I like a movie that's completely nuts, and "The Hunted" is so nuts they ought to throw a net over it and take it away in an ambulance.
Start with its origins. The film proudly wears the moniker, "A Film by J. F. Lawton," and it turns out that J. F. Lawton, who wrote and directed, earned such a right (it's a $25 million major studio picture) on account of his success as screenwriter of "Pretty Woman." So what does he choose as the first movie on which to hang the prestigious announcement "A Film by J. F. Lawton"?: a Japanese chop-'em-up (body count: maybe 200, most of them the innocent) about a 200-year-old clan feud between Ninjas and Samurai. What's that all about?
There is an Anglo character, sort of. That is to the extent that Christopher Lambert can be said to be a "character" other than Christopher Lambert. This guy seems to show up in movies with Samurai swords in them. Here, he's not Connor McCleod of the Clan McCleod but Paul Racine, an American businessman in Tokyo who meets Joan Chen in a bar and has the luckiest night of his life.
Anyway, when Paul realizes he's picked up the wrong room key, he returns in time to see her beheaded by the nasty Ninja lord, Kinjo (John Lone, who's done much better). He also sees Lone's face, which makes him the Ninjas' next target. The cops can't help him, so an old Samurai, Takeda (Yoshio Harada), comes to the rescue.
Of course, the main action is between Kinjo's boys and Takeda, and much of the time poor Lambert seems to be running around hoping the cameraman will notice him. I half-expected him to lean forward toward the bottom of the frame so he could read the frequent subtitles.
Some of the action sequences are arresting. The best involves a bit where Takeda defends poor, quivering Lambert on a bullet train by going one-on-20 with a crew of homicidal Ninja. On the other hand, the final big battle in the rain (like so many of Akira Kurasawa's) feels murky and graceless and doesn't end the movie on the same note of pure loony mayhem that's preceded it.
The only character who could be called involving is Takeda, a glowering, haunted type who looks like he watched Olivier as Heathcliff on the haunted moors one time too many. But that's all right, because clearly Lawson saw "The Seven Samurai" one time too many.
Starring Christopher Lambert and John Lone
Directed by J.F. Lawton
Released by Universal
Rated R (extreme violence; some nudity)