If I had only one sentence to explain how badly director William Friedkin has bungled "The Hunted," it would be this: 15-year-old Frankie Muniz, starring in this week's "Agent Cody Banks," is a more convincing covert operative as a kiddie spy than Benicio Del Toro is as the Special Forces assassin gone rogue in this movie.
In the unrelentingly violent Kosovo-war prologue -- which is supposed to establish why Del Toro went bonkers and can now be spotted filleting unsuspecting hunters like some vigilante vegan in the woods outside Portland, Oregon -- the star acts nothing like the stealthy, highly-trained, surgical-strike assassin he's supposed to be. In fact, he looks more like a clumsy little kid playing hide and seek (which is hardly suprising since he admits not training for the role).
It's almost laughable that he makes it all the way across an erupting urban battlefield and into a heavily guarded and fortified mosque to graphically slice-and-dice a cruel Serbian commander.
But that's just a prelude to the extensive ineptitude running roughshod throughout "The Hunted." This is the kind of low-production-value movie in which people are declared dead when you can clearly see the actor breathing, clothes dry within two minutes of stepping out of a river and cars involved in crashes have inconsistent damage from angle to angle and scene to scene. It's a movie in which 36-year-old Del Toro (supposedly the best of the best in his army Special Forces unit) can't even beat 57-year-old Tommy Lee Jones (the man sent to hunt him down) in slow, methodical hand-to-hand combat.
The film is just one long chase scene through the woods and the streets of Portland (once Del Toro is captured then escapes) without any character development or even much in the way of plot. We don't know, for example, why Del Toro has taken a shine to killing hunters (he's shell shocked and "can't turn it off" apparently) or how it is that Jones, a civilian, came to be in charge of the psycho's Army black-ops training (which we see in flashback).
We do know that's why the local FBI taskforce (led by rugged-babe agent Connie Nielsen, "Gladiator") wanted his help tracking the guy. And, of course, Jones is much smarter than anyone at the FBI too. When he shows up at a heavily-forested murder scene a whole day after the feds, within three minutes he's found a leg snare, lots of blood and a bunch of other clues a dozen agents somehow missed, even though the supposedly wily Del Toro leaves a trail like a slug.
Whether they're riding on top of electric street cars, jumping off of waterfalls or taking long breaks to fashion elaborate booby traps and their own stone knives (I am not making this up), the whole movie consists of four repeating scenes: 1) Del Toro runs off into the woods; 2) Del Toro lays in wait for Jones, who always manages to find him within a matter of minutes; 3) Del Toro takes a couple swings at his old mentor, usually cutting him up a bit; 4) Del Toro disappears into the forest again.
There was an opportunity here to make an exciting, cerebral action-thriller in which these two men try like gangbusters to out-fox each other. But as written by David and Peter Griffiths (best known for last year's laughably defective Schwarzenegger terrorist flick "Collateral Damage") and directed by Friedkin, "The Hunted" plays more like a witless, stripped-down, Steven Seagal retread of "The Fugitive" -- a much better movie with Jones on the trail of a wanted man.
But even Steven Seagal would have brought this picture up a level. At least he could pull off the surreptitious Special Forces stuff with a modicum of credibility. And with former Oscar winner Del Toro turning in an apathetic, very possibly half-stoned performance, I honestly think Seagal's acting would have been better too.
Run time: 94 mins
In Theaters: Friday 14th March 2003
Box Office USA: $34.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $34.2M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
Fresh: 43 Rotten: 103
IMDB: 6.0 / 10
Director: William Friedkin
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