Road Runner pale in comparison.
Not that the film is a complete loss. In one flashback sequence detailing Hallam’s training, we learn exactly which connective tissue to sever before going for the lung puncture and the femoral artery annihilation. One should never snub knowledge that might in a pinch have a real world application. For example, after seeing THE HUNTED, I was feeling just a little murderous about the people who inflicted it on me.